By Natalia Muñoz
Cultural Change Project To End Sexual Harassment
Even with three women on the US Supreme Court; 20 in Congress (out of 535 positions); the possibility that Democrat Hillary Clinton could win the presidency; Sally Ride and other women astronauts and supremely smart women in the sciences and education, the Williams sisters in tennis, and the rest of the popularly known women in our day who are successful, the fact remains that if we tried, we could probably name all of them because there are not that many.
And that is one more piece of evidence of systemic sexism. Even the U.S. Congress, where laws are created, is a cauldron of sexual harassment, as is well documented in Kirsten Gillibrand’s 2014 book, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World.”
Horror stories about women soldiers being sexually assaulted are the subject of Congressional hearings, articles and books.
The streets of every city and town are a gauntlet of harassment through which girls and women pass every day, absorbing catcalls, innuendo, humiliation, sexualization and dehumanization on their way to 4th grade, to college, to work, to the pharmacy, to a date.
We launched the multimedia and multicultural Cultural Change Project because sexism gets ignored at our peril. If all girls and women were black and all boys and men white, how would we as a society view the mistreatment of women then? It appears far easier to call our racist conduct than to spotlight sexism. It is as if talking about sexism is unladylike.
Lisa Carta, a graphics designer, and I began having conversations about what the multimedia campaign would look like. She developed simple messages that are powerful.
The Cultural Change Project spotlights sexual harassment and abuse of women as a major public health issue.
We want the next generations of girls to have what generations of us did not – respect. Respect to who we are and not we look like. To not be considered worthy of a job, of preference at a store, based on the styling of our hair, the tightness of our clothes, the color of our nails. Girls who love to dress that way merit the same amount of respect as girls who prefer loose jeans.
To grow up with avenues of opportunities, self-confident in their dreams and abilities, their skills and imagination. To be judged, as The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, by the content of out character.
Take a look at a few of last year’s headlines:
- More than 200 school girls kidnapped in Northern Nigeria
- Mobs Assault Women During Egypt Inauguration
- Maryland Girl Raped in High School Hallway As Class Goes On
- Tokyo Elected Official Target of Sexual Harassment During Session
- Pakistani woman raped, killed and hanged from tree
Not so different from last week’s.
Women who grow up without the barrage of oppressive vocabulary and behavior have more opportunities to develop to their fullest potential. What a world it would be if girls could enjoy girlhood and grow up believing in themselves, if they did not have to grow up in fear of being assaulted verbally and physically.
This conversation has the potential to change a world in which women have yet to use their powerful voices to shape the political landscape. What would happen if more women voted? How would their participation shape the country’s public policies on health, education, foreign policy? And what would the policies of the United States be if the highest offices of the land were held by men and women in equal measure?
By starting conversations with our partners, including the Performance Project and the Men’s Resource Center, we are opening a way for teenage girls and women to talk about an oppression that has been categorized as being nothing more than “bothersome,” and to have their voices heard by the gender that allows this oppression to continue, if only because they think if they are not the ones perpetrating the verbal sexual assault, they are free from the responsibility to end it.