Blog / 2012 / On Saying No and Saying Anything at All

January 6, 2012

A few years ago, back when I was still living with my brother, our house was attacked. The culprit was some kid with a stencil and some spray paint, and I’m glad to say his assault didn’t go unanswered.

It was past two o’clock in the morning. As usual, Kristan and I were still awake. My brother had just made himself dinner and we were sitting at the kitchen table talking.

Suddenly, we heard footsteps by the front of the house—the mad stenciler was approaching a lit front porch with a serious lack of stealth. We saw a head float past the front window and asked each other if we were expecting someone. Just then something was slapped up against the frosted decorative window set in our door. As we covered the ten steps between us and the idiot, we heard the unmistakable hiss of spray paint.

Kristan threw open the door and the kid took off before we could stop him. While my brother stood speechless on the top step, I called the vandal a bad word, yelling after him to make sure he heard my message. It wasn’t eloquent but it was something.

pencil on paper self-portrait, young white female artist
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait
2000
pencil on paper
17 x 13 inches

Moments later, as we were scrubbing at the still-wet paint with rags soaked in rubbing alcohol, Kristan commented about his inability to comment when the kid was in front of him. And I knew exactly where he was coming from.

For years I’d been harassed by strangers who thought that yelling obscenities on the street was a sure way to impress the ladies. I’d had inappropriate gestures thrown in my face by jerks in passing cars. I’d been touched in ways I didn’t want to be touched—by perverts in movie theaters, by creeps on public transportation, and once even by a man I was seeing. And for years I had stood speechless on the top step.

But by the age of 25 I had been attacked enough times to have made it past the shock, the disbelieving silence. I had finally trained myself to be able to make noise the moment someone does me wrong.

Speaking up isn’t a talent and it isn’t something that comes from a place of privilege. It’s a skill and something that must be practiced regularly in order to be mastered.

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