Every morning, I arrived at school right around the same time as a dude who drove a white Jeep and played some kind of sport (which I think might've been soccer). He was a real class act. He had a bumper sticker that said:
I don't like girls who use four letter words, like DON'T, STOP and QUIT.
I would see that sticker and boil with fury and simultaneously marvel at yet another example of the school's culture of hypocrisy. Between all their expressions of homophobia and pole-praying, you'd think maybe one of this kid's many allegedly pious Christian teammates or teachers or school administrators might've said something to him about it. Or maybe his parents. Or maybe any of the girls he ever met in his whole life. And yet. In he drove, with the sticker, every day.
Alone in my rage, I seethed all year, hating the sticker and hating the school I had to show up at even more. I felt exploited and marginalized: my friends and our test scores raised local property values, but our contributions to the school were never celebrated with bonfires or mandatory pep rallies. The vice principal confiscated my eyebrow ring in the hallway (yes, it was bloody and gross), and yet this kid got away with his decidedly unsubtle rape-tastic sentiment every single day.
Towards the end of the school year, I got dismissed early one day, probably after several insane hours of high-stakes international test-taking. The kid was parked next to me.
I ripped the sticker off his bumper and shoved it into his spare tire.
Of course, there are many benign and even sex-positive ways to interpret this sticker's content. One translation might be: "I prefer girls who enjoy sex!" Wouldn't that be something? But I don't think we can make any mistake as to what kind of attitude this dude was actually intending to express: "I expect to get whatever I want from girls, and the ones who put up a fight are bitches."
In comedy, arguments about limits on speech quickly conflate any kind of criticism with censorship. Personally, I think people should be allowed to say whatever they want, and by and large they totally fucking are. Nobody's getting arrested for telling rape jokes at comedy clubs, or even banned, from what I've heard. And that's a good thing, because freedom of expression is a human right.
But when I think about my isolated 17-year-old self and about how much satisfaction it gave me to fuck with this junior misogynist, I can't quite see what I did as akin to censorship. People like that dude had all the power, or at least the blessings of those with the power -- the cops, the administration, the community -- to get away with whatever immoral shit they felt like doing. My angry little act felt like a kind of much-needed punk rock vandalism, insipid and futile as it might've been, and I honestly still feel oddly proud that I did it.
So did I deprive this kid of his right to free speech? Or was destroying his property a noble act of defiance? Either way, one thing is for sure: if he really doesn't like girls who use four letter words, he would hate the fuck out of me.
Then as now.