Girls, #MeToo and the Power of Influence

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The last several weeks have been interesting, running the extreme of emotions—starting with the International Day of the Girl, the #MeToo movement and ending with the impact of the Innovator of the Year Awards. 

In 2011, the United Nations declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl, to promote basic human rights for girls, while emphasizing the extreme disparities that exist across the world.  Per the United Nation,  

  • Every five minutes a girl dies as a result of violence. 
  • One in four girls gets married as a child. 
  • 63 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation. 
  • 130 million girls are out of school. 
  • Girls are twice as likely to be infected with HIV. 

However, if we ensure EVERY girl goes to school- and I’m not talking College or University, but primary education, elementary, secondary and high school- we would already change the outcomes- AIDS would be reduced, poverty would be diminished and #MeToo wouldn’t be needed. 

#MeToo is a movement surfacing from the allegations that Harvey Weinstein had perpetuated decades of abuse, harassment, rape, and on and on.   Many victims had attempted to speak out over the years, and had been dismissed, as if this behavior was normalized and the women needed to just “live with it” or “get used to it.”  But then, Twitter and Facebook showed us the power of social media- across the world, a chorus of “Me Too” was heard.  The hashtag #MeToo was used by many victims to share their own experiences of sexual assault, intimation and abuse- very personal and heartbreaking stories.   

People spoke out to de-normalize this horrific acceptance that a woman (and men) can be used only as a tool. 

Our girls are not to be sold into marriage in exchange for cattle or land. 

Our women are not to be fondled or violated in exchange for a job. 

But unless we use our voice and our influence – progress will be slow to come.  And even defining progress is necessary.   

My own teenage daughter opened my eyes to the disparate treatment in dress-codes- she may not wear revealing clothing because it distracts others. Why aren’t “the others” taught to respect their fellow men (in this case, fellow female students)?  Why must my kid completely alter her appearance to ensure a boy doesn’t get distracted? 

I was raised in a very strict environment, during the days of chaperones. where girls were protected. Encouraged to be reserved and conservative to protect our virtue and reputation.  I started to unconsciously pass this behavior to my own children, critiquing her outfits as too revealing, too short, too “something” – yet, never did the same comments apply to my son.    

This high-maintenance, prima donna, diva of a teenager taught me something.  Her body is hers.  And she’s so much more than the external wrappings.  I now speak to my son about how women are viewed and should be treated, while encouraging my daughter to express herself (although those Daisy-Duke shorts are still “NO!” for both kids!!)  

Of course, I have my own #MeToo stories – and hate to say that EVERY WOMAN you know has them too.  Light-hearted and almost dismissive examples like being underestimated because I was dressed too “provocatively” or being fearful of walking down a certain street to other examples too personal to share here. 

What can you do? 

If you are in a position of influence, such as an elected official, advocate, policy maker: 

  • CHANGE THE RULES!  A victim should NOT have to suffer twice-over to get help and bring the perpetrator to justice. 
  • DE-NORMALIZE THE STATUS QUO- Do not accept inappropriate commentary or behavior, not even as a joke or “locker-room” behavior.  Period.   

Should you feel you are without power, be assured that despite your perceived lack of title, money, or social standing you wield influence and power.  Your network, your children, your community all look to you, so consider the following: 

  • WALK THE TALK- You serve as the role model and example. Speak and act in a way that validates respect for women and girls, even better, FOR PEOPLE.  I promise you, our children learn by example, and they need to see what good behavior looks like. 
  • EDUCATE YOURSELF- Read up on the United Nations Global Goal, in particular Goal #5, read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In and Malala Yousafsai’s story I am Malala.  Also, watch the documentary Girl Rising. 

And lastly, if you need to personalize this issue, watch Beyonce’s video Freedom- International Day of the Girl. 

Amigos, Be the change you want to see.

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