The new school year just began and Zoë is already over it.
Specifically, she is fed up with a boy in her class named Noah, who, like many fifth grade boys, hasn’t quite figured out how to flirt with girls in a way that’s not intrusive and obnoxious.
According to Twitter user @WhosDenverJones, a reported friend of the kids’ teacher, Zoë did try to let Noah down easy. Unfortunately, Noah was stubborn and persistent, like kids can be in the heat of their first big crush.
Zoë took matters into her own hands, writing him a colorful letter that laid down the ground rules of courtship, consent, and general communication of romantic intent:
My friend who’s a 5th grade teacher just sent this to me! I’m dead!!! pic.twitter.com/FSDBxs9Vtq
— Denny Dimples (@WhosDenverJones) September 15, 2016
Zoë’s letter is obviously cute and hilarious. But it’s also painfully poignant — and, unfortunately, relevant to relationships beyond the fifth grade.
Obviously Noah’s still just a kid and we should forgive his preadolescent oversights. Chances are, the poor kid genuinely didn’t know any better, and now he’s feeling heartbroken and confused. As a former fifth-grade boy myself, I can relate.
That doesn’t mean we should just let it slide, of course. There are plenty of grown men in this world who still haven’t figured out the lessons that Zoë put forth in her letter. But everybody’s gotta learn some time, and a fifth-grade heartbreak is the perfect opportunity to drive the point home.
Let’s break it down:
1. “Do not touch my shoulders.”
This is a pretty simple request. Zoë — like all women — doesn’t need a guy’s help brushin’ off her shoulders. Her body is her body, just like anyone’s body. It belongs to her and her alone.
2. “Do not get behind me with all that playing + foolishness. (Don’t get behind me at all.)”
Again with the personal space invasion! Listen, people: Just because you’re not touching someone doesn’t mean it’s OK to crowd them.
This isn’t limited to intentional crowding either. Sometimes guys tend to take up more space anyway, even when we don’t mean to. So pay attention to your own personal bubble, and be aware of other people’s bubbles around you too.
3. “Do not speak to me unless it’s a greeting, which will be never.”
I hate to break it to you, bros, but no one owes you a conversation. If someone doesn’t want to talk, then don’t talk to them. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re being nice or polite or complimentary. If they don’t wanna hear it, then it’s just plain obnoxious.
(Also pro tip: Never try to start up a conversation by yelling at someone from across the street.)
4. “Stop playing with me on the bus.”
This might sound adorably specific to Zoë and Noah’s schoolyard situation, but it’s actually something that affects a lot of women when they’re out in public — at every age and in every part of the country.
Just because you have a captive audience doesn’t mean you should hold them captive and force them to interact with you. Next time you’re out in the park or waiting for the train, and you see a cute woman chillin’ with her headphones on and a copy of “The Handmaid’s Tale” in her lap? Leave her alone, please and thanks.
5. “I have a short temper with people and you ruin my day because you play 2 much.”
There are two things going on here: First, when someone tells you straight-up what they need in order to maintain their own mental well-being, you should listen. It doesn’t matter if they convey it verbally or physically (read: sitting and waiting for the train, just like above). Even if you find that kind of self-assurance to be incredibly attractive, the best way to honor it is by not bothering her.
The second truth that young Zoë hits on is that women often have to work extra hard to get the credit and recognition they deserve. That’s not your fault, but it is unfortunately the way our society works. That means she ain’t got time for your games, and you should respect that too. (Especially when she’s being so forward about it.)
6. “Reread 500 times.”
Zoë might only be in fifth grade herself, but she’s articulating the same frustrations of every woman who’s ever lived and is similarly sick of having to repeat these exact same points over and over and over again.
Don’t act dumb. I know you’ve heard all this stuff before — and if you think you haven’t, it’s probably because you haven’t been paying attention. But maybe you’ll listen to another dude, who is me, when he tells you: Let it go.
7. “You like me (as a gf) but I don’t like you (as a bf). I’m too young!”
This is the central idea of “consent,” just in case you still weren’t clear on the other points that Zoë made: No means no, bro. And that’s that.
Zoë’s letter can basically be boiled down to one crucial point: Instead of letting “boys be boys,” we need to teach them that consent is important and that no one is entitled to someone else’s body, time, or affections.
Preferably, we would start that education well before fifth grade, but when it comes to kids like Noah, it’s better late than never.
In an ideal world, Zoë wouldn’t have been forced to expressive herself with such entertaining eloquence. But the fact that a fifth-grade girl is able to be so forward with her feelings and articulate the frustrations that so many other women are feeling? That’s pretty cool. It means that something’s changing in the world, and it’s absolutely for the better.