On June 21st, 2013 I decided to do an extra hard workout at my high school’s track to help improve my chances for a spot on the cross country team in the fall. The only thing motivating me to finish on that sweltering day was that fact that I would be turning 16 the next day. According to Mexican culture, I was supposed to have transformed into a woman already. Many Mexican girls have a traditional, elaborate fifteenth birthday celebration, called a quince. I had a modern sort of quince; I just went to the beach with my family over my birthday weekend, but it’s not as if I felt any different afterwards. Maybe being sixteen would be different, I thought. Maybe when I would turn sixteen I would become woman. When would I have my metamorphosis? And what is a woman, anyway?
I nailed my workout into the ground on the humid, 95-degree June day. As I felt the warm, stinging, salty sweat run down my face, I saw the heat rising off of the track in steamy waves. Just completing the workout made me feel like a total “badass,” as Coach Moore would have said if he had seen me. Popping my hip up and out as I took a long drink of hot water, I had a triumphant walk of a champion. I felt confident about going to states in November! I had put on my favorite t-shirt and new electric pink spandex shorts to make me extra confident for my run, and it worked! Though, I was also worried that maybe my new shorts were too tight.
All the little people in my brain were arguing back and forth: “Katie, you look like a total whore wearing those shorts! Everyone makes fun of That One Girl who feels the need to show everyone her ass all the time. Don’t be That Girl. Those tight spandex will ruin your reputation,” Conservative Katie warned.
“Hey, it’s not my fault if a boy thinks I’m attractive while I’m running in shorts and a cutoff t-shirt. It’s really hot out! We wear spandex for track meets; it can’t be that inappropriate. Anyway, I am going to be at the track; it’s not like there are drivers there that can honk at me and catcall,” Feminist Katie reasoned.
I was jogging slowly in the soupy heat, rounding off the 200-meter backstretch. I saw some football players talking and laughing past the gate that connected the track and the lacrosse practice field. Look down, look down, I remembered. Don’t make eye contact. I chanted in my head: chingate, chingate, chingate, my silent Spanish curse to force them to ignore me.
But then Reasonable Katie reminded me: “Not all guys who are talking and laughing while looking at you are necessarily laughing and talking and looking at you. The guys at your school aren’t going to catcall you and say something inappropriate.”
“Yeah!” Low Self Esteem Katie chimed in, “Stop flattering yourself; you’re not attractive enough that a guy would even want to hoot at you.”
Embarrassed for my vain thoughts, I kept running. I rounded out the 200-meter mark. The clock read 2:15 pm. It was too hot. I was dizzy. I hadn’t hydrated properly. Coach Moore would have been disappointed. I swerved a little to the side. My foot rolled over a pothole in the track. Stupid pothole. I started tripping. I looked up as I wriggled around, trying to prevent myself from rolling my ankle. The boys and I made eye contact. Quickly, I ducked my head. I adjusted my ponytail so they couldn’t see my face. The boys. They were all crammed into the athletic director’s golf cart-maintenance truck hybrid. There were some short, squirrely freshmen boys standing in the flat rear part of the cart. There were two older boys, seniors who were sitting up front. I knew who they were, but I denied it to myself for a while afterwards. The sweat ran down into my eyes and my mouth. I could taste the bitterness. I was inhaling, doing my silent curse and praying that the eye contact had gone unnoticed. But their voices were getting louder. I saw them nudge each other again. I inhaled. I held my breath. The boy I knew hooted something. “Hey, pink tights!” Another seconded the call, “YEAH! You go, pink tights!” They all laughed deep from their bellies and sped away. The boy I knew drove.
I hear it from landscape vans. I hear it from middle aged men. I hear it from speeding cars and I even hear it from Jewish boys walking down Main Street to get to Friday evening services.
I never hear it at school.
Once I got home, I cried and holed up with my computer for an hour. I’m a member of a Facebook group that is a gay-straight alliance (GSA) for students in the DC area who are allies of the community that surrounds the vlogbrother videos. Everyone in the group is always supportive. I uploaded a rambling post about what happened to the group Facebook wall. The track was always safe. How could I have dressed so horribly as to provoke this? Was this incident even enough to report? Or am I just a bitchy feminist? Once I tell the football coach and the administration about this, I thought, they are just going to laugh at me and tell me it’s no big deal. They’re just going to say that I was asking for it. Jesi, one girl in the GSA whom I really admire, commented on my post, “Yes, it’s totally valid to be creeped out and want to report them; what they were doing was not okay.”
I agreed with Jesi that I would send an email. But first I created a new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. That way, no one would need to know about who I was and I wouldn’t be harassed if the football players were in trouble and people started to blame me. I drafted and edited a long email to the head coach of the football team explaining everything that happened. But I didn’t mention the boy’s name.
I copied the 10th grade Assistant Principal, the 12th grade Assistant Principal, and the athletic director on the email. After making my third edit, I became anxious again and I started crying. I didn’t ask for any of this. All I did was wear clothing that made me feel confident and kept me cool on a hot day. I just wanted to forget everything that happened.
But if I never stand up for my right to wear what I want, then who will?
Who else would make sure that these boys, who were soon to be men, would treat all women with respect? I commented on the post, “And email sent.” Rapidly, my computer kept making this repetitive pinging sound. It was the sound of Facebook notifying me that five people liked the comment.
Then, one of my best friends from the GSA, Hannah, sent me a message that read, “You are seriously the best im so sorry you were subjected to them because they make me SICK.” All the support that was pouring in made me cry a little at my computer desk.
I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t alone.
From Jesi, who helped me stop blaming myself, to Hannah who showed me that even people at my own school found this behavior despicable, to all the people in between who simply liked the comment that read, “And email sent.” That meant the world to me.
The 10th grade Assistant Principal and the head Coach of the football team both emailed me back a few days later and apologized that I had to go through the experience. The Coach assured me that he would, “Find out who was responsible because this sort of behavior will not be tolerated by [my] players.”
I’m actually glad that this happened. I am so proud that I said something. I have no idea if the boys were ever even punished. I just hope that the players and their coach know that we won’t tolerate this. I know that I can’t change the whole world’s ideas about the objectification of women in one step. I know that if I’m running on the road that I can expect some idiot to hoot out his window because he thinks my ass looks good or whatever, but I drew a line at this kind of behavior happening at school.
I do know that I did become a woman on the last possible day of my fifteenth year, just like I was supposed to when I celebrated my quince. I stood up for what I believe in and for how I want to be treated. Jesi couldn’t have pressed the send button for me while I was getting the new wave of anxiety. I had to do it myself. As a woman, I hope to embody what Gloria Steinem once said: “Whenever one person stands up and says ‘wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people to do the same.”