Live Through This

Hands Off

My first feminist action.

Illustrations by Cynthia

This story begins when Xavier Reed* made an announcement in assembly. My high school was private, a prep school. Most announcements at assembly were about a bake sale or a basketball game, but Xavier Reed took the microphone and said, with complete seriousness, “Someone spilled their Coke on my BMW. If this happens again I’m going to be forced to sue for damages. Keep your hands off my car.”

To understand how angry this made me, you have to know a little bit about Xavier Reed. He was a rich asshole. He made fun of people in mean ways. And he had a history of touching girls at parties when they were drunk or passed out. This was widespread knowledge; older girls told younger girls: watch out for Xavier Reed. He wasn’t a stud, he wasn’t well liked. His power came from being a brute in an Izod shirt. Thinking about it now I imagine he had his share of suffering, but to understand this story it’s important that you feel no sympathy for him.

After assembly I had a free period. Still furious about Xavier’s announcement, I sat and read a book I’d checked out of the school library called Lipstick Traces. Do you know this book? It’s by the music critic Greil Marcus and it’s about revolts and rebellions throughout history. It has a picture of Johnny Rotten on the cover. What exactly did I read? I don’t know, maybe I just stared at the flier for a 1978 Slits show on page 40. Or maybe I read the lyrics to the Wire song on page 73: “I am the fly / I am the fly / I am the fly in the ointment.”

Using a black marker, I made a poster. I went into the library and Xeroxed it, and then, while everyone was in class, I taped it up all over the school. Then I sat and waited. The bell rang; all the kids burst out of their classrooms and toward their lockers. Then they saw the posters. I held my breath and watched them read:

I didn’t have a plan beyond this moment. I wasn’t sure anyone would even get it—who and what I was talking about. But they did. Everyone was whispering and soon there was shouting. Boys were forming factions, taking sides, and some girls were crying. I watched in shock, not sure whom to stand next to or where to look. I had assumed that nothing I said or did could ever have an impact on reality.

Somehow everyone knew it was me. Xavier’s friends let me know I would be killed after school. A sophomore girl told me, in strict confidence, that Xavier had molested her. A girl from my class, a senior, made me promise never to tell anyone that she had had sex with one of our teachers. Everything was so much worse than I had known, it was actually terrifying. I waited for some authority to step in—and they did. I was sent home from school. They said it was for my safety, to protect me from Xavier’s friends. Xavier himself had assured me I would be sued for slander.

When I got back to school everything was smoothed over. The faculty had decided it was best to ignore the outburst. I felt sick. What about all those girls who had told me their secrets with such shame? I couldn’t bear it.

At lunchtime I walked into the headmaster’s office. I put my hand on his telephone (I had a flair for the theatrical) and said, “If you don’t do something, I’ll call all the newspapers and tell them that you have, at very least, a sexual harassment situation here and you aren’t doing anything about it.”

This worked in part because of timing. Sexual harassment was a big new topic in 1992; just a few weeks before there had been an article about it at the local public high school, which is how I’d gotten the idea for my dramatic blackmail.

That Friday we had an extended assembly. Instead of the usual announcements, a group of energetic college students came and taught us about sex. They taught us that no meant no, and what was appropriate behavior for a date. They showed us sexist images from magazines and called them sexist. Some of them were openly gay, and that blew our minds. It was a start.

Right after this I graduated and became a Riot Grrrl, to the tune of: We want revolution, girlstyle, NOOOWW!
 
 
 
* This name has, for obvious reasons, been changed.
 
 
Miranda July is a writer, filmmaker, and artist.

64 Comments

  • catstickers September 19th, 2011 3:13 PM

    I love this! That poster is pure brilliance, go Miranda!!

  • Minella September 19th, 2011 3:14 PM

    Wow you’re awesome!

  • tellyawhat September 19th, 2011 3:14 PM

    Kudos for standing up to such a world-class JERK (spilled soda on a car, C’MON).

  • Lina September 19th, 2011 3:16 PM

    wow. someone should make a movie about this.

  • Alexi September 19th, 2011 3:20 PM

    Okay, you are awesome! Whata gal!
    I wish i had the opportunity/balls to do that to a jerk! kudos

  • puffytoad September 19th, 2011 3:20 PM

    Yay!

  • a.c harry truman September 19th, 2011 3:22 PM

    The power of efficacy! You turned some whack shit in to some rad shit. Go girl!

  • Brodie September 19th, 2011 3:30 PM

    I’m having a hidden, little cry at my desk at work. Thanks, Miranda!

  • flowerpunk September 19th, 2011 3:38 PM

    This made me so happy!!! By the way, that book is realllly good

  • DymondMag September 19th, 2011 3:39 PM

    Love this! Go miranda!

  • Naomi September 19th, 2011 3:41 PM

    wow this is so amazing. and brave! and amazing.

  • WitchesRave September 19th, 2011 3:50 PM

    THIS is why I love this mag :D

  • Pashupati September 19th, 2011 4:18 PM

    I can’t believe such an … actually asked people to keep their hands away from his car.

    No, it blows my mind.

    Thankfully, I know if something similar happens I can… should react. It’s always good to read people saying it’s a good thing to react, because otherwise I don’t have the guts.

  • Hazel September 19th, 2011 4:19 PM

    A.MA.ZING.

  • Rita Unicornia September 19th, 2011 4:26 PM

    YOU ROCK!!!
    You’re just awesome! GO GO GO YOU!

  • Hannahd915 September 19th, 2011 4:45 PM

    Sheer brilliance and bravery on your part, my dear.

  • EveyMarrie September 19th, 2011 4:53 PM

    This is amazing, no, YOU’RE amazing :) Way to go man

  • stephaniejean September 19th, 2011 4:55 PM

    Oh Miranda July, my love for you has just grown exponentially, if that is even possible. Everyone, go read No One Belongs Here More Than You right now.

    • Anaheed September 19th, 2011 5:07 PM

      Seconding this recommendation. That book is so so good.

  • stellar September 19th, 2011 4:57 PM

    awesome…

  • wanderingalya September 19th, 2011 4:59 PM

    Way to send a message!

  • Maialuna September 19th, 2011 5:02 PM

    This is so… powerful.

    Way to go Miranda! :)

  • tallulahpond September 19th, 2011 5:11 PM

    Wow. This is pretty amazing. I LOVE this article! He sounds like a complete ass-hole, also how it’s so terrible that he took advantage of girls like that. I’m so glad you did that.

  • tallulahpond September 19th, 2011 5:12 PM

    Also, you are amazing! What a powerful, radical reaction. It just shows, there’s a time for being nice but a time for taking drastic action.

  • Annie September 19th, 2011 5:26 PM

    THIS IS SO AWESOME

  • unicorn September 19th, 2011 5:28 PM

    you are my new hero.

  • karolinea September 19th, 2011 5:34 PM

    oh i really love this story … it’s like the best advice: you really did this, that’s so encouraging!♥

  • Sunshine September 19th, 2011 5:50 PM

    <33333 stories like these! GO WOMANKIND!

  • Whatsername September 19th, 2011 6:03 PM

    Picking up a microphone at an assembly to complain about coke spilled on his car? God, who DOES that?

    You’re like, my hero.

  • Jam September 19th, 2011 6:08 PM

    “Thinking about it now I imagine he had his share of suffering, but to understand this story it’s important that you feel no sympathy for him.”

    I think what you did was great and gutsy, but this line makes me a little bit sad. I don’t need to give up my empathy to be able to appreciate your act of guerrilla justice.

  • kayce. September 19th, 2011 6:28 PM

    BRAVO!

    i wish i were half as brave (or dramatically inclined) when i was in high scool.

  • Angie Bitchface September 19th, 2011 6:34 PM

    YES THIS IS AMAZING!!! you are a total badass! I hope that if I were ever in a similar situation I would make the right decision like this.

    also I just want to reiterate that I think it’s the best thing ever that there’s a teen magazine where stories like this are published. it just makes my heart soar.

  • martina September 19th, 2011 6:46 PM

    miranda july is so rad and inspiring in so many ways ♡♡

  • Suzette September 19th, 2011 6:50 PM

    Miranda July, just when I thought you couldn’t get any cooler… You are my hero. I love you.

  • ichewmylips September 19th, 2011 7:05 PM

    this is incredibly inspiring. So many girls out there are sexual harrassed and feel that they can’t tell anyone, or a fear that if they did tell someone, no one would believe them and that they might be labeled a slut. this is a great article.

  • annagracie September 19th, 2011 7:27 PM

    Awesome!

  • The Emma Edition September 19th, 2011 7:34 PM

    The fact that this guy felt that a spilled coke was news-worthy makes me laugh but it also just shows how self-involved he and his friends were.

    This story was really inspiring especially because you didn’t even miss a beat. You went straight to the library and made the posters. I am so inspired to write some a piece like this for my school newspaper and it’s stories like these that make not care about the backlash.

  • oriana September 19th, 2011 7:50 PM

    Hell yeah! This is fantastic!

    I actually have a friend who had an experience with a similar ‘Xavier’ type. She was at a party when she heard that some guy wanted to talk to her. Turns out, he wanted to take advantage of her. He assertively cornered her tried some “sweet talk”, and attempted to pour his beer in her cup, only to miss and spill it all over her jeans. I don’t know what gives some people the idea that females are objects to be handled and mistreated. Needless to say, I applaud your response to that whole situation at school ( :

  • Hunter September 19th, 2011 8:22 PM

    I wonder who spilled the Coke….

  • ally September 19th, 2011 8:32 PM

    this is fucking awesome. YOU are fucking awesome.

  • Angeliska September 19th, 2011 9:08 PM

    This is awesome, Miranda. I devoured Lipstick Traces around the same time, and it also had a huge effect on my life – though they sure didn’t have it at my school library!

  • headless September 19th, 2011 9:20 PM

    good for you. although those girls need to get over the shame and rat the evil doers out, its not fair that they should be the only ones to feel bad.

  • Bean September 19th, 2011 9:26 PM

    That is such a simple but grand protest!

  • thumb biter September 19th, 2011 9:28 PM

    Great job. What happened to Xavier?

  • MichyMich September 19th, 2011 10:02 PM

    Miranda, thank you for writing an excellent story with a strong message. As a teenage feminist, I feel that female empowerment is ignored in Singapore. I feel so annoyed whenever people accuse a girl of “asking for it”. I’m glad that you brought this up in your article – I wish that there are more girls in my country who can spread female empowerment.

  • AmandaLouiseHobba September 19th, 2011 10:06 PM

    Wow! I am inspired!

  • safy September 19th, 2011 10:42 PM

    I read this while listening to Nico’s “These Days.” I think that’s why I am crying. In the event that you want to make a film out of this, Miranda, “These Days” better be in the soundtrack– the Jimmy Chen cover of the St. Vincent cover, though.

  • erikadee September 19th, 2011 11:46 PM

    you are brilliant.

  • cherrycola September 20th, 2011 12:15 AM

    I love Miranda July! No one belongs here more than you is amazing and The Future was great. This story just made me respect her even more.
    “I had assumed that nothing I said or did could ever have an impact on reality.”
    I think we’ve all felt this way, but this is a great example of something small having a powerful effect.

  • Scarlet September 20th, 2011 3:08 AM

    fuck yes.

  • Izzy September 20th, 2011 4:09 AM

    my god that is bloody amazing

  • julalondon September 20th, 2011 5:12 AM

    Wow this is brilliant! I think i wouldnt have had the balls when i was in high school to do this… Well done girl! =)

  • Raebbies September 20th, 2011 8:12 AM

    absolutely inspiring!

  • Lana A. September 20th, 2011 8:16 AM

    miranda you’re awesome! excellent example of Riot Grrl power :)

  • laris September 20th, 2011 11:06 AM

    OMG, YOU ARE AWESOME
    infinite points of cosmic respect

  • izzybee September 20th, 2011 11:41 AM

    Yes. Just Yes:)

  • sabrina September 20th, 2011 2:43 PM

    Good on you Miranda! Just shows us women do have a voice and a very powerful one at that.

  • moonmelts September 20th, 2011 4:02 PM

    I love Miranda July (her books, art exhibits and films) this is another testament to why she is so great.

  • saranev September 20th, 2011 9:52 PM

    I’m in love with you, Miranda July.

  • Jenny September 20th, 2011 11:40 PM

    Infinite awe.

  • tony-baloney September 23rd, 2011 7:11 AM

    Such bravery can only be known as super rad. :) I wish you did however mention Xavier’s troubles as everyone has good and bad and it would of allowed us to look past his petty troubles and see him for the monster he is ourselves. Nothing can excuse him for what he has done. I hope your still doing these sort of things with your art, film and writing. I will have a look at your work now :) Very motivational.

  • Claudia September 24th, 2011 8:31 AM

    Wow… i’d love to be this brave

  • Nora O September 25th, 2011 11:31 AM

    Xavier says
    ‘Ha-ha-ha,
    We have nothing in common’
    See you round, tah-ta
    Slink back to your abominable lover (…)

    [Xavier Says - The Magnetic Fields]

  • AineFey September 30th, 2011 8:55 PM

    That’s fantastic! Reading stories is like is the kind of thing that makes me regret trying to be invisible and quiet in school.