COLUMN by Pat Hynes

Greenfield Recorder, July 5, 2022

Two recent My Turn columns, Sarah Pirtle’s “Ensuring a safe summer for young women” (June 1) and Amalia Fourhawk s’ “Teaching young women to save themselves” (June 8), were a springboard for my own.

Sarah Pirtle describes overhearing an older man making unwanted comments to a young woman working behind the counter in a local store. When Sarah intervened, he turned on her angrily. She then interviewed a number of young women in high school and college about their working experience. They reported inappropriate remarks and sexual harassment from male customers. They described unwanted comments implying sexual interest that were devaluing and that conveyed male entitlement — all of which seem normal to her male co-workers, one added.

For young women workers, “these early employment experiences … of workplace sexual harassment can have negative ripple effects through their careers … resulting in lower lifetime earnings and increased vulnerability to workplace harassment and violence in the future,” reports one national resource center for women and girls.

The June 1 piece recalled for me a 2018 New York Times article reporting on findings from a national poll of 1,000 U.S. children and adolescents: While many girls and young women have achieved excellence and leadership in school, a riptide of sexual objectification persists, as if to undermine their pursuit of equality. “For me,” responded 13-year-old Hiree Felema, “it’s important to be intelligent and confident. For women, in society, I think people just want you to be attractive” — an insight echoed by many girls surveyed.

Girls reported as much interest in math and science as boys and slightly more in leadership, yet they did not feel equal with respect to their bodies. Three-quarters of teenage girls felt judged for their looks and unsafe as a female, including from sexual predators online. Many reported boys asking for nude photos, daily hearing sexual comments or jokes from boys in school and at home. And, interestingly, girls felt more pressure to be kind than boys did, reflecting society ’s stubborn, sex-based stereotypes of what is valued in women but not necessarily in men.

Amalia Fourhawks in her June 8 My Turn, “Teaching young women to save themselves” calls for young women fighting back, not waiting for someone else to intervene, refusing to be belittled, standing up and demanding respect. Her advice: Say to boys and men harassing you “That kind of talk is disgusting”; take assertiveness training and self-defense, not only for the skills, but also for the confidence to speak up for yourself and “not be bullied or overshadowed by overbearing people …” She concludes “No woman should have to say that because she is being paid, she has to “play along.”

Building on these two foundational pieces,

I want to advocate — insist is more precise — that men of all ages take responsibility for ending sexism and violence against women. They need to work as hard and as persistently for their liberation from masculinism (especially the sexual objectification of women) as we women have strived for our freedom from all forms of sexism. As the Buddhist teacher Lama Rod Owens advocates, “Like white people challenging whiteness, it is men who must do the work of understanding that a significant portion of our identity is based on a toxic, patriarchal masculinity.” [We need] “a widespread divestment in patriarchy and a complete interrogation of the ethics of power. We all have work to do.”

Unless boys are consciously raised to respect girls and women as their equals, what will counteract the culture of male objectification and violence against women? Here is one exemplary program. A Philippine organization, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) Asia Pacific, designed an innovative summer educational camp for young men (16-21) from local high schools and universities on male sexual stereotypes, the sexual objectification of women, and specifically men’s exploitation of women in prostitution. Pre- and post-questionnaires “showed changes in gender attitude and increased knowledge about men’s roles in and responsibility for violence against women.” Taking responsibility for educating other young men, a number of the graduates became co-facilitators in the following year CATW summer program; others held workshops and forums at their schools. (CATW Philippines report, 2004.)

Done there, it can be done here. Reaching our full and best human capacity is the task of both sexes. If that were achieved, the world — riven with wars, endangered by nuclear weapons and climate change, and our country rent by increasing poverty, declining democracy, and swimming in weapons, all under almost exclusive male leadership — will have a far better chance of survival.

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.