Thursday, April 16, 2015

Change Starts with Each of Us

A couple of items came across my desk in the last 24 hours related to women, stereotypes and sexual assault. 

One is a powerful video  from Tumwater High School, part of the No More campaign.  As Tumwater's counselor, Todd Caffey, explains, they used national statistics to extrapolate to THS' female student population as "actual data on THS is not available."  Meaning, the district either isn't keeping these stats (which I know cannot be true) or would not give them to Mr. Caffey. 

That in itself is quite powerful - the district has to report these stats to the state and feds.  I know - from research I was doing just yesterday - that this data also goes to the federal Office of Civil Rights.

The video is quite simple; there are boys, one-by-one, who hold up a sheet with a number and explain the number of girls in each class in the high school who will likely be sexually assaulted.

One thing they leave out in their list of who these girls are - they mention friends, girlfriends, students and classmates - is relatives.  I know many high school boys who have sisters or cousins going to the same high school.  That makes it very personal.

The other item comes from the This is Not a Pattern blog, Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist.  The thread comes from a place of explaining how men are sexist in tech circles but most of it could apply to everyday life.  The writer, Kat Hagan, explains how a tweet from a guy got her started:
Dear lazyweb, looking for blog posts on "common things men in tech do that are sexist without being intentionally so."
I really respect the amount of self-awareness it takes to ask that question!  I'm sure if you are a parent of a tween/teen who spends a lot of time on-line, you are likely aware that there is a huge number of trolls who are aggressive in their sexism and threats against girls/women.  

It’s easy to disavow the trolls sending rape and death threats, but it takes much more courage to acknowledge that you might be perpetuating harmful attitudes in less-obvious ways.

This question hints at two important concepts: implicit biases and microaggressions.

He then talks about the "why" in a sober but understanding manner:

Communication is tricky even on the best of days; the best defense against misunderstandings is to develop a finely-tuned sense of empathy, and try to notice as much as possible what we’re doing that might create distance from someone else and keep us from questioning our own assumptions about the world.

Sometimes it’s hard to see these things without getting defensive, or going too far down the road of guilt and excessive self-flagellation. I think it’s important to realize that every single one of us makes this kind of mistake, no one is immune. The determination of character, in my opinion, isn’t whether you slip up, but what you do about it afterward.

It's a good list and the last one ties right back to the Tumwater High Video:

Staying quiet when other men do these things.

I think you could say that about anyone about racism, sexism, ageism, etc.  And he's not saying for anyone to beat someone down verbally (or otherwise) for a mistake nor should someone who does err need to beat themselves up.  
Learn and move on and vow to do better.  That's what it is going to take to move the needle on these issues in our society.  Each of us making a promise to be more aware and educating ourselves.

I really think it’s a natural reaction to bristle a bit, to try to minimize it, to protect ourselves from feeling bad. Once I recognized that defensiveness as a natural part of the process, it was much easier for me to realize I was doing it, then apologize and move on instead of digging myself deeper. It takes practice.

The good news, though, is that little things are easy to change. Personally I believe that if you can change the outward tone of a culture, you stand a good chance of changing the actual beliefs and attitudes of that culture.


dan dempsey said...

LAUSD is starting two All Girls schools.

Anonymous said...

As THS is90% white, the number of sexually assaulted girls and women is most likely lower than the national percentage.

• Among high school students, 12.5% of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 10.5% of Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander students, 8.6% of black students, 8.2% of Hispanic students, 7.4% of white students, and 13.5% of multiple-race students reported that they were forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives.

source: CDC

However, It's a huge problem and how are teachers, administrators and students to deal with kids who have the behaviors indicating past or ongoing abuse?

In any one classroom full of kids, there are going to be some number of victims, almost guaranteed. Where is there a place or a time for them to speak or just feel safe enough to share their pain?


Anonymous said...

Melissa, it looks like you may have misattributed the authorship of the unintentional sexism blog post. Matt Laroche tweeted the original request that sparked the post, but the actual author seems to be Kat Hagan. At least that's my impression based on the comment responses that follow the post.

Half Full

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Half Full. I missed that.