Putting the Blame Where it Belongs

This week I have two posts about exciting new initiatives taking place in opposite corners of North America. The first is about an initiative against sexual harassment in New York City Public Schools and the result is the book Hey, Shorty! The title is in reference to common cat call used to draw the attention of young women. Because sexual harassment is another form of bullying, parents looking for assistance in their public schools should take note.

The Feminist Press

Difficulties concentrating in school, shame, depression, guilt, fear, low self-esteem, poor body image and feelings of helplessness are just some of the repercussions that high school victims of sexual harassment experience, according to research conducted by Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). This Brooklyn-based non-profit organization works to “improve gender and race relations and socioeconomic conditions for the most vulnerable youth and communities of colour.” Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven and Megan Huppuch of GGE have collaboratively written Hey, Shorty!, which tells GGE’s story, while providing a model to teach their peers what constitutes sexual harassment and how to prevent it. The book also gives activists, educators, parents and students a hands-on guide to combat sexual harassment and violence in their schools and neighborhoods.

In September 2001, just a few months after GGE had started meeting to play basketball, an 8-year-old girl had been raped on her way to school in the area. In response to the victim blaming that GGE founder Joanne Smith heard, she decided to discuss gender stereotypes and discrimination with the girls in the league. This evolved into Gender Respect Workshops, developed and facilitated by Mandy Van Deven with male and female students in the classroom. She discovered that sexual harassment was a major issue in the lives of the students, particularly girls and LGBTQ youth. Soon after, the Sisters in Strength program was born, and today it has become a paid yearlong internship for teen girls of colour to advocate for the enforcement of sexual harassment policies in New York City Public schools through workshops and direct action.

The Sisters in Strength’s first task was to raise awareness about the problem in the community, which led to their making of “Hey, Shorty!,” a short-film that later won Best Youth Documentary at the Roxbury International Film Festival. They screened their film at the Street Harassment Summit where they shared what they had learned with other members of the community. A second Sisters in Strength project involved hands-on participatory action research. Interns collected information through surveys, focus groups and slam books, or notebooks with written prompts that students can respond to anonymously. After compiling their data, they concluded that sexual harassment was rampant and normalized. Their research results were presented at the Gender Equality Festival to other community organizations. Under Huppuch’s leadership, GGE went on to form the Coalition for Gender Equity in School with more than 20 other area organizations.

The work of GGE may well have given us the solution to bullying that we have so desperately sought for the past 20 years. When we are sexually harassed, we believe that we are alone and somehow deserve this treatment. In other words, we internalize our feelings and suffer in silence. But from GGE’s research and community action, we see that this pervasive problem lies not within the person being harassed but with the external forces that perpetuate and enable sexual harassment to exist in our schools and on our streets. GGE is an empowering initiative for teens, our future leaders, and Hey, Shorty! is an essential resource for parents, teachers and community leaders who want to take action against bullying and sexual harassment in their communities.Chock full of capacity-building activities and ideas, Hey, Shorty! is an indispensable resource for anyone who wants to create an environment where everyone thrives.

This review was cross-posted at Elevate Difference.

A Reason to Honk
Stephen Leacock's Last Laugh
The CBC Investigates Sexism in Publishing
Guerrilla Girls, Humour and Hope
Publishing: What If...?
Publishing: What's "Good" and "Important"  (Stats on the # of books authored by women that are reviewed)
CBC: The Elephant in the Room  (Terry Fallis's book beats Carol Shields in CanadaReads)
Reads from Men


Anonymous | January 21, 2013 at 7:09 AM

In my part of the country, it's always the mans fault, even when he was drunk and taken advantaged of by an unscrupulous woman or even a consensual outing where she changed her mind or was pressured by friends &/or family to get him by destroying his life. Truth and right and wrong have nothing to do with the judicial system here. I am the bible belt of Oklahoma. We keep our prisons full. Our Department of Corrections is one of our larger employers. Justice is just a fantasy. Innocent men live year round in our prisons.

Heather | January 25, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Thanks for your comment.

Women ARE allowed to change their minds, and FYI, only 6% of sexual assaults are ever reported. Ergo, your argument is little more than urban legend.

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