Sexism happens every day in ways both large and small. Today, in honor of International Women's Day, we're standing up and calling it out. Here and in the linked stories below, four women share powerful essays about the moments they wish they could go back and rewrite—join in on Twitter and share your own. #WhatIWishISaid.
When I was in my teens, my mom told me never to go to Central Park alone. The park was where people got raped. Rape, I always believed, was something done by a scary man in a dark, desolate place. So long as I avoided them, I would be fine.
The summer after my sophomore year I traveled to Mexico for a competitive internship program. About a month into my stay, I met a guy—a friend of a friend—who I clicked with instantly. He was quick-witted, playful, and interested in my work. He endearingly made fun of my use of the word "anomaly" (anomalía in Spanish). After one date, he bought me a bracelet, and invited me to see a dubbed version of David Lynch's Blue Velvet. He spent the night and we fooled around before bed. I had a crush.
A few days later we went out for beers, then whiskeys, then dancing. He told me I was beautiful and that he loved my "blondish" hair. I was giddy and eager to go home together, though surely alcohol played a role in my enthusiasm.
We went back to where I was staying and had standardly boring intercourse. I didn't have an orgasm. He did. It all felt normal. I placed his needs above mine. I didn't realize there was an alternative.
Every depiction of sex I'd seen (rom-coms, TV shows) until this point went something like this: The man orgasms, the woman moans and looks happy, end of story. Even as a self-identified feminist enrolled in esoteric gender studies seminars, I didn't see the inequality. I had always been easy-going—and applauded for it. The idea of someone—especially a guy—regarding me as "pushy" revolted me. I fell asleep only mildly disappointed that fireworks hadn't gone off. I liked him.
A few hours later I woke up—suddenly and disoriented. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized that the guy who had just fallen asleep beside me was now inside of me. We were, apparently, having sex. I knew that it wasn't consensual, but it didn't occur to me to protest because I had just had consensual sex with him. I even thought that maybe I had said it was okay and just forgot. The idea of pushing back felt scarier than voicing what I knew to be true: I was being raped.
Many of us have said "yes" when we mean "no," or nothing when we meant "stop." Many of us have also beat up on ourselves as a result, as I did for the next five years.
I had been conditioned to think of my body as a pleasure vessel for my sexual partners. Yes I identified as a feminist, but my intellectual grasp of Judith Butler didn't come with me into the bedroom. I didn't realize that it was widespread cultural sexism that led me to believe—even subconsciously—that a man's pleasure mattered more than my own. I hadn't yet discerned that sticking up for my ownership of my body wasn't pushy—it was my right.
It took years, but I have finally grasped that, regardless of what signals I may be sending, no one can just do what they want to my body. Just because you have consensual sex with a man at 1 a.m. doesn't mean he can take whatever he wants at 4.
I wish I had said, "Get out of my vagina." I wish I had said, "My body does not exist for your pleasure." I wish I had said, "I am not a bad feminist because I let this happen."
And that's why—for my five-years-ago self and for any woman reading this who may need strength in the future—I'm saying it now.
Follow Marie Claire on Facebook (opens in new tab) for the latest celeb news, beauty tips, fascinating reads, livestream video, and more.
Charlotte Lieberman is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work often concerns feminism, meditation, and mental health. You can read her articles in Cosmopolitan, The Harvard Business Review, BOMB,Teen Vogue, and Guernica, among other publications, and her poetry in The Boston Review, The Colorado Review, and Nat.Brut. Visit her at www.CharlotteLieberman.com.
'On Rotation' Is Our July Book Club Pick
Read an excerpt from Shirlene Obuobi's debut novel, here, then dive in with us throughout the month.
By Marie Claire
How Melanie Travis Built Andie Into a Swimwear Giant
Plus, how brands are getting LGBTQ+ marketing all wrong. (Hint: stop rainbow-washing your brand each June.)
By Gabrielle Ulubay
Lizzo Embodies Disco-Ball Chic at the BET Awards
By Iris Goldsztajn
The 50 Best Vibrators, According to Sex Toy Experts
The most trusted source in feelin' yourself.
By Alanna Greco
The 16 Best Sex Games to Spice Up Date Night With
Game night, but make it hot.
By The Editors
COVID Forced My Polyamorous Marriage to Become Monogamous
For Melanie LaForce, pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines meant she could no longer see men outside of her marriage. But monogamy didn't just change her relationship with her husband—it changed her relationship with herself.
By Melanie LaForce
100 Sex Songs That Won't Make You Cringe
Dim the lights and hit play on this sex songs — the perfect playlist of songs to have sex to.
By The Editors
75 Movie Sex Scenes That Are 100 Percent Real
These actors aren't faking anything.
By Mehera Bonner
33 Unexpected Valentine's Day 2022 Date Ideas
A.k.a. not dinner and roses.
By The Editors
The All-Time Favorite Sex Positions of 11 Real Women
"It makes me feel like the sexiest woman on earth."
By The Editors
How to Stay Safe Using Dating Apps and Websites
Did you know your favorite dating apps may be selling your intimate information? Swipe right on privacy with these key safety tips.
By Jenny Hollander