Throughout the fall of 2017 the hashtag #metoo exploded on social media. It started as small scale hashtag where women noted how they too had been affected by sexual harassment— unnecessary comment and unwarranted attention based off of objectifying women and classifying them as merely sexual beings, rather than considering their intellectual capacity, and their innate abilities, whether it be athletic or artistic. Throughout history women consistently have been disregarded when it comes to their worth as individuals and instead singled out based solely on their sexual attributes. This has most commonly come in the form of unwanted comments, mansplaining, women not being respected and listened to, but the problems correlated with sexist commentary and actions go much deeper than this. Sexual harassment is the basis to all sexual assault as it is the normalizing factor to deeper societal concerns.
The #MeToo hashtag started with actress Alyssa Milano who tweeted:
According to the Atlantic, within 24 hours, it already had been retweeted a half-million times. Women were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment.
Unfortunately, these comments and acts of sexual harassment, along with the sexual assault, have become so normalized that they are often overlooked and disregarded. Women learn to blow comments off, to walk by with their head down when a group of men are gathered on the streets, and sadly, often learn that their sexuality is the manner in which to get ahead
Background of Sexual Harassment
The way in which our culture defines sexual harassment has changed fundamentally over the past decade. The situation often comes down to what has been allowed or tolerated societally at a given time .Just look at the situation involving Harvey Weinstein or any of the other named predators in the United States Congress. Many have simply stated that they had acted in ways that were socially acceptable at the time. Although the idea of harassing a woman will always be “wrong,” there was a pervasive culture of it throughout much of the past. Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was no legal standing for a woman to make a claim against their employer for discrimination based on sex. And if you consider that to be “coming late to the party,” it should be noted that India didn’t establish sexual harassment as being illegal until 1997, in the case of Vishakha v State of Rajasthan. Even worse? Kuwait and Djibouti still do not have laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
Each country and correspondingly, each culture handles sexual harassment differently. Currently, there is an enormous American revolution involving men from every end of the spectrum - from Roy Moore to Senator Al Franken - being outed for sexually harassing women. However, there is still a pervasive culture of the concept of women “asking for it” in India. The 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter” showed some of the underlying attitudes towards rape and sexual harassment in India that go on even today. Jyoti Singh was a 23-year-old medical student who was killed following a gang rape on a bus, and the documentary follows the trial of the men who are alleged to have committed the crime. In one scene, one of these men nonchalantly says that if the woman had just gone along with the men, she wouldn’t have died. Shocking in its content, it isn’t surprising that the documentary was banned in India after the Foreign Minister claimed that it “disrespected women.”
The harassment of women is a global pandemic. Within the current context of the United States,, women need to continue to speak out, to confidently pursue their dreams and advocate for themselves. Ultimately then, a large part of the change will be rooted in men beginning to make changes. According to Mashable, five ways men can help be a part of the end of sexual harassment will be: listening to women, men speaking to other men, for men to practice consent-every step of the way, and advocate for better education and prevention. In a world where women have long been sexualized products within a society, it comes down to all members of society to make the change— it is a change for respect, a change for status.
What follows is a selection of personal scenarios that each member of the Sub Stances team has faced in their daily lives
It is a testament to the fact that sexual harassment is so common in our society that at least for me, personally, I often have to consider whether or not I’m normalizing situations where men sexually harass me. The insidious part about sexual harassment is that it happens all the time, and that one particular moment does not, in fact, stick out to me.
Being objectified has come in ways that work their way into everyday habit. In the workplace, a man can treat a female coworker differently than a man, act invasively to impede her own advancement with snide remarks or full-out assault. In daily life, there’s catcalling, inappropriate touching in clubs and unasked for lecherous words thrown at you on the street. For each of us, it happens differently and has its own pitfalls and insecurities that follow.
The first step of initiating change is acknowledging that these situations and scenarios happen to each of us, whether or not we have simply shunted it into the category of ‘these things happen.’ For me, that’s where I am. There are so many things in my past that I can think of as men causing me to feel uncomfortable because of how I was dressed or how I look, but I have difficulty qualifying those as “harassment,” sexual or otherwise. But naming something gives you power over it - and saying that you have been sexually assaulted is not confirming you are a victim, rather it is saying “me too” to the millions of other women so that none of us feel as alone, ever again.
Even now, as a 24 year old, I still hesitate to disclose my experience with sexual harassment. But then I think, what about those young girls who are becoming in the process of becoming a woman? What is supposed to be a time to be celebrated in a woman’s life is likely to be marred with negative commentary, unwanted advances, gross gestures and so forth.
As a daughter raised by a fiercely protective mother and a proudly feminist father, I do believe I grew up in the best environment a girl could. They supported all my endeavors and my education - no matter the societal barriers. If girls weren’t allowed to play a sport, I became the first and my dad stepped up as my coach. I was the only girl on my block growing up, and I was always welcome to participate not because of my sexuality - but because of my skill. I grew up knowing I was valued as a human being.
And as I slowly transformed into a woman, so did my interactions with the outside world. I started becoming valued for what I looked like as opposed to how I could perform. This was further perpetuated by society’s image of what a preteen/teen/young woman should look and act like. And after time, I hate to admit it, I allowed it to become normal. I grew to expect the unwanted looks, the comments, the gestures, etc. I learned how to be both proactive and reactive to these words and actions in order to protect myself. I had to change, not them. This was the reality.
But now, this Me Too movement and The Silence Breakers as Time’s Person of the Year, has the potential to change that. And to be completely honest, I find this movement to be both debilitating, but also empowering. When I realized just how far-reaching sexual harassment extended, it was a crushing blow. It did not matter whether a person was famous or not or even male or female - sexual harassment was an pandemic. That being said, now people are listening and perhaps more importantly, taking action against the accused and not the accuser.
This all has been a whirlwind and I hope it does not enervate nor lose its value as more and more people begin to speak up, and more people step down from their (usually powerful) positions. MeToo has highlighted the inequality that still exists and the very large need for societal improvement.
After Harvey Weinstein was accused of a series of sexual assaults by many actresses, the hashtag MeToo started to spread over social media. The magical world of Hollywood suddenly shook. And more and more allegations of sexual violence followed. Voices have started to be heard on the web, with every day, more women sharing their stories or simply tweeting #MeToo.
I find this MeToo thing to be very positive, but none of this is new, so why now? Why now, and not earlier? I was not surprised at all by the flood of messages I read on Facebook. Of course, women are victims of sexual assaults on an everyday basis. I am, my friends are. And many courageous women have been talking about it for ages. So, was it because of the Hollywood scandals, this girl taking selfies with her catcallers, the launch of the Me Too hashtag, or the election of Donald Trump? I don’t know, but all of this encouraged women to talk and they started to verbalize everything. Finally, voices were being heard. And “now” is better than “later”.
I thought it was just common knowledge but it obviously was not. And it is good that people started to realize how the reality is. I have never been sexually assaulted strictly speaking, but I am objectified far too often. And the saddest part is that I got used to it.
As a woman, you start to be objectified at an early age. Maybe 12. Then it never really stops. You get catcalled in the streets, looked at in really nasty ways, touched inappropriately in clubs, talked to badly if you’re not nice enough, and more. And it is something you learn to live with.
I find it unbelievable that I got “used to it”. I wish I could just not care about it. But I have to admit, I adapt my behaviour in certain situations because I feel uncomfortable, or because I know there is a risk. I consider myself free, free to dress as I wish, free to say what I want, and it is what I often do, but not always. I have developed reactional behaviours to certain situations. I don’t wear short clothes in some neighbourhoods, I try to never walk home alone after a night out, I am extra careful when I travel, I avoid eye contact when being catcalled and I don’t trust strangers too quickly.
What really frustrates me is that there is no instant solution. I am so glad that this Me Too hashtag got so popular, and that no one can ‘ignore’ the reality anymore, but I don’t think things will change that fast. This is all rooted in our societies, and it will take a long time to really, actually change. I see a long-term solution in education, in a change of mindset and attitude; and for women, to stop ‘normalizing’ it, to keep talking and saying things out loud. Sexual harassment is not normal.
The natural state of my body has always drawn attention—being that it falls into the box of sexual aesthetics society pushes into our everyday lives through the media, marketing, and in recent years, social media. During my years of early womanhood there was a part of me that found it complimentary— comments and sexuality validated my own self-confidence and sense of womanhood. Unnecessary comments walking down the street, flirtatious texts from boys I would never pursue were band-aids to my own insecurities. My identity throughout my teenage years became largely tied to how those around me thought of my body, and while it was athletics that largely kept me looking a certain way, I was also fond of attention that the world around me gave me. Undoubtedly, it was not rooted in authenticity but rather my own self confidence being based on externalities, outside thoughts, and was certainly not built internally. My world, like many young people, was largely shaped by what outsiders thought of me, how attractive people thought I was, and what status I held in their eyes. Ultimately, a part too large, of my own identity became tied to my ability to sexually appeal, my athletic performances, and external achievements. Sadly, a large quantity of these achievements were marked when I felt validated by sexual comments, inappropriate glances, and being objectified.
As I entered my first year of undergraduate schooling, my father sat me down and praised me for my academic successes, my work ethic, but then commented on my choice of attire. It is a conversation I will never forget. I remember feeling livid. How could I be victimized, yet also be at fault for the times when a man commented on the shape of my body or the attire I wore? I was aggravated at my father for calling it a lack of respect, when I indeed had thought I did respect my body (far more than people shoving McDonald’s down their throats), and I certainly did respect myself when it came to how I confidently carried myself in school and in my sports. However, along with this agitated feeling of guilt, even though I was not at fault for being a women, I had also realized that too much of my self “confidence” was vested in what other people thought about me. At 18, I was a product of the media, a product built from the world around me, and so much that I believed it too.
To this day this is a struggle I have both with myself, but also with society—because I should be able to acquire respect as a woman regardless of how I dress, but then again, where did this societal pressure for women to adhere to a set of norms even appear? Why did I feel obligated as a 14 year old to wear pencil skirts that accentuated by waist and buttocks? Why did I feel obligated to wear heels and a shirt that exposed part of my chest? Throughout my years of developing who I am as a woman I have come to deeply respect, and cherish myself for everything I am, from my thoughts and opinions as well as my love for health and exercise.
Six years later, my dad visited me, this fall while working in the Southern Bronx. He came to see where I work as a teacher, and because I run to and from work, as we left, I was clad in my running shorts. As we were walking my dad had noticed people looking at me, occasionally people saying things about my legs, and similar to years former, my dad said I should watch what I wear, especially in the area I am working in. This time, my response was different. I said “no.” I am a woman. I am dressed in running shorts because I usually run home, but regardless of what I am wearing, that is for me. This time it was not a me problem, it is a them problem. I am not asking for this attention. It is not validating, but rather unwanted, and destructive. I told my dad no because I will run in what I want to run in, because it is not a clothing problem, it is a lens problem. The problem lies in the lens of how men see women and women see other women.
It dawned on me that my 18 year old self, like many teenagers are fueled by what the world around us thinks, how men, and other women fuel the notion that women must be sexual looking beings and that is our objective. Women buy into this. Men buy into it. And sadly, young women, teenagers constructing their identity, buy into this. Women, are beautiful by nature— but we are also smart, artistic, loving, and gifted beyond measure. The problem has never been the clothing, rather the problem has always been what other people think they can say to women, and that first and foremost women are looked at as sexual beings, rather than ones of depth. The problem, more than anything, is that women come to believe it. We come without real conscience believing that we are first figures that must portray ourselves sexually before we are anything else. Womanhood itself is defined in our society by two parallels, yet distinct narratives—sexuality and motherhood, both of which should never be sole definers of what is means to be a woman.
My 18 year old self was part of this spinning wheel that silently fueled the problem by application and letting men say unwarranted comments. It was not my attire that changed, but the respect I had for myself. My 24 year old self respects me, and all woman too much to not say anything. The only way this changes is by women lifting women, and men valuing women for more than what is on the surface. When society is constructed not by a man, or not by a woman, but rather by those looking to delve deeper, by those looking for a world built on a foundation of respect, that is when this world will be a better place.
Being a 24 year old who has put in the time to build my intrinsic values and esteem, my worry again is casted out into society. I live in New York City. There is not a day I do not experience catcalls. But contrary, and parallel to this notion, I am surrounded by women who are thinkers, who are doers, and who are not here on behalf of men, but on behalf of themselves and making this place a better one for each generation (regardless of their sex) to come. The problem will never be how a woman carries herself, but the answer will always be in how we as individuals—men, women, and citizens lift one another, how we stop people from catcalling, how we listen fully, and how we choose consent. After all, this world cannot be its best world, unless all citizens are empowered and respected as their full entities —mind and body.
We hope that this MeToo movement does not lose momentum. As women hailing from all over the world, we demand better. We are entitled to the same rights as our male counterparts. We deserve to be treated equally as human beings and to be able to live and to work without fear of being harassed. Our voices matter - they are not to be silenced. Let us make this, the new normal.
Support and Spread the Fury Against Sexual Abuse: A talk at REvolution Books in Harlem December 9th, 2017
Revolution Books, a bookstore that is home to books that start revolutions, forces critical thinking and hosts a variety of talks. In the heart of Harlem, one of the revolution bookstore locations hosted a talk on December 5th, 2017, titled “Support and Spread the Fury of Against Sexual Abuse.”
The night began with with Fran Luck, a long-term activist and host of the Joy of Resistance on the WBAI radio, who spoke about how deeply rooted issues of sexual abuse are and how they plague every realm of society. Luck addressed the wide spectrum by discussing about undocumented female farmers who are raped, harassed, and have no voice to speak out while white collar women are only able to climb the corporate ladder by often allowing, and not filing complaints when incidents occur. Women, in every walk of life, experience objectification, and systemic sexual harassment.
Luck noted that one of the many current problems is that once women have spoken out, accused corporations find loopholes to avoid accusations. For instance, two out of every five women, who work for McDonald’s have reported being groped, and sexually violated in the workplace;however, the vast majority of these cases were dropped because McDonald’s pleaded that each entity is an individual franchise, and therefore, it beared no responsibility. This is merely one example of how women lose their voice, and are not represented or genuinely listened to. Similar cases, and the lack of female voices, has long been a historical theme — it is each micro-aggression, each job a woman leaves because of discomfort, each instance of objectification, and each time a woman is valued only for her sexual attributes, rather than her brain, her ability to multi-task, and an understanding that she has fundamental abilities to bring to the table, just like her counterpart —the man.
So why now? Why is now the time for women’s voices to be heard? Why is now the end of their silence? Women being muzzled dates back back to the foundation of the written word, it is documented or rather undocumented in the Bible. It is also documented over the more recent years - that women have laid a better path for each woman that has come after them. The ‘Me Too’ movement, that exponentially took off was largely in correlation with social media’s ability to reach hundreds of thousands of people.
Following and piggy-backing off Luck, Sansara Taylor, a journalistand member of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, spoke. Taylor focused on the notion that while there is a huge necessity to take large key players out of their positions, a larger focus and understanding needs to be occurring on a grassroots level. This isbecause issues regarding women is so deeply pervasive and systemic. Systemic sexual harassment, like many ills that plague society, are learned and passed from generation to generation. Taylor began with telling a story of a four year-old, whom she knew and who cat-called her - merely because it was something he had routinely seen and been exposed to.
The systemic issue of sexual assault always puts the woman as the problem at the forefront. . It has created a set of conditions that perpetuate fear, rather than freedom. Historically rooted, patriarchy stems from the necessity to control - whether it is controlling reproduction or how a woman is perceived. Harassment against women comes in all forms - predation, battery, rape, groping, slavery,molestation, mansplaining and so forth. . But it can end. This can all end. Political participation and pressuring those guilty, to resign from their seats are two ways to elevate women along with supporting those women in your life and being an active voice for change. As Rupi Kaur says, ___________
Now it is time to convince every woman that they are born enough.
After any kind of conflict ends, the first debate is - how to reimagine a post-conflict society? Who will take power? What kind of power-sharing needs to take place? What will be different from before that will ensure a lack of violence in the future? But one of the questions that is rarely dealt with is the issue of bringing women into post-conflict conversations. There is a chronic lack of representation of women in post-conflict negotiations. Women don’t have a seat at the table nor do they have a say in what comes after.
One way that the United Nations is attempting to address this is by increasing the number of female peacekeepers worldwide. By letting people from all across the world see women in powerful positions, there is a higher chance that they will be welcomed as a participant of any negotiation. According to Senator Mobina Jaffer of Canada, “Women on the ground during peace operations foster greater trust in the communities in which they serve, leading to an increased reliability in intelligence and opportunities for capacity building.” In other words, when women are at the forefront of peacebuilding, they have higher chances to increase women's rights, educational opportunities and economic advancement for everyone.
Unfortunately, when we think about gender representation in conflict, we often think about the amount of gender-based violence, such as rape or focused attacks on women and children. Because of womens’ marginalization during conflict, gender parity in post-conflict societies is heavily studied. The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute includes “enslavement, sexual slavery, and enforced prostitution or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” as a crime against humanity. The ICC has a history of overseeing cases where these kind of crimes are sadly common. Thankfully, because of this acknowledgement, crimes committed against women are not the norm.
So how does one improve the role of women in a post-conflict society? You might start by including women in negotiations and making sure that the crimes committed against them are appropriately dealt with. Another step? Female peacekeepers and women in power. In some post-conflict societies, women don’t have the right to own property or vote. This takes away from their power. So in building a stronger post-conflict society, it’s critical to address this. This can be talked about in reconciliation conversations and crimes can be addressed in tribunals. There are concrete ways that every society can take to better bring women into post-conflict negotiations.
At a time when imbalanced conflict and violence towards civilians seems to be increasing, it’s so important to talk openly not only just about the fact that violence against women happens, but also that in order to move forward, gender equality needs to be more than theory. It has to be put into practice.
Have you ever considered where your books really come from? The brief answer is, the author. People like JK Rowling and Neil Gaiman are famous for the words, characters, and worlds that they’ve created. But beyond that, the longer answer is the publishing industry, and if you think about it - what do you know about women in publishing? There is much written about the popular statistics of diversity in governments around the world, but in the literary arts industry? Not so much.
VIDA is a non-profit organization that aims to create transparency for the publishing and literacy industry. They do that by publishing the VIDA Count each year to highlight gender imbalances in every kind of literary publication they can: by genre, book reviewers, books reviewed and journalistic bylines. And it’s not just about women. VIDA is committed to showing not only the lack of gender parity, but also to amplify historically-marginalized voices, including people of color, writers with disabilities and queer, trans, and gender nonconforming individuals.
So what does the VIDA Count tell us about the last year? While certain publications are doing better when counting how many women are being published versus men, only 48 percent of counted publications published as many bylines by women writers as men. That’s a decrease of 10 percent from last year.
If we look closely at a specific publication like the Atlantic - there’s an interesting point to be made. Although only 36 percent of writers were women, it’s an improvement on last year’s ten point decrease. Can that be attributed to the transparency that the VIDA Count offers? Maybe. It can be argued that by bringing attention to publications that don’t do a good job, VIDA is helping to raise awareness.
Platforms like Book Riot write extensively on choosing your books based on where you want your dollars to go. Do you support diversity? Then read diversely. Instead of picking up the latest read just because it’s on the front table at your bookstore, look at the back cover and decide if that’s really where you want to place your support.
One way that you might consider reading more diversely is taking up Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. While it’s a bit late in the year, it might be a great New Year's resolution to expand your reading repertoire for 2018. Reading diversely is a great way to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is not like yourself. If there’s anything that VIDA shows us, it’s that the publishing industry needs more diversity.
Diversity in publishing comes from one place: readers. By spending money on diverse authors and demanding books that come from many different cultures, the publishing industry would be forced to adapt its authorship to something more representative of the world that we live in today. The VIDA Count is one way for readers everywhere to measure what the situation is now, and where to start pushing for change.
Again and again, the world has witnessed leaders across its many communities work towards change. These leaders try out different techniques, strategies for growth and financial schemes to create positive and lasting change. As we’re celebrating women this month, Sub-Stances is highlighting some of the best positive women-led initiatives that are making strides from the past year.
Created in 2013, 68 Voces is a non-profit multimedia project led by Gabriela Badillo in Mexico to promote all of Mexico’s 68 native tongues. The project is now a series of animated indigenous stories all narrated in their original language. What does the project represent? The idea that “nobody can love what they do not know.” Badillo started the project in order to help build respect for the usage of all of these languages and the idea that all of them together represent the cultural wealth of Mexico. Right now, the project has completed 35 videos and is in the process of finding and creating another 33 to truly represent the cultural diversity of Mexico.
Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP)
Swayan Shikshan Prayog is an organization from Maharashtra, India that tries to empower women to farm sustainably by teaching and providing them better education, healthcare and financial support. They won the 2017 Equator Prize from the UN Development Program, a prize that celebrates organizations that protect, restore and sustainably manage nature locally. SSP is unique not only because it is women-led, but also because it uses an agroecological farming model. This model trained women to use low-impact sustainable farming, crop diversification and efficient water use. And in 2016, SSP helped over 20,000 women to act as farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders.
While the World Bank does not have a woman president, around 39 percent of supervisors at the World Bank are women. Of their technical professionals, 44 percent of them are female. The World Bank handles business and one of the biggest obstacles for women in business is funding. Only 30 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) around the world are owned by women. That’s a staggeringly low number. We-Fi is a Financial Intermediary Fund at the World Bank, and it aims to provide over 1 billion US dollars to women trying all across the world to start their own businesses. The World Bank’s work in attempting to promote a stronger place for women isn’t just about funding businesses. For example, in Nicaragua the World Bank helped around 230,000 women to acquire legal documents for their property (something that tradition was hindering in the past).
The Female Lead
Edwina Dunn launched the Female Lead as a non-profit to help young girls have older women role models to look up to. The organization tries to create spaces online and across diversified media in order to celebrate women making big changes throughout the world and to show younger girls what is possible for them to achieve. By showing young women what is possible, Dunn is trying to inspire them to reach for higher goals and to be successful in any field they choose. On Female Lead’s website, you can see a series of 20 top women in their 20's and women icons that are at the top of their industries.
Women Led Cities… to come
Although it’s not technically up and running yet, Women-Led Cities is an initiative started by Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman to work towards a greater level of equity in urban planning and design, to start conversations about developing feminist city policy towards greater equality for all people in cities. The city as we know it has been designed and shaped primarily by men, the Women Led Cities Initiatives is a project of THINK.urban and aims to make cities of the future women-led. We’re looking forward to seeing what they will achieve in 2017 in their pilot program in Philadelphia, PA.
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