Confronting Our Culture of Violence Against Women

11/21/2017 07:14 pm ET

Our nation is in a moment of reckoning. Tales of workplace sexual harassment and assault, previously unmentioned, have gone from a whisper to shout, revealing an epidemic.

From the entertainment and tech industries to the political arena to workplaces across the map, the floodgates have opened. We are being confronted with our culture of rape and violence, seeing survivors being heard, and being believed.

We applaud today’s survivors coming forward and sharing their stories, but recognize that there are many others whose voices are not yet heard. In this moment, we have an opportunity to move forward in a new way—to make the cultural and systemic shifts needed to combat this widespread toxicity. We must start with the severity and urgency of the issue at hand, uplift the voices of survivors, and refer to the knowledge and expertise of community leaders, service providers, and advocates who have been working to address these issues for decades.

For 30 years, The New York Women’s Foundation has made anti-violence and safety a key tenet of our work to promote the economic security of women and families. We know that a woman’s safety is inextricably linked to her economic security and ability to provide for her family. We have moved this work forward by supporting community-based organizations enacting innovative, nuanced, and culturally competent solutions to address the particular needs of cis and trans women and girls, and gender fluid individuals.

We reached out to four of our grantee partners to hear their perspectives*.

Jessica Ladd, Founder and CEO of Callisto, a nonprofit creating technology to combat sexual assault, feels strongly that accountability for sexual assault and harassment must go from being an extraordinary event to an everyday one. She noted the immense power of survivors in numbers and that with the current wave, they have begun to force accountability where it hasn't existed. She stressed the need for systems that create safe avenues for survivors to find each other and report what happened, emphasizing that it is critical that they be responsibly designed to bring survivors together in ways that ensure their protection, legally and technologically.

Lupita Gonzalez, Director of Programs at Mixteca, a provider of services to Latino immigrants, including a domestic violence awareness, prevention, and support program, considered the roots of this problem. Harassment and abuse are systemic behaviors that occur in all social, economic and professional spheres, where the vulnerability of women is the result of an insecure and misogynistic political and social system and where retaliation is the norm, leading women not to denounce and to accept this violence as normal. She offered suggestions for changing this reality, including empowering women by providing support and safe spaces, changing oppressive practices and behaviors so that dignity and respect for everyone are the base regardless of gender or sexual orientation, ensuring that those structures and policies are respected and creating spaces where men are included in gender equity issues.

Mixteca

Emily May, Co-Founder and Executive Director at Hollaback!, a movement and organization to end street harassment, found something to love about this moment: the impact it's having on hard-to-reach people now awakening to the pervasiveness of sexual violence. She agreed that we are in the midst of an epidemic, and felt that as a society, as we navigate this moment, there is a need to center those who are most vulnerable -- people of color, trans and gender-non-conforming folks --- whose stories too often are not taken seriously. She said that Hollywood needs to step up and reimagine its role in creating a more equitable world.

Finally, Farah Tanis, Founder & Executive Director of Black Women’s Blueprint, an organization working to empower women of African descent and to shift attitudes toward sexual violence, spoke of dispelling our entrenched patriarchal system and the challenges faced by communities of color which can hinder reporting of sexual abuse and harassment. In her view, to dismantle the patriarchy, future generations of men – and all others -- must get concrete tools to climb out of patriarchy, practice accountability, and rail against patriarchal societal structures that perpetuate sexualized violence of any kind.

Black Women's Blueprint

At The Foundation, we also recognize the need for men to be at the table. That’s why, after our long history of investing in women, in 2015, we began to invest in men who are eager to disrupt cultural norms that marginalize and devalue others. Men from A Call To Men, whose mission is to help boys and men examine and deconstruct the learned disrespect, mistreatment and abuse of women. By supporting A Call To Men, The Foundation is helping build a base of male leaders and allies working towards the eradication of violence and discrimination against women, girls, and LGBTQI individuals.

Women alone cannot break the cycle of gender violence overwhelming our country. Our problem is gender inclusive and one that we can and must solve together.

Moving ahead, we hope to play an important role in Project Level Forward (PLF). Initiated by Killer Content, an award-winning, woman-led independent film, media and social impact company, PLF is forming a coalition of investors, influencers and nonprofits to acquire assets of The Weinstein Company. A portion of profits generated would go toward creating a fund to be managed and housed at The New York Women’s Foundation. Grantmaking would be dedicated to furthering sustained organizational change, where women and men are supported in working together collaboratively and equally -- true partners in innovation, creativity and the pursuit of professional fulfillment.

*Please see below for the full responses from our grantee partners:

Callisto The mounting stories about sexual assault and harassment have highlighted the immense power of survivors in numbers. Together, victims have been able to combat some of the deeply entrenched stigma and misbelief that have long confronted survivors. When survivors of the same assailants have been able to find each other, their actions have spurred meaningful accountability for repeat perpetrators. Ultimately, survivors have begun to force accountability where it hasn't existed. However, there is still a failure if justice only comes at the result of brave victims willing to take very real and calculated risks. Accountability for sexual assault and harassment must go from being an extraordinary event to an everyday one, with systems that create safe avenues for survivors to find each other and report what happened.

Technology has been proposed by many as a key platform for formalizing whisper networks and bringing victims together. We recognize both the tremendous power of technology for advancing good and the risks for doing it wrong. It is critical for technology to be responsibly designed to bring survivors together in ways that ensure their protection, legally and technologically. We envision a future when Callisto's online reporting system, with an added legal component, expands across industries and institutions until all victims have the means to seek justice and healing."

Mixteca Despite the progress achieved in the recognition and promotion of women's rights, we are still living in a culture dominated by structural violence and oppression against women. In this structure, women are considered "objects" at the disposition of men, harassment and abuse are normalized and diminished by the society.

Harassment and abuse come not only from specific aggressors but are a systemic behavior where the vulnerability of women is the result of an insecure and misogynistic political and social system where retaliation is the norm leading women not to denounce and to accept this violence as normal.Current events have exposed this sad reality and the climate of hostility and violence that operates at all levels and affects all women regardless of their economic, social or professional status.

It is essential to realize as individuals and society the violent cultural and structural patterns that continue to oppress women. Raising our voices and supporting them is the first step and must be followed by the prosecution of the aggressors. But beyond individuals, we must change the political, economic and cultural paradigms, structural changes are needed to offer safe spaces for women, eliminate the abuse of power, and look for a society based on gender equity.

Create spaces where men are included in gender equity issues, empower women by providing support and safe spaces, change oppressive structures towards those where dignity and respect for everyone are the base regardless of gender or sexual orientation and ensuring that those structures and policies are respected, are fundamental for making these changes.

We want to make sure that these latest events that reflect the violence and harassment that women live as part of their lives are evident to all and that we all recognize the seriousness and the need to make changes. This is not an issue of certain groups, abuse, harassment and violence against women occurs in all social, economic and professional spheres, we need to fight for changing this reality. "

Hollaback! “Many people for the first time are realizing how prevalent harassment and assault are, and many more are coming forward and sharing their stories for the first time. What I love about this moment is the impact it's happening on those hard-to-reach people who are still awakening to the impact of sexual violence, and able to hear about it, learn about it, in ways that our work as a movement hasn't touched them before.

We've put so much focus on the men perpetrating these behaviors --- and it's created a slanted view of the problem. Harassment and assault aren't the product of a few "bad seeds," they are baked into our culture -- a culture of racism, sexism, and homophobia. There are millions of men out there doing things that no one has heard of, but done things equally as awful, if not worse, and gotten away with it. If we're going to address this problem meaningfully, we can't just play whack-a-mole with the perpetrators, we need Hollywood to step up and reimagine it's role in creating a more equitable world.

Another notable gap -- these victims are almost all white women. We know that harassment and assault is oftentimes worse for people of color, trans and gender-non conforming folks, and yet, these stories often aren't taken as seriously. We live in a world that just doesn't value bodies of color, or trans or gender-nonconforming bodies the same way in which it values white, cis bodies. As we navigate this moment, we need to center those who are most vulnerable.

I want the intolerance towards harassment and assault to build. I want those who have experienced to feel their true power -- and to have the space and love needed to let the trauma they've been holding onto, keeping secret for years, defrost at last and be held not by the victim -- but by society itself. I want each of us to recognize we have a role to play in ending sexual violence, and that "not assaulting people" or even "being nice to women" isn't nearly enough. Harassment and sexual violence are an epidemic, and we need to treat it with the urgency that it deserves.”

Black Women’s Blueprint For us at Black Women's Blueprint (BWB) our main takeaway from the current mainstream conversations around sexual assault and harassment, is that the public and private lives of survivors cannot be bifurcated in a culture so steeped in patriarchy, capitalism and white supremacy. While for many women of color, the "me too" campaign offers a pathway to healing, for others, under structures and political systems which deny us rights as basic as the adequate standard of living, the “me too” movement has different implications. For many of us dealing with allegiance to race, lack of access to legal and other resources, poverty, class and immigration status a public “me too” is not an option. We can only whisper "me too" to ourselves. To take "me too" offline, into our churches, our historically black colleges, cultural centers and families is what is needed as far as I am concerned, but it poses real consequences in a culture which remains stubbornly patriarchal, racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.No significant change can be made if we simply talk of the symptoms. Rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment are only symptoms and manifestations of patriarchy. We have become so well-versed in the language of intersectionality and multiple oppressions, that we have forgotten one of the most ancient, insidious and fundamental, structural forms of oppression: Patriarchy. Therein lies the gap and missing piece. Patriarchy has a personal, political and ecological implications, deep impact upon the development of all of us as individuals. Patriarchy has done an amazing job of influencing our beliefs and actions through long lasting modifications to our understanding the world, ourselves, our work in ways that are incredibly difficult to change. Those who benefit from patriarchy, like harm-doers who commit rape and sexual assault, those in positions of male supremacist power have a stake in ensuring the real dialogue which needs to happen about patriarchy doesn't happen in this social revolution being fueled by the "me too" campaign. We can talk about rape all we want, but until we confront and denounce the trauma of multi-generational patriarchy, we will fall short of the goal of stopping men's violence against each other, and against women. Subsequent actions: We need to make sure that future generations of men (and all genders negatively impacted by patriarchy) get the concrete tools to climb out of patriarchy, practice accountability, and rail against patriarchal societal structures that perpetuate sexualized violence of any kind.

I hope there can be a reckoning with patriarchy and the development of a better understanding of the transmission of the patriarchal ideas that set the foundation for behavior that inhibit growth and liberation for men, boys and all genders. Only then can we set in motion the actions that are needed to produce change, and intervene in the lives of future generations who should not have to live under the stranglehold of patriarchy. Beyond “Me Too”, we can interrupt the flow and transmission of patriarchal ideology, systems and the perpetuation of harm that sustains it. We can mobilize to eradicate patriarchy as we fight to eradicate all other structural oppressions. If we can fight to end racism and white supremacy, we can fight to end patriarchy. I dare dream that the current culture of silence and the merciless choke hold of patriarchy around men’s necks would loosen its grip and disappear. I dare dream that men would heal, seek justice, redress and recovery. This should not only an expectation but a commitment we all make to those who are harmed or under threat of harm because of patriarchy.”

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