What is twenty percent?

Tasha Graff
2 min readOct 4, 2018


“One in five women will be raped at some point in their lives.”

I grab a dozen bagels on the corner of Cumberland and Smith for my poetry class. I pay with my credit card, leave a twenty percent tip. Twenty percent of a dozen is about two and a half bagels. I get in my car, drive the seven miles to work, which uses twenty percent of a gallon of gas, less than the price of a bagel but more than riding my bike. I teach seventy-five percent of the day; I grade papers. I drive home.

I call my brother and twenty percent is my phone’s battery after I hang up. I walk upstairs to my map of the world and put my hand across the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty percent is one entire ocean. I sit in the chair in the corner of my office. Twenty percent is a corner of the Pentagon, maybe the room where they discuss waterboarding. I stare at the bookshelf. There are five shelves; twenty percent is one shelf gone. I close my eyes and try to imagine one fifth of the books in the world have disappeared; I can’t.

Twenty percent is five letters of our alphabet, plus a squiggle, perhaps an em-dash. Twenty percent is both my thumbs. Twenty percent is nine US presidents, whether they won the popular vote or not, though five have lost it throughout history, present company included. Mark off ten of the fifty states of our union. Compose a piece of music for the piano without sixteen keys, plus one that sticks, and you’ve got eighty percent of a keyboard unaltered.

Twenty percent is the amount of women in our country who will be raped by men, according to National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Make a list of the women you know. Mark off one for every five and you’ll get twenty percent. Think about the women in your family. Is it hard to choose?

The US Congress has 535 people representing our country and twenty percent are women.

There are twenty-three women in the Senate. The percentage of women in the US Senate is only three percent greater than the percentage of women in our country who will be raped in their lifetimes.

There are eighty-seven women in the US House of Representatives. That’s nineteen percent of the four hundred and thirty-five representatives for our country. The percentage of women in the US House of Representatives is lower than the percentage of women who will be raped in their lifetime.

What percentage would it take to matter?

What percentage of men are committing the crimes?

How many men are reporting their violence?

What percentage of our children do we value?

What percentage of our hearts are we willing to give?