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By REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
20 years ago this month College Professor Anita Hill took to the witness stand at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Despite being accused of “flat-out perjury,” Hill courageously revealed to the world that whilst working under Thomas’, the Supreme Court nominee had not only pressured her for dates, but, had boasted of his sexual prowess and regularly, with great detail had described pornographic films to her.
Two decades later on October 15 prominent scholars, attorneys, journalists, activists and our very own Emily May came together for New York City conference “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later” to celebrate the controversy that not only launched modern day public awareness but redefined stock assumptions of exactly how sexual harassment manifests itself. And I was lucky enough to bag myself a ticket.
Anita Hill gave a wonderfully casual and gracious talk about her experiences regarding intersectional racism-sexism in the wake of her 1991 hearing. Amidst the rejuvenating hullabaloo a poignant moment stood out to me. Hill referred to polls revealing that 70 percent of Americans felt that she had been treated fairly by the all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary. I asked myself how is this possible? Largely due to gender stereotyping and the myth of manipulative women. The severity of such stock perceptions is their impact on an honest woman’s testimonial. I believe that this form of sexism survives by condoning the “boys will be boys” attitude, whereby a male is above the law by virtue of his boyhood. A woman, particularly one of color with all the historical baggage of colonization and slavery, is seen as sexually available by default. To protest sexual harassment, in this instance, is ridiculous because “boys will be boys.”
Anita Hill made no apologies for audaciously confronting her attacker and celebrating her tenacity 20 years on will hopefully educate and inspire the next generation of empowered women. The conference yielded the notion that education starts from the ground up. Actively speaking the truth is the first step to enacting legislation against any type of harassment to create an environment where people take women seriously because women take themselves seriously. I encourage women to speak up and defend themselves! If you hear:
Take him on:
“Oh hey, you think I’m sexy? Well, geez! I just feel like I’m walking home! But tell me about that…”
Issues of gender-based stereotyping, violence and sexism in general should not be a taboo subject, bring it up at family dinners, in friendly emails, on Facebook or Twitter, at school, in the park or at the store. Being a kick-ass, sassy and change inspiring feminist is a fun and full-time job and it pays off to be empowering yourself and those around you. Show people that the stereotypes are wrong all we want is gender equality and mutual respect.
“We, as activists and saboteurs who seek to upset the status quo, are in a place of danger and we need to protect ourselves. And yet, we are about to be free and we are not going to stop.”
Why do you HOLLA? Because any kind of harassment is not okay!
What’s your craft? I’m a lawyer.
HOLLAfact about your city: Chandigarh is one of the cleanest and most well-planned cities in India
What was your first experience with street harassment? My first experience was when I was 16 years old. I was walking from home to a nearby market and a group of boys started following me. They were hooting and commenting. My first reaction was to find a way out of the situation. I quickened my pace and entered a shop where I knew the owner. I stayed inside until I saw them leave.
Define your style: I am an eternal optimist. I like to believe the best of people. I try to understand why people do the things that they do. No one is inherently evil and if you just try a little, you can connect to the human inside of everyone.
Say you’re Queen for the day. What would you do to end street harassment? All harassers would have to pay a $100 fine for each incident of harassment and the money would be used to fund Hollaback! campaigns all over the world!
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? To let go of judgements.
My superheroine power is…positivity!
What inspires you? The amazing strength of the human spirit.
In the year 2020, street harassment…will be a thing of the past.
It appears to me that much of the cultural devaluation of the “feminine” comes from the long-held myth that there is an intrinsic difference between the genders.
Growing up, an easy label to attach to myself was “tomboy” because I was “like a boy” in that I did not like dresses or pink. But now I do like dresses and pink and I’m still me but no longer considered a “tomboy.” How odd! “Tomboy” itself is an unfair idea. I’m not ‘like a boy’ if I dislike pink. I’m like a biological female who sometimes does. It’s a color. A color is not characteristic of a gender.
As spirit-lifting author and transgender activist Kate Bornstein says “Gender attribution is phallocentric. One is male until perceived otherwise.” I think this universal acceptance of man and “maleness” as being normal (hence, a tomboy is ‘like a boy’ since boys and males are the standards against which we measure things) unfairly marks non-males and non-“masculine” behavior (such as enjoying the color pink) as abnormal. Women, not being men, are Other, Alien, Anonymous; the helper, the obstacle, the enemy, the prize.
So, voila! My humble plea: Let us not think in polar opposites. Let us bust some myths.
The myth that men are and should be stolid and unfeeling cuts off menfolk from actual human feelings. The myth that men are weak to their sexual desires (which are generally defined as heterosexual, dominant, impulsive and darned sloppy) is a myth that limits the full scope of men’s sexuality and reduces men to the state of a childlike predator. (See: Hugo Schwyzer http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/
The myth that women are pure, pretty princesses is weird, dehumanizing and unrealistic. And much worse is the myth that women are depraved and must be controlled and censored in order to prevent great, scary, mysteriously feminine things (like what–equality?). This myth cuts off women’s sexual development and tells a great, socially-accepted lie about what women are (non-sexual) and what they can be (slaves).
Both of these myths—men as helpless beasts and women as evil ninnies—hurt EVERYONE. In this polar-opposite construction of gender differences, men are hapless attackers; women perpetual victims and no one goes home happy. If we can break out of the system that tells us what we are, if we can stop being manipulated by false ideas that sell stereotypes about our sexual potentials, then we can freely express ourselves sexually and ethically without fear of sexual assault.
In essence: We are not dissimilar males and non-males, but friends! There are no absolute, essential qualities inherent in any gender. I advocate a smashing of the old lies and myths so we can more realistically see ourselves as diverse, sexual people of many stripes. Onward!
BY REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Know that jaunty feeling when you’re walking down the street and see a fine-looking individual? Don’t punch them in the face. Because that’s what it feels like to be piercingly stared to the ground, whistled at, lip-smacked, pinched and bullied.
I’ve been doing some thinking about that common street harassment excuse that these things are “just compliments.”
This defense brings up a tricky double bind.
The male privilege (taught, not innate) to stare, mock and hurt (a privilege that many men don’t even consider, never having being raised as women to be constantly alert to attack) exists on an unpleasant continuum of dehumanizing actions that stretches from lewd gestures to physical assault. In other words, the philosophy that Women are Prizes, not people—pretty ornaments, immaterial support systems or peripheral cast members to the Everyman—can encompass everything from mockery to rape.
“Sexuality” as presented in this traditional predator-prey mold is adversarial. Man attacks woman. End of story. And in this impossibly limited characterization, the ONLY way a woman is allowed to receive any power without recourse is to enjoy the male attention, to be a happy recipient of condoned male attention or aggression.
But EVERYONE wants to be admired. This is not a FEMALE trait. Everyone wants to admire. This is not a MALE trait. We all want the same things. The issue is context, duration, awareness of situations. Men are taught to pursue. Women are taught to take it or internally fight it, but certainly not do anything to protest the system that created it.
Everyone wants to look and be looked at in comfortable, erotic, safe situations. But it’s not a compliment if the recipient’s response is anger or hurt. So how do we get to more equilateral gender relations? I suggest 1) valuing and teaching clear communication skills and 2) encouraging people to express desires and boundaries with awareness of the other person’s desires and boundaries.
In other words: The next time you see a hot chick/cad/fellow person on the street, smile. Say hello. Do a little dance if you can’t keep it inside. But don’t be mean. No one wants to bang the mean person. After all, no kind expression of interest will ever warrant the desperate defense that it was “just a compliment.”
Most of us have heard that Chere’s son, Chaz Bono, is transgender and recently underwent surgery. You might have also seen or heard that Bono is now a contestant on Dancing with the Stars! Well I say, good for him; but not everyone feels that way.
Tranphobic psychiatrist Keith Ablow recently went on The O’Reilly Factor (Fox) and stated that, “Mr. Bono is doing more than dancing, he’s on a campaign to mainstream transgenderism.” Ablow claims that if your children watch a transgender person, such as Chaz Bono, on television, that your kids will be influenced to become transgender.
If you ask me children should watch Chaz Bono on TV. Here’s why: Bono is showing all children that he’s completely comfortable with himself and that he possesses no shame in who he is. How could that possibly be a bad thing? It’s not.
Ablow went on to say on The O’Reilly Factor that Bono being a contestant on Dancing with the Stars is akin to anorexics going on television and saying how wonderful they feel. That would be true if being transgender was a deadly or a disease, but it’s neither. The reality is that if all children were exposed to positive role models from the LGBT community, the rate of bullying would most likely go down, as well as the rate of LGBT teen suicide. Growing up knowing that you’re not different and that you should be accepted for who you are and what you feel, is the best thing for any child, whether they are transgender or not.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first that we’ve heard from Ablow, and it probably won’t be the last we hear of him and his illogical rants. This past spring Ablow jumped all over a J. Crew advertisement that showed a mother painting her son’s toenails neon pink. And what do you think Ablow had to say about it? No, not that a pastel pink would have gone better with the little boy’s shirt, but yup, you guessed it: painting this boy’s toenails was inevitably going to cause gender confusion!
Despite those like Ablow, there are positive representations of transgender issues in the media. Checkout Transgender kids: Painful quest to be who they are reported on CNN.com; it’s an encouraging counterpoint to the outlandishness of so-called “experts” like Ablow.
BY ANNIE BOGGS & REBECCA KATHERINE HIRSCH
Did you catch “Women, War and Peace” last night on PBS? The five-part documentary series aired its first episode, Bosnia: I Came To Testify, and it’s certainly not to be missed (the episode will soon be posted online).
Think women and war zones don’t mix? The sentimental notion that women are uninvolved peacekeepers only in the “masculine” domain of war is shattered in the series. In today’s war landscape, women have actually become “primary targets and are suffering unprecedented casualties” in many countries.
The series spotlights female bellicosity and passivity in conflict zones in Africa, South America, the Middle East and the Balkans. Some of the powerful ladies shown in the series are also becoming leaders in governing conflict.
One episode features Leymah Gbowee who recently won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen (all for their admirable activism work in advancing peace and gender equality — yeah!).
The series continues every Tuesday night until November 8. Narrators Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard all add some star power to the series.
Find out more on the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week’s episode is “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, the story of Liberian women who powerfully stood up against their country’s warlords, so don’t miss it!
As you know may already know, in recent months, there have been more than a dozen instances of sexual assault and harrassment in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, Windsor Terrace, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. In response to the growing concern for public safety, we worked with Public Advocate Bill deBlasio‘s office in conjunction with Center for Anti-Violence Education, Safe Slope, Girls for Gender Equity, and RightRides, to produce a new guide with tips and resources to help prevent and intervene in sexual assault and harassment.Volunteers from the Public Advocate’s office are teaming up to distribute 3,000 copies of the guide in the area. If you’d like to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are grateful to the Public Advocate’s office for their leadership on this project, and even if you’re not located in the NYC area, we hope you’ll take a look and considering adopting it for use in your own community.
UPDATE! The guide is now in Spanish, too:
Haciendo Nuestros Vecindarios Más Seguros: Cómo Puede Ayudar a Prevenir el Asalto y Acoso Sexual Público
BY EMILY MAY
Last week 6,300 of you rallied and signed a petition on Change.org for the NYPD to have increased sensitivity surrounding the South Brooklyn sexual assault cases, and today we are proud to announce the NYPD listened.
On Thursday, October 8th – only a week after the petition began - the commanding officers of the NYPD’s 72nd and 78th Precincts held a meeting with members of Hollaback! and Safe Slope, convened by New York City Councilmember Brad Lander, to directly address Safe Slope’s open letter to the NYPD and the 6,300 people (that’s you!) who signed the petition demanding increased sensitivity. As a result of that meeting, we are proud to announce the NYPD has agreed to following improvements:
Clearly, there is still work to be done. But we couldn’t have made it this far without your support.
In addition to your efforts, our heartfelt thanks go to Safe Slope, The Line Campaign, Permanent Wave, the organizers of SlutWalk NYC, and Women in the Media and News for organizing with us to make the petition happen, and Councilmember Lander for setting up the meeting with the NYPD. Shelby Knox, Director of Community Organizing for Women’s Rights at Change.org said, “the coalition of activists that made this happen should be commended for using people power, online and offline, to improve police sensitivity surrounding sexual assault cases. Their work will serve as a blueprint on how residents can respectfully petition the NYPD — and it is my belief that the impact of their efforts will live on long after the South Brooklyn rapist has been caught.”
Keep using your voice to change the world, and remember to always…
BY: ALEX ALSTON
Wayne Simmonds was the victim of a racially charged display one week before when a fan chunked a banana in front of him during a Philadelphia Flyers exhibition game in London, Ontario. On September 24th, however, he found no problem with calling Sean Avery, an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community, and forward of the New York Rangers, a “f*cking f*gg*t.” According to Simmonds, his actions were the result of a sucker punch Avery hit him with earlier in the game. Whatever his reasons, Simmonds was wrong. In this day and age of the camera constantly being in every athlete’s mouth, to even “slip up” and say something like this a perpetuation and a promotion of the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture and so blatantly and consistently ends in the deaths of young people across the country. The NHL would do well to react swiftly and decisively because a lack of a response in this case should be understood as nothing less than an endorsement of this type of behavior. We all remember Kobe’s $100,000 fine, so my eyes are fixed on the NHL. What kind of league do they want to be? One that fosters hate speech and homophobia or one that promotes tolerance and equality? Of course they can’t control what every individual player says, but they can set standards that make it clear that bigotry will not be tolerated. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if they plan to enact any repercussions on Simmonds, without any prodding at least. I encourage you all to prod, and to join the 50,000+ other people who have signed the petition to fine Wayne Simmonds for his homophobic slur against Sean Avery. You can read and sign it here.
BY ANNIE BOGGS
Is there a way to reduce violence in communities without traditional police intervention? What about through disease-control methods? Enter CeaseFire, an awesome Chicago-based organization.
CeaseFire curbs violence through an on-the-ground approach by using professionals from the actual communities to intervene in crises and mediate conflicts. They make use of a public health-inspired model:
1. Identification & detection
2. Interruption, Intervention, & risk reduction
3. Changing behavior and norms
They are working, overall, to change how we think about violence and overturn the conventional “prosecution over prevention” approach. They aim to find a solution to the epidemic of violence in other ways than incarceration.
This method isn’t just confined to CeaseFire, however. You can also be an “interruptor” in your own life, as shown in this great article. Interrupting racist or sexist discourse, and of course, street harassment, is one big way to cause change in your own community. The ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ campaign is one big way Hollaback! is working on bystander prevention.
Overall, CeaseFire is employing a refreshing approach to a seemingly unstoppable problem. Like Hollaback!, theirs is a grassroots movement that really takes the local community into account. Go CeaseFire!