The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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I Won’t Back Down
Standing up to a sexist bully
Carolina Ambros

When I lived in Guaiba, a small city in southern Brazil, men who passed me on the street stared, catcalled or whistled at me almost every day. Many drivers would honk their horns or yell, “Do you want a ride?” or, “You’re so hot!” They wanted to make sure I understood they were talking to me and were waiting for some type of response.

I moved to New York City two years ago, and I thought it would be different here. Friends who had visited briefly told me it was a safe and open-minded place. But perhaps they were comparing it to Brazil, which is a violent and crime-filled country.

I discovered I needed to be careful about what clothes I wore, where I went, and with whom. One night, for example, my friend and I went to get pizza before going to a birthday party. We were both wearing dresses and the workers there stared at us from head to toe. Their stares and smiles gave me goosebumps, and as soon as our pizza was ready we flew from that place and never went back.

Worse than Catcalling

I wasn’t only disrespected and objectified by men who were strangers. My male friends often told me that my clothes were too tight; they “showed too much.” I didn’t ask for this advice but they felt they were protecting me from establishing a slutty image, because of the way I dressed. They didn’t critique each other this way.

One day in February, I was walking through the halls at school with my new boyfriend. As we made our way to the cafeteria, some of my boyfriend’s friends showed up. I knew most of these friends, but there was one boy who I hadn’t seen before.

When they reached us, they greeted my boyfriend, bumping their fists and automatically making jokes and talking in Arabic and English. I was holding my boyfriend’s hand, smiling, waiting for his friends to say hi to me. But none of them even looked at me. It made me think: Men either pay too much attention to women or dismiss them like an accessory.

Then the “unknown boy” noticed my boyfriend and me holding hands and said, “You only date white b-tches.” He started laughing and his friends did too, including my boyfriend, all nodding their heads in agreement.

I not only felt humiliated for being called a “white b-tch,” I was upset by my boyfriend’s response. He didn’t defend me. I wouldn’t have been as hurt if he had just looked at me to make sure I was fine, or even just grasped my hand tighter, to show that he was on my side.

I felt so dumbfounded that I wasn’t able to do anything. Was this friend joking? He seemed relaxed and proud of himself. As we walked to the cafeteria, I kept looking at the boy, waiting for an apology, but the only thing I got was, “Get out of here, b-tch. Back off. What does this motherf-cker want?”

He said this softly to himself, but I heard him. That told me his comment earlier was not a joke.

Responding to Sexism

I could not accept a boy talking down to me, acting as if I was not equal to him or deserving of respect. I decided the next time he said anything that was offensive or belittling to me, I would speak my mind. When we got to the cafeteria, I went to eat with some girlfriends. I told them what happened and they were furious for me, particularly that my boyfriend stood there not saying anything.

After lunch, I met up with my boyfriend again, and as I was going in for a hug, the boy came up to us and said, “You two are so gay.” Again my boyfriend only laughed and walked off to his class. The boy and I went in a different direction down the hall.

This time I was ready.

image by YC-Art Dept

“You’re so childish,” I said.

“Shut up,” he replied.

“How can you be so rude to someone you don’t even know?”

“Get out of here b-tch, shut the f-ck up.”

“You’re not a real man. Real men do not treat people like this.” That made him furious and he yelled things like, “You’re such a b-tch,” “You have no ass,” and many other vulgar and irrelevant things.

At that point we were both screaming. We were in each others’ faces, and the close distance between us made me scared that he might hit me.

I pushed the boy weakly to put some distance between us. Then in response, he threw a hard punch on the left side of my breast, right above my ribs. I lost my breath and felt dizzy and weak, as if my legs couldn’t support my own weight anymore. The pain that I felt was as if he had hit me with a heavy stone. I wanted to sit down, curl into a ball and let my tears take away all the pain, humiliation, frustration, and anger.

Right after he hit me, some students around us held him, preventing him from hitting me again. And when I saw him yelling to be let go and screaming at me, I felt he was still looking down on me and waiting to see me crumble. I refused to let him see me like that.

With my strength, I kept my chin up, straightened my back and slowly turned around, making my way to the girl’s locker room, which was a few steps away.

When I got inside the locker room, I spotted my two friends. I let all the tears out, and finally my body gave in and I fell. I was trembling and in pain where he had punched me.

After some minutes, the vice-principal called in and asked me to come out of the locker room, saying that everything was OK. But I couldn’t even get up; I couldn’t walk without shaking. The fear and pain were great. It felt like a message: I shouldn’t have provoked that boy. I shouldn’t raise my voice to boys, since at the end of the day, they are stronger than me.

Glad I Spoke Up

While I was waiting for my dad to pick me up, I learned the boy had been suspended for a week. But I didn’t feel that was enough of a punishment, so my dad and I went to the police station to press charges.

At the police station and for weeks after, I continued to think about what I should have done. Should I have just laughed when he called me a white b-tch? Would this assault have been avoided if I had kept quiet and not been “dramatic?” I kept blaming myself, thinking how wrong I was to speak up. I felt this way even though this boy had punched me so hard I was bruised and had to take painkillers for two weeks.

After I pressed charges with the police, they suggested I get a restraining order against him, which I did. One of my teachers also helped me file an additional report with the Department of Education. They recommended that his suspension be extended for one month. All of this helped me understand that I was the victim and I had nothing to blame myself for.

My story is the same for many other girls and women. We either don’t stand up for ourselves or when we do, we question our own involvement. And we can even be assaulted. I’m glad I spoke up because everyone deserves respect, equality and safety.

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