I wrote this letter in response to the frustrated monologue of a teenage girl who posted on the website for Miss Representation’s Sexy or Sexism campaign:
Take heart. Do not be afraid, and do not allow sexism to quell your spirit.
You are extraordinary. You saw a sexist image on a blackboard—an image meant to define your body as a vehicle for the pleasure and power of others—and you erased it.
Take heart, for there will be a day when the picture on the blackboard, and that for which it stands, has been erased—if not from our minds, then from all our blackboards.
Also, know this:
Do not fear sex, do not fear men, and especially—do not fear your own desire. It is as natural as the sun. And one day, there will be a man (or a woman) who will make your body smile. Allow that that day to come; do not allow the days you have already experienced to overshadow it, for then you will deny your body pleasure and happiness. You deserve pleasure and happiness, as do we all.
The boys you have encountered are encouraged by societal messages—in movies, in music, in magazines—to believe that their strength and power lies in their pants, and that the female body is their playground. The fact that they are being taught this lesson does not excuse their behavior, but it might help you to understand it.
Withstand their insults and disrespect with dignity, and remember this: the four years it will take you to grow from 14 to 18 are only a flash of lightning across the sky of your life.
You mentioned watching Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the reaction of the boys around you to the sexuality in the play. Here is something you should know: Shakespeare was bawdy—meaning he wrote sexual jokes into his plays, many of which you had to see to believe. He wrote long ago, when there were so few female actors that men had to wear skirts to fill the female roles. Do not let the movie you saw—or the boys’ reactions to it—keep you from exploring Shakespeare, or any other art or literature, even if it may place women where they don’t belong. For it is only in understanding how women have been viewed and treated throughout history that we can understand just how far we have come—and how far we have to go.
Read feminist literature. Also, find good men—they are out there, in bookstores and college classes and coffee shops, in church, at work, and everywhere else—and befriend them. You will grow, and you will learn, and you will stand with us.
Your spirit already knows the way forward. Just follow it.