Just In From The Upside Down: A Year Later, Harassment is Not Fake News & It’s All Around Us.
Disclaimer: Views below do not represent an isolated experience or my job, but rather a compilation of experiences from friends, myself, and in general that women experience.
I am encouraged by the much-needed conversations addressing Sexual Harassment that surged after Donald Trump became President of the United States and which continued with the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and are now surfacing in industries outside of Hollywood.
Still, I can’t help but consider: How many of us are actively engaged with the conversations today? How many of us support organizations available to survivors? How many of us have shared, retweeted, or discussed articles or resources before and after the #MeToo or #TimesUp movement?
There are thousands of organizations in the country that have been combating violence and sexual assault for decades. I list a few below. We need to be aware and stay engaged. Sexual harassment is everywhere. It has happened to you; it has happened to me. It has happened to your sister, your mother, your girlfriend, your wife. It has happened to the majority of the women with whom you interact.
According to the 3% Movement’s Elephant on Madison Avenue survey about Sexual Harassment in the advertising industry, 54% of respondents were subjected to an unwanted sexual advance, yet only one in three filed a complaint with the agency.
Another important stat: women in marginalized communities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and often face more hurdles to being believed when they come forward.
A 2016 poll by Comparably found that one-in-four women experience some form of harassment in the tech field. It’s a reality that as many as 8 percent of white women experience, and women of color face sexual harassment in greater numbers. Twelve percent of Latinas said they have been sexually harassed at work, while 14 percent of Black women and 22 percent of Native American women reported experiencing intimidation. In the restaurant industry it’s even worse. A study on workplace harassment in fast food found that 33 percent of black women and 32 percent of Latinas experienced sexual harassment, compared to 25 percent of white women. And this does not include the percentage of women who chose to not share their experience.
Harassment can be physical (touching, hitting, rape). It can be verbal (cat-calling, verbal abuse). It can be psychologically abusive (threats, guilt, shame). It can happen on the streets, in school, in the workplace, in your own home.
Sexual harassment is pervasive and no industry or environment is immune to it. Even on college campuses, where more than one in five women and 5 percent of men are sexually assaulted. But individuals and organizations alike are taking it upon themselves to help change that.
It took five years, but after filing a federal complaint against my alma-mater back in 2013 as a student, fellow latina and now UNC Chapel Hill alum, Andrea Pino-Silva, felt her vindication. The University was found in violation of the Title IX anti-discrimination law after a five-year federal investigation into its policies and procedures governing sexual assault and harassment cases. Before #MeToo and #TimesUp existed, Andrea fought back, and went on to start the organization “End Rape On Campus” and to co-write the book We Believe You.
And like Andrea’s story, I heard many. In 2015, I was honored to partner with When Georgia Smiled, The Robin McGraw Revelation Foundation to create the Aspire campaign against sexual assault on college campuses. It was one of the most challenging and empowering campaigns I’ve had the pleasure to lead, working alongside my brilliant team.
We designed a grant program to support college students taking measures to combat sexual assault on their campuses and launched a digital campaign where male athletes became vocal allies via the #IAspireForHer campaign and hashtag. We engaged hundreds of college men and women, and were disheartened to hear countless stories of assault. But we also learned about these women’s strength and resilience — and their inspiring and relentless fight against sexual assault.
And, like Pino-Silva, they did more than post on social media and move on. They led marches and started organizations; they worked with student government and the administration. They shared their stories publicly and held their communities accountable.
So why is the conversation surrounding sexual harassment conversation more popular now than ever? Where were we years ago for our young college women and men? Where were we for the women who called out President Trump or Weinstein and the like?
Working in marketing and advertising, I understand the role of high-profile influencers, click-bait, and digital engagement. It costs money to spread information and reach a wide audience, and celebrities can be critical in moving a conversation forward.
One of the great things about #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns is that they have the momentum and support to have a positive impact. One of the negative things, on the other hand, is that when the funds for a campaign run out (or the contract ends, or the articles’ viewership starts to decline, or the public gets tired of the same story), so can the real engagement we need to make a positive change.
Let the movement against sexual harassment not end abruptly as a new campaign pops up on your feed. Keep the conversation going. Keep it top of mind.
And think and discuss how it applies in your life.
Several of my women friends have, at one point or another, shared their own horrific experiences. From older clients making comments such as, “Too bad you’re my daughter’s age,” to same-age men claiming my friends held a high-level position because of a presumed intimate relationship with a boss, to being interrupted daily.
Harassment, whether physical, verbal, or psychological, is rooted in gender bias, misogyny, and sexism. It can be overlooked or justified as “old habits,” “generational gap,” and the too-common, “Boys will be boys” dismissal.
The more we recognize that harassment isn’t just a physical act, the easier it will be to identify it, call people out, and stand up for the women in our lives.
Every week there’s another women empowerment conference. But what happens after the closing keynote?
Few would argue that these types of conferences should not be ends unto themselves. I encourage every single woman and man who attended to bring the knowledge and activism back to your workplace: Hold a lunch and share the insight you gained with your team. Ask your HR team to holds office hours for men and women to discuss this issue. Do an exercise with your team to identify everyone’s conscious and unconscious biases. Leaders take harassment seriously when they define what it is, clearly define the disciplinary consequences that will result from it, and reassure there will be no retaliation for those who speak up
So what can we do to ensure we’re not guilty of a fleeting digital campaign?
Like with every issue, this can’t just be a movement that lives only on social media. It needs to be a grassroots effort, a real and ever-present conversation. Call each other out. Ask questions. Hold each other accountable.
I’m lucky to have a group of strong and influential women in my life, who not only take a public stance via their popular and far-reaching Instagram accounts, but who take it a step further, whether by creating retreats for women, holding conversations offline, attending or hosting events to educate and stay engaged, and more. My dear friend Stef Etow from Ink and Pulp is a prime example of this leadership.
The beauty of social media is that we can reach thousands of people and make our voices heard. The challenge is that with it, we’ve also become our own personal brands, and as such, taking a stance on issues can be seen as brand-damaging.
But I believe there is no greater fault than holding on to something out of a perceived shame when we could prevent something from happening to us and other women in our lives.
Sexual harassment needs to be understood, talked about, and called out by both men and women, via every channel available to us, always with the end goal of using the online momentum to create tangible positive change offline.
How will you take a stand? How will you be the change?
UltraViolet: UltraViolet is a powerful and rapidly growing community of people from all walks of life mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights.
MS Foundation: The Ms. Foundation for Women is a nonprofit foundation building women’s collective power for social, economic and reproductive justice. It is the older women’s foundation in the United States.
Women’s Media Center: WMC works toward media equality using interconnected strategies of research, original stories and articles, promotion of women experts and media.
Women Action and the Media (WAM): WAM! is an independent North American nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media.
RAINN: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Women’s March: We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country…Because women’s rights are human rights.
National Women’s Law Center: We’re passionate champions of policies and laws that help women and girls achieve their potential throughout their lives — at school, at work, at home, and in their communities.
Green Dot, etc.: Rigorously evaluated and shown to move the needle, we were founded on the principles of the widely disseminated Green Dot violence prevention strategy.
Project Calisto: We create technology to combat sexual assault, empower survivors, and advance justice.
National Organization for Women (NOW): NOW was established by a group of feminists who were dedicated to actively challenging sex discrimination in society.
Feminist Majority Foundation: The Feminist Majority Foundation works for social and political and economic equality for women by using research and education to reduce violence against women.
Geena Davis Institute: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is a non-profit research organization that researches gender representation in media and advocates for equal representation of women.
Women in Entertainment: We are learning every day that when it comes to the advancement of women and girls, people want to step up.
Women in Hollywood: Women and Hollywood educates, advocates, and agitates for gender parity across the entertainment industry.
Miss Representation: The Representation Project inspires individuals and communities to create a world free from gender stereotypes and social injustices.