Eighteen-year-old Brooklynite Wirdah Khan shares her experiences with the harassment women have silently endured for too long and fearlessly yells: ‘#MeToo.”
by Wirdah Khan
Can you hear that?
She’s fairly loud – you can probably hear her all the way across the ocean. I realize that your ears have probably become accustomed to the silence of a million women not saying a word; hearing one speak must really have capsized you. Don’t write her off – she has something important to say (and she won’t ever be silent again).
He thinks, “I want to grab her.” And he’ll do it, even if she doesn’t want it, because he is a man and therefore he can do what he wants to her.
There is power in a man’s presence, arrogance in his state of mind and a sort of entitlement he carries with him wherever he goes. He’ll see my sister outside a train station and think, “I want to grab her.” And he’ll do it, even if she doesn’t want it, because he is a man and she is a woman and therefore, he can do what he wants to her. He’s thinking about only one thing at that moment, on repeat like a broken record: I want that.
But she’s thinking a million things at once, her thoughts a raging storm so loud, there’s thunder in her fists and raindrops in her eyes. He grabs her waist to restrain her, but she won’t have it, twisting out his grasp and sprinting down the sidewalk to get away. He doesn’t attempt to follow, but she doesn’t stop running until she gets home. And when she get’s home, I’m already in bed, but I scramble out when I hear her start to cry.
She tells me (through sobs) her experience, and I listen with heat simmering in my chest and restlessness building in my legs. When my mom hears what happens, she doesn’t pass a comforting hand over my sister’s shoulder or hold her close; she says, with a mix of anger and fear you’ll only hear in a mother’s voice, “I’ve told you not to walk home the back way at night.” But I and my sister both know that if you want to avoid the men who gather on 19th street and leer at you as you walk by, you have to walk the back way. Instead of wallowing, my sister takes to the internet, posting about her experience, warning the other girls in our neighborhood.
Can you hear that? My sister just said, “Me too.”
I heard one call obscene things my way, a sound so rancid and foul that I could hear it through my headphones.
When I walk to work, I must take the long way around the back, because the last two times (or was it the last twenty times?) I walked the short way, past the men who congregate on 19th street, I heard one call obscene things my way, a sound so rancid and foul that I could hear it through my headphones. This man is entitled to the way my head turns toward his voice, but not to the way my teeth clench in anger at his catcalls. When he notices my glare, he taps his friend’s arm and they laugh, like those hyenas in the Lion King who no one liked but everyone feared.
And when I finally get to work, I have to listen to countless men come by, telling me, “Smile baby girl, why you look so sad?” And instead of scowling like I want to, I have to laugh it off, shrug and say, “Oh, I’m just tired.”
And then one day, a regular customer of ours comes into the pharmacy, tells me he likes the way I look and slides me an envelope. Inside, is a crisp 50-dollar bill. He tells me that I don’t have to work for my reward anymore – I can get it elsewhere.
I’m rendered speechless.
I politely refuse his money and his job offer, pass him his medication and send him on his way. When I tell my boss about the old man who just tried to get me on my back for money, he sighs and tells me that he’s done it to all the girls who stand at my counter. They can’t do anything, though, because he hasn’t technically done something illegal. I ask my coworker about him and she tells me that the old man is a creep; she has to dart to the basement before he can see her because she can’t stand to look him in the eye after what he’s asked her to do.
Even though she has done nothing wrong, she is the one who must be embarrassed for what he’s doing.
You see, even though she has done nothing wrong, and has been nothing but a good employee at our pharmacy, she is the one who must be embarrassed for what he’s doing, while he continues to ask women to get on their knees for him for a measly 50-dollar bill.
Can you hear that? No? I can’t say “Me too,” just yet. He has to do something illegal first.
I could tell you stories, so many stories about how we no longer attend the Pakistani Independence Day festival because the men there touch my mother too much, or how my uncle drove from Long Island to Brooklyn (leaving behind a wife and four kids) to come tell my sister, “I’ve seen the way you look at me, and I like it.” Or, I could tell you a story about the different ways men tell me to bend over on the sidewalk, so they can “f*** me the right way.”
(Does that catcall make you uncomfortable? It made me feel ten times worse).
I could tell you about the times boys in my school grabbed my breast and then ran off or pushed me into a locker, so they could press up onto my backside. And I will. I’ll tell you all of these stories. I’ll tell everyone. I’ll shout it from the rooftops, sing it in the shower, yell into the infinite, black, void, “ME TOO, ME TOO, ME TOO!”
Did you hear that? Good. I won’t ever be silent again.
Wirdah Khan is a 2018 graduate of Clinton Hill’s Benjamin Banneker Academy and the 2018 winner of the prestigious Mohbat Prize for Writing, an annual award in memory of journalist Joseph E. Mohbat and Brooklyn student Verdery Knights that honors exceptionally gifted Brooklyn public high school seniors.