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The question hits me like a sledgehammer,
we’re standing in the kitchen and my mom
and sister are having a heated argument
about her clothing.
My sister has tied the bottom part of her shirt
into a knot and now her belly is showing.
My mom doesn’t agree with her style and
asks me “Don’t you want to grab a girl
who is dressed like this?”,
and for a while the sound of my
deafening silence is unbearable.
I am 8 years old,
I can tell she means well, but I know
my answer to that question is ‘No!’
But I don’t dare to challenge my mom;
too scared to fight authority
so I mumble something inaudible and
they continue arguing,
I don’t know how it ends.

I am only 8 years old,
but for the first time in my life
I am being complicit in
rape culture.

We’re in the boys dressing room of
the swimming pool where we have just
finished our training session.
The older boys are getting rowdy,
and the conversation turns to sex.
“Whoever is silent is still a virgin!”
one of the oldest boys exclaims.
I stare at the floor and don’t say a word
as they laugh at all the boys who are dead
silent, most of whom are still wet behind the
ears, no more than 15 years young.
I know they are wrong!
How can you make fun of kids being virgins?
And why do I feel ashamed and not them?
But instead of blaming them for messing
with our heads, I get dressed as fast as I can,
dry myself off with a towel of self-loathing,
wear my shame like clothing that fits perfectly.

I am 15 years old,
and I have just learned an important lesson
in that boys dressing room; boys will be boys.
Unless you have lots of sex, then you become
the man who won’t be made fun of anymore,
and I internalise that lesson.

I am lying on my bed with my girlfriend,
we’re making out. She wants to take it
further, I don’t; you see I’m still a virgin and
don’t feel ready yet. She insists.
And for what feels like an eternity I am
running all the scenarios in my head,
all the options, all the choices I have
in this moment; then a voice takes over…
You’re supposed to like it!
You’re supposed to like it!
You’re supposed to like it!
Dude! You’re supposed to like it!
Man up! You’re supposed to like it!
And so I man up, get undressed and we have sex.
I know should feel proud and happy in this moment,
but in truth I feel disgusted, this isn’t lust, love nor desire.
We finish, I don’t, she doesn’t either,
neither of us say a word.
It hurts to pretend.

I am 17 years old,
and I have just lost my virginity, but more
importantly, I have lost my innocence.
I have become the embodiment of
toxic masculinity.

The train station is a chaos, and it seems
that I’ll be stranded in a foreign city.
My local friend lends a hand and offers to
host me at her place, and instantly my
concerned face turns into a smile; you see
she and I, we have history.
We arrive at her apartment, have dinner with
her friends and end up in her bed.
She turns the lights off, and I put my arm
around her, pull her towards me and try to kiss her.
She pulls away, turns the lights back on and says
“Why do you grab me like that in the dark?”
She doesn’t look angry, rather empowered
in her decision to confront me,
she’s not letting this one slide.
I have nowhere to hide, I know I am guilty.
I don’t remember how I replied to her question,
as if my mind tries to hide this ugly truth,
the same way society chooses to erase
women’s identities from our history; unimportant.
We continue talking and she is teaching me an
important lesson that doesn’t register yet.
We fall asleep in her bed and the next day,
after a nice breakfast, she takes me to the
train station where we say goodbye.

I am 24 years old,
and I feel more entitled to her body
than she is to a ‘No!’.
I am 24 years old,
and I have become rape culture

It’s a cold autumn afternoon and I am waiting
at a tram stop in Amsterdam with a dozen or so people.
A few meters away I see a young man and
woman caught in what I initially thought was
a romantic act of stealing kisses.
But upon closer observation you can clearly
see that she is not feeling comfortable with
his aggressive demeanour and keeps pulling
away every time he goes in for a kiss, creating
distance whenever he pulls her towards him.
But to no avail, he is just too intimidating, too
strong, too entitled, too dominant, and so wrong.
My first instinct is to walk over, I want to tell him:
Man, your arms are armed with violence,
they are too dangerous to be anywhere near
your girlfriend; I fear for her safety.
But instead I remain just another bystander
like all the other people, all awkwardly waiting
for the tram that can’t arrive soon enough.

I am 30 years old,
and this time I am not the perpetrator,
but make no mistake; I am still guilty
of allowing rape culture to thrive.

You see,
rape culture isn’t just about men raping.

Rape culture is
men justifying sexual harassment as “just flirting”.

Rape culture is
men condoning other men’s oppressive behaviours.

Rape culture is
a joke that isn’t funny.

Rape culture is
men saying things like:
Sex sells.
I’ve never see him do anything problematic.
What was she wearing?
But not all men!

Rape culture is
debat centrum De Balie in Amsterdam giving
voice to an alleged rapist instead of the survivors.

Rape culture is
Spoken FM in the Netherlands awarding an
alleged sexual predator making rape
jokes with a spoken word award.

Rape culture is
the Netherlands only updating its outdated
and harmful sexual offense laws in 2021.

Rape culture is
thirty women attempting suicide
every day because of domestic violence,
and every week three women escaping their
abusive fate by taking their own lives.
But we men ignore these statistics
so that our count is always zero
and we can all sleep sound at night.

Rape culture is
the passive voice dominating every
conversation, every headline, every news item:
‘She was raped’, instead of ‘he raped her’.
‘The drink was spiked’, instead of ‘he spiked the drink’.
Or globally 87000 women were murdered,
instead of men murdered 87000 women.

Rape culture is
men not wanting to admit that we have
a problem with toxic masculinity.

Rape culture is
men thinking “I’m a good guy so
I am not the problem”

Rape culture is
treating consent as permanent instead of fluid.

Rape culture is
one look, one touch, one comment, no
physical distance, social media’s nipple
policy, almost every porn category.

Rape culture is silence.

And while I personally don’t know any known rapists,
I know men whose silence has become a minefield,
and every fact, every statistic, every victim’s testimony
can trigger an explosion of anger.
I know men whose hands have become
too big for their lovers’ hearts.
I know men whose words have become
poison, slowly suffocating the life
out of their lovers’ eyes.
I know men whose fingers have become
choke chains silencing their lovers’ voices.
I know men whose sense of entitlement
is bigger than their sense of responsibility.

I know myself all too well…

I am 30 years old,
and I should’ve addressed the harasser.

I am 24 years old,
I should’ve kept my hands to myself.
I should’ve asked her for consent.

I am 17 years old,
I should’ve told my girlfriend
‘I’m not ready yet to have sex, maybe
next week, maybe tomorrow,
but not today.’

I am 15 years old,
I should’ve confronted them older boys
with their macho bullshit.

I am 8 years old,
and I should’ve told my mother
‘Instead of policing my sister’s clothing,
perhaps you should be teaching me
how to behave around girls who
are dressed like that’

But I never said anything,
I remained silent,
and my silence has allowed violence
of men to grow louder in volume every day.

We, men, have to assume our responsibility,
we have to educate ourselves,
we have to look in the mirror,
we have to reflect on our behaviours.
we have to change,
we have to take action,
we can’t stay silent, we have to speak out!

Because while her
will always mean
My silence,
your silence,
our silence
will always mean