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Photo credit: @leahgraceart

Content Warning: Sexual Harassment.

Slut. Just a word thrown out of a car window with a jeer from a face she never even saw, and who, for that matter, probably never even saw her. Windows rolled down, his friends’ laughter spilling out from the same windows where their cigarette smoke leaves faint traces in the summer air. A faint screech of tyres, tears pricking at the back of her eyes. Stop overreacting already – why are you taking it personally? Baby, remember, they’re just being boys.

But for her, it’s not just a word. Twelve years old, never kissed a boy, and she learns for the first time just how dirty a word can make you feel. Tarnished. She swallows the bile burning at the back of her throat. Calm down – it’s just a word and it sure as hell won’t be the last time you hear it.

And there are just those looks? The sort that begin right down at her sneakers, then follow the seam up the back of her stockings right up to her skirt, jacket and scarf. That’s not what they see though. For them, she’s just a gap between her thighs and the curve of her waist – a parted pair of rose-coloured lips. Sweaty palms on either side of her skirt tug it downwards. Look here darlin’, that skirt’s just a little too short to be your only armour.

They’re the kind of looks that turn into licked lips and leers. Eye contact that’s held for a moment too long. Really, you’re just asking for it if you’re going to go out dressed like that.

Come on now, it’s just fun and games. Nothing in it. Tying her jacket around her waist to cover her leggings when she goes running. Heart pounding, not from the exercise, but from the whispers of men lurking behind her. Well what did you expect? Your arse looks great in leggings. And then there’s the day when she learns what a pounding heart really feels like, because they put their unfinished beer bottles down and start running after her instead.

Arriving at the front door, her expression is like glass. Cold and hard, but be careful, touch it and you might just break it. A hot shower to scrub the traces their words and glances left all over her. Still shaking. She knows it’s silly. She’s fine. But she won’t run that way again, will she?

Is it supposed to make her feel wanted, she wonders, when she walks along the street with friends and hears men behind her judge the three of them out of ten? Nothing personal of course, just some girls have a better arse while some girls have better tits. A metallic tang in her mouth. Come off it. What you’re feeling is not disgust, you’re probably just jealous. Admit it – you like it.

Her heels clicking along on the concrete in the dead of the night. Why are you in such a hurry? You going home alone tonight? Headphones in, but ears pricked to the sound of laughter and whistles. Eyes downcast – mouth hard. Like that’ll work. Come on love, just give us a smile?

And then there’s a man a street corner somewhere who proposes to her, screaming that she’s broken his heart when she tries to walk away – what is she to do then? He doesn’t know her name, just that she’s a girl. Why are you such a tease?

She learns also that saying no is sometimes not enough to stop them. You’re just playing hard to get. Always better to have excuses prepared. No, she doesn’t give out her number. Bitch. (Why?) She wants to scream that she shouldn’t have to answer why, she just doesn’t. Instead, she fakes a laugh. There you go, give a smile. There’s no need to be unfriendly, is there? What do you mean you don’t have a phone? Lying slut.

Just a word.

But it’s never just that.

- Lottie Twyford

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