By Lee Roper-Batker, President and CEO, WFMN
Are we finally at the tipping point to understand and end the scale and scope of the sexual harassment, assault and violence women face?
Are the hashtags and the stories that began as a trickle now gaining the strength that will force a change in our culture that diminishes, silences, and violates women?
#MeToo #Enough #IBelieveYou #TheyAllKnew #YesIHave #IWILLSPEAKUP
For every hashtag and story bravely shared with media, or our coworkers, sisters, brothers, and children, there are countless stories still hidden. And too many women do not feel safe.
Social media has given new voice and power: the hidden and private violence and pain is now public and visible. Women’s experiences, and some men’s, are united through thousands of stories shared on social media demonstrating this violence is ubiquitous.
It is a systemic sickness that’s gone untreated for generations, from Hollywood, to Silicon Valley and tech companies, to Fox News and National Public Radio, to schools and sports teams, to Congress and our own state Legislature.
It’s been 40 years since sexual harassment was defined and deemed unacceptable and corporations were held to account. We’ve had three watershed moments that courageous women made possible. The first sexual harassment ruling involved a brave young woman, Mechelle Vinson. In 1978, she filed charges against the bank where, as a 19-year-old teller trainee, she was assaulted and raped by her manager over the next three years of her young life. Her case first held companies liable for sexual harassment on June 19, 1986, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that sexual harassment violated federal laws against discrimination.
Two years later, Minnesota’s Lois Jensen saw her case — and the first class-action lawsuit — succeed in awarding damages. And, in 1991, Anita Hill shared her stories to a shocked world. (I proudly wore my “I believe Anita” button. Did you?)
Today, rather than lawsuits and the stories of a few brave women, we have a new key driver to amplify the volume and power of women’s lived experiences. Social media is controlled by no one. Women’s voices are loud and uncensored.
How many of you read Diana Nyad’s devastating and powerful story in the New York Times? Every day, more and more women and girls publicly come forward with their accounts of sexual, physical, and emotional assault, molestation, and harassment. These accounts demonstrate the daily violation that we as women have tolerated, diminished, and tried to ignore for too long.
We must believe women, stop blaming women, stop blaming ourselves, change the culture, and hold these predators accountable. Nyad offers the challenge to all of us: “Tell your story. Let us never again be silenced.”
We’re not starting from scratch.
Good work has been built by survivors and nonprofits across Minnesota and the country, to heal and to change culture. Today, I am filled with hope that we’re ready to listen and act. That in this moment, with millions of conversations happening, no one is silenced and there is a palpable, unstoppable thirst for awareness, voice, agency and change.
We know that behavior and culture can change. We’ve seen it with seat belts, smoking cessation and sex trafficking, and we’ll end sexual harassment and assault, too.
Human beings can live many contradictions. But one contradiction that must change is that men can be both upstanding citizens and community and faith leaders — and abusers. This contradiction has been built and sustained through a system that ensures women have less value, power and voice than men, and that does not hold men accountable for their actions. As a culture, we are now saying Enough!
Fixing Our Broken System
Yet, it will take all of us: those with stories to share and those willing to listen and learn. A basic tenet of change is that you must recognize a problem before you can deal with it. As a society, we must recognize that objectifying, disrespecting and seeing women as having less value is as antiquated as cave men with clubs, ready to drag you to their den. Our culture holds toxic messages around women — and the time is now to clean it up.
Most men are good men. But most men are also silent. Quiet when the guys are grabbing a beer and one of them is hounding the waitress. Quiet when someone is razzed for wearing pink socks, or for being “whipped” when choosing to leave after one drink to be with his family.
It’s time that men understand that their silence is complicit in allowing sexual violence. This isn’t a “women’s issue,” it’s a men’s issue — it’s a cultural issue — it’s everybody’s issue.
Enough IS enough.
Enough to the racial and gender inequities faced by women in our state, across the country, and around the world. Enough to violence against women, harassment, assault, sex trafficking, and inequities in pay. Enough to the disparities in opportunity, safety, and leadership that put women of color, LGBTQ communities, women with disabilities, and women in greater Minnesota last.
Enough to the silence of shame, complicity, and inaction.
This is our time and our chance to say “Enough!” to sexual harassment and violence. Now is the time for men to join our chorus of voices as leaders and allies.
Together we must rise up and change our culture. We must demand racial and gender equity and safety for all Minnesotans. We invite all men — all people — to join us as equal partners in changing culture. Let’s not look back in another 20 years to think of this tremendous moment in history as just another steppingstone that led nowhere.
WFMN: A Driving Force for Culture Change
For 34 years, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota has worked to end violence and build a Minnesota where all girls and women can live in safety.
Our leadership to end sex trafficking with MN Girls Are Not For Sale has driven a sea change, and our Innovation grants support the vital needs of communities around Minnesota, including policies that violate immigrants’ human rights and threaten women’s reproductive rights. Our Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota will move key recommendations in the Blueprint for Action forward to improve safety and well-being for all young women, including violence prevention through healthy relationships, increased funding for survivors of violence, and expanded housing options.
This struggle is not just a movement, but our foundational commitment to a fair, safe, and just world for all.
To continue improving the lives of girls, women, and all people, we are creating partnerships and funding programs that are driving culture change in our state. We can make change happen, together!
Our liberation is linked, and we need you.
Partner with Us to Drive Culture Change, End Violence, & Ensure Safety
- Make a gift to WFMN today to drive change and create large-scale, statewide impact toward gender and racial equity. Your investment will support our work to go upstream and change systems to ensure safety, opportunity, and leadership for all girls and women.
- And, support any of the 16 grantee-partners we’ve funded who work on the front lines to prevent violence against women and girls.
• The Family Partnership
• The Link
• Hmong American Partnership
• Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center
• Life House
• 180 Degrees
• Cornerstone Advocacy Services
• Casa de Esperanza
• Breaking Free
• Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault
• New Horizons Crisis Center
• Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment
• Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition
• Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women