Well, it turns out my most recent book review wasn’t my last one for Mandy Van Deven of Elevate Difference. She and two of her co-workers at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), have written a book that every mother, educator, and lawmaker ought to read. It is my distinct honor to have gotten an advance copy of the book for review.
“Hey, Shorty: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets”
by Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven, and Meghan Huppuch of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE)
The Feminist Press
Most of us think about sexual harassment in the context of the workplace and would be genuinely surprised to know just how prevalent it is in the world our teens and pre-teens inhabit. Of course, there are incidents so extreme, both in the media and on episodes of Law & Order, that we sit up straight and feel the bile rise in our throats: teachers taking advantage of students, gang rape in the bathroom of a local park. But what about the pervasive, everyday climate of intimidation and pressure that exists in the hallways and locker rooms of our nation’s middle schools and high schools? And what does the tacit acceptance (and/or denial) of this culture teach our children about how to interact with each other? Is this how bullying gets so bad that children choose to drop out of school and deny themselves the opportunities to thrive that they deserve? Is this how we end up with teens deciding death is easier than living with a daily regimen of taunting and overwhelming negative pressure to be something they aren’t, don’t want to be, and couldn’t possibly live up to?
“Hey, Shorty” is the story of an extraordinary organization called Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). Ten years ago, they embarked on an ambitious mission: to uncover and define the ways sexual harassment affect New York City’s public school students. Borne out of a desire to give girls equal opportunities to engage in sports and gather together to share their strengths and challenges, Joanne N. Smith started the project. Fairly quickly, she began to realize that, despite the existence of Title IX, there were formidable barriers to overcome. Despite overwhelming agreement that both gender bias and sexual harassment existed within the community, there was little acknowledgement of either of these things as a pervasive problem that prevented girls from exploring opportunities on an equal playing field with boys.
Over a period of ten years, GGE fought to define sexual harassment and help students understand the insidious ways it affected their lives in and out of school. They enlisted student ambassadors to create surveys and educate their peers, all the while empowering these teens as solution-providers. They struggled with beaurocratic obstacles and lack of funding and found ways to energize the communities around them and find partners to join their cause. The amount of light that GGE is responsible for shedding on this pervasive issue in one of the biggest school districts in the nation is astonishing and exciting. As a woman who considers herself fairly open-minded and liberal, I was nonetheless shocked to discover that my notion of what is “acceptable” or “tolerable” behavior in schools was very much colored by my unwillingness to stand out or stand up for myself as a woman.
“Hey, Shorty!” is a primer for any group intent on addressing issues of bullying and sexual harassment in their own community. With practical advice on how to find supporters and engage individuals as voices for change, this book is one of the most important things any administrator or educator can read in preparation for dealing with tough issues among their students. As one of the authors says, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The women and girls of GGE have done it already and are happy to share the blueprint.
There is a public book launch on April 13th. If you are interested in attending, please follow this link.