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I was in fourth grade, it was lunchtime, and everyone was doing their own thing. I was silently eating in my seat, when a guy classmate walked up to me and with both his hands, held my face. I couldn’t move.

Then he forced his lips on mine.

He and his friends waited for my reaction, and when they couldn’t get any, they laughed and left. I was eleven years old, and was too shocked to say anything.

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I sobbed the moment I got home that day. My mother asked me what was wrong, and I don’t know why, but I felt too embarrassed to tell her what happened; so I just told her that my classmate punched me.

My mother got so angry, insisted we go to my classmate’s house, and so we did. We met the boy’s mother, who told me not to mind her son’s behavior because “it was just teasing. My son probably just has a crush on you.” And then she followed it with a phrase all girls are familiar with: “Boys will be boys.”

In the end, it was my mother who apologized, for barging into their home. Both of my mom and his agreed “not to make a big deal out of it” because it was nothing. I went home with my mom convincing myself of the same thing: It was nothing. I was over-reacting.

This year has been insane. David Bowie died, Harper Lee and Prince followed, Alan Rickman joined them, as did Leonard Cohen. On a more grownup political note, Brexit happened, Ferdinand Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and Donald Trump won.

But you’d probably agree with me when I say 2016 was worse for women. There’s President Rodrigo Duterte catcalling a reporter and then remarking “mayor dapat ang mauna” on a rape victim. (He says it’s a joke, but everybody knows rape is never a joke.) Honorable men in congress believe an alleged sex video of a female senator can be considered a piece of evidence that should be presented in court. And then there’s Vice President Leni Robredo, with all her achievements and awards, reduced to a pretty pair of legs.

Over the weekend, lewd Marcos supporters proved to be monsters, leaving demeaning, misogynistic comments on photos of young, female anti-Marcos protesters. There were references of “gang bangs,” insinuations of being a prostitute, and doodles of their short, ugly dicks. Sexual harassment, in short.

Outside politics, actress Rhian Ramos was sexually assaulted (twice in one day!) in a bar, and just this month, a minor was added on a group chat consisting of college boys sexualizing her, drawing penises on her photos, and declaring lewd things they want do to her. This minor was added thrice on the group chat, as if the men wanted to make sure that she reads their unwarranted sexual declarations.

It’s scary to think how these acts are often normalized as mere “boy talk” and worse, with the men involved defended with the “boys will be boys” excuse.

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My experience may seem very small, but this is exactly where the problem begins. That’s how sexism starts. It’s how it develops. When we dismiss these “small and harmless” incidents, we indirectly tell men it’s okay to do it.

When we trivialize sexist behavior with the “boys will be boys” excuse, we basically tell men they’re not accountable for things they do. In fact, we’re telling them they’re expected to act like that.

And when we excuse such sexist behavior, we basically tell girls to shut up and keep quiet. We tell them to adapt and adjust according to how men act. We tell girls to not make a big deal out of it because boys are really like that. At least that’s what I got wired into thinking: It was nothing, just harmless boy behavior.

To this day, my mother never knew what my guy classmate really did to me. Just like how I never said anything about that time I fell asleep on a bus and woke up with a guy’s hand moving to my upper thigh, and how I never slept again in public transportation after that. I also don’t say or do anything whenever guys call me “baby” on the street and shout lewd comments at me.

But I’ve had enough. I’m sure we’ve all had enough.

We are raised in this kind of society, where men who degrade and demean women are often defended, where women just have to suck it up and stay silent.

We live in a country where a man in power makes a sexist joke and is defended by his supporters by saying “nagpapakatotoo lang siya.

Incidentally, it is also a country where the president says that there’s nothing wrong ogling at a woman’s legs; a country where our vice president is used to being “pulutan” to the president, a country where a woman who was just fighting for a cause she believed in at a protest got sexually harassed on the internet.

It’s time to take no shit. It’s time to speak up and challenge this society we are living in. It’s time to call out every sexist action, no matter how little. It’s time to tell people that it shouldn’t be this way.

Senator Risa Hontiveros filing the Tres Marias bill that aim to combat violence against women and sexual harassment on Tuesday is a proof that we can still change the way this society thinks, if only we work together.

And if people are still defending harassment and degrading actions with the “boys will be boys” excuse, it’s our responsibility to overpower those voices and remind everyone that boys can’t be boys anymore.

Illustration: Madel Crudo

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