A common retort to all of this is: “This is the internet. It’s offensive. If you don’t like it, leave.” That is correct: speech on the internet can be offensive and the right to be offensive is vital to democracy. But Facebook is not “the internet.” Facebook is a company with principles and community standards that create a reasonable expectation in users that it will enforce rules it itself has established in an unbiased manner. Facebook is perilously close to allowing “freedom of speech” to be used as a defense of unjust actions that are clearly intimidating and silencing female users.
SPARKit: Wanna Be Startin’ Something?
Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) works with youth organizers to STOP sexual harassment and gender-based violence in schools and on the streets.
Students in New York City and beyond experience sexual harassment from students and school staff in the form of:
- Pressure for sex
- Groping in the hallways
- Stalking to and from school
- Bullying about their sexual or gender identities
- Sexually explicit comments about their bodies
Did you know that under Title IX of the Education Amendment every U.S. public elementary, middle/junior high, and high school is obligated to have a designated school staff person to receive reports on sexual harassment? It is the responsibility of the school to make sure that the entire school community knows who that person is; they can be a guidance counselor, the principal or a teacher.
GGE encourages all students — especially young women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-identified students — to START voicing their experiences with sexual harassment in their school. Once we can name it, then we can STOP it!
GGE youth organizers co-facilitate “Hey…Shorty! Workshops on Sexual Harassment” in New York City and across the country. During these workshops, we do a STOP circle, and we want you to bring this activity to your community!
Now, it’s your turn to say STOP!
Let’s START here!
Directions for “Wanna Be Startin’ Something?”
Materials: Red paper, green paper, black markers, and a group people ready to claim their voices
1. Create STOP and START signs!
- Take a sheet of red paper and cut out the shape of an octagon.
- On one side of the octagon, take a black marker and write STOP in big, bold lettering.
- Take a sheet of green paper and cut out the shape of a circle.
- On one side of the circle, take a black marker and write START in big, bold lettering.
2. Create STOP and START phrases
- Think of a time when a friend, a parent or stranger did something to you that you didn’t like (e.g., you were talking and someone didn’t listen to you)
- Come up with a phrase that describes what you didn’t like, starting with the word “STOP…”
- Write this phrase on the STOP sign.
- Then, come up with a phrase that describes what you would like from the person instead, starting with the word “START…”
- Write this phrase on the START sign.
3. Here are some examples:
- STOP calling me a “Bitch.” START respecting me.
- STOP abusing me. START loving me.
- STOP ignoring me. START paying attention to me.
- STOP being a follower. START being a leader.
- STOP following me home from school/work. START respecting my personal space.
4. Once STOP and START signs are complete, everyone will stand in a circle with their signs in hand.
5. Ask someone to volunteer to be the first read their STOP/START signs aloud.
6. Everyone will go around the circle reading aloud their STOP/START signs. Feeling empowered? Finding your voice? GREAT! Now go out and teach others how to do this activity, but most of all START using your voice to STOP injustice.
Show us how you say STOP!
On its survey of a nationally representative group of 1,965 students, the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit research organization, defined harassment as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically.” Over all, girls reported being harassed more than boys — 56 percent compared with 40 percent — though it was evenly divided during middle school. Boys were more likely to be the harassers, according to the study, and children from lower-income families reported more severe effects.
“It’s pervasive, and almost a normal part of the school day,” said Catherine Hill, the director of research at the association and one of the authors of the report.
Over all, 48 percent of students surveyed said they were harassed during the 2010-11 school year. Forty-four percent of students said they were harassed “in person” — being subjected to unwelcome comments or jokes, inappropriate touching or sexual intimidation — and 30 percent reported online harassment, like receiving unwelcome comments, jokes or pictures through texts, e-mail, Facebook and other tools, or having sexual rumors, information or pictures spread about them.
Whatever the medium, more girls were victims: 52 percent of girls said they had been harassed in person, and 36 percent online, compared with 35 percent of boys who were harassed in person and 24 percent online.
“I was called a whore because I have many friends that are boys,” one ninth-grade girl was quoted as saying. An eighth-grade boy, meanwhile, reported, “They spread rumors I was gay because I played on the basketball team.”
While many people would (fairly or not) disagree with Amber’s decision to give oral sex at 14; it’s pretty telling of society’s view of women that the criminal act of distributing this video is being overlooked in order to slut-shame a young woman. Amber, in the eyes of many, is the monster here, not the kids who exploited her. And why aren’t we talking about the boy receiving oral sex, too?
It’s easy to label Amber as just another slutty girl who was looking for attention. When we position her as a “bad girl” it’s easy to think that she’s not our child, or sister, or cousin, or best friend’s sibling — or maybe even just like ourselves.
I knew plenty of people who were doing what Amber did when I was 14 — and I’m willing to bet that plenty of you did, too. The only difference is that our exploits were shared only via gossipy whispers rather than via YouTube. This new risk — and Amber’s heartbreaking story — proves that parents of young boys need to be teach their sons, now even more than ever, that female bodies and female sexuality are not theirs for the taking… or taping.
I do not care if your eight year old is wearing wildly inappropriate clothing, adult men do not have the right to ogle her. I do not care if your 13 year old looks “grown up” and might be mistaken for the ripe old age of 16. She is a child and should not be touched. “Skanky little girls” (and how I detest all that implies) deserve defending with the same vigor as a nun or an asexual old woman.