Rewriting our Story: The Struggle to Empower Women

Women in the Media

The illustration above showcases some of the recent organizations, writings, studies and statistics that have come to the front page of main stream news. Many previous authors have have written about how the internet has accelerated and in some ways, revived feminist organizations, movements and collaborations. I agree, with the access to knowledge and information we see the global widespread discrimination, violence, misogyny against women, as well as the successes, educational attainment, military inclusion, and role of women in the workplace.

With nearly 70% of women experiencing violence (physical or sexual) in their lifetime – this astounding and overwhelming UN Report demonstrates the need to rewrite our story.  A majority of women, girls, mothers, wives, sisters, cousins and friends encountering violence more than likely at the hands of men. This stat makes the violence experience seem inevitable. As a result, our culture incorporates “empowering” choices to help keep women safe. For example, think back, at what age did you receive or have you given the following advice:

  • Don’t go into dark alleyways or streets alone at night
  • Don’t walk alone at night, anywhere, even in your own neighborhood
  • Park under the street light or in the parking ramp closest to the exit
  • Take a taxi from a bar instead of public transportation
  • Bring friends with you if you use public transportation
  • What time are you coming or going?
  • Are friends going with you?
  • Call me when you arrive.
  • How well do you know him?

All of these seemingly helpful hints or advice are simultaneously disadvantageous to the feminist movement – because they target young women. The “advice” tells women that we can make the right choices and bad things will not happen. For some that is true, but for many of us, the choice may not be in our hands.

For many of us, it is men who make conscious, manipulative, unhealthy and violent choices that shape our lives forever.

Where are the efforts and campaigns to change men? Sure, we have heard about them, but unlike these mainstream efforts highlighted in the illustration, we are still “empowering” women. (NOTE: I am not advocating we do not have safe plans or take caution and I agree there are “sensible” things anyone can do.)

So; where are the questions to men about why would you chase a women alone? Why is intimidating her rewarding? How drunk was she — that doesn’t seem cool? Why are women the sole or primary providers in families — is this really evidence of women’s advancement in the workplace or is it because so many men walk out on women and families?

What do these organizations and statistics have in common (referenced in the illustration)? It seems that the effort of modern day feminism – to support equal rights, safety and empowerment for women – is increasingly becoming part of daily news, charitable contribution and donation efforts.

This is an applauded effort but, unfortunately, the men who rape, beat, humiliate, harass women in the world are not the strange scary psychos that we can spot, fear and lockup. They may not be the weirdos, or creepy men, the stereotypical men we avoid. They are less likely to be strangers, and most likely to be our current, former partner, acquaintance or in all simple form – a man we know.

These men are brothers, gay friends, cousins, fathers, husbands, friends, uncles, god fathers. They know us and we know them. They make conscious choices, manipulative choices, choices out of misogyny, privilege and wealth. We as a society have to recognize that with astounding numbers like 1 in 3 military women will be sexually assaulted and 1 in 5 civilian women, that there is an epidemic, a conscious epidemic, that enables men, for centuries to repeatedly abuse, manipulate, hurt and walk out on women.

Until men can identify, understand and change their choices, actions and language that routinely negatively impact women on a daily basis, and therefore, the family, the stats will remain a reality.

What does it mean? It means we have to rewrite the story. We have to think, talk, live, play and work differently with the men in our lives. It means we have to hold men accountable, at every stage – at the small jokes that seem harmless, at the movies they watch and quote, no matter how seemingly funny or “normal.” It means we cannot be embarrassed or protect the ego and the “system.” It means we must have the uncomfortable conversation with the male friends we have known for years, and even those we may admire most, like our fathers and brothers.

To rewrite our story, we need men to engage in choices, decisions and opportunities that empower women.

What are your thoughts? Check out the movements and reports in the illustration by selecting the links below.

Chime for Change

College Enrollment by Gender

Domestic Violence Hotline

2013 US State Department Report on Human Trafficking

An Open Letter to Facebook: Take a Stand on Gender Violence & Hate

The Pixel Project

One Billion Rising

Reproductive Rights for Women

Why Society Still Needs Feminism

Women in Combat: Sexual Violence

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6 thoughts on “Rewriting our Story: The Struggle to Empower Women

  1. Right on Erin, when are the men going to step up to the plate and take responsibility for their actions. Why should women have to fear men, rape, violence in marriage, violent behavior to children, sex trafficking and all of the issues women face today. Men need to take a good look at what their role is in society and work toward change so that all people can feel safe and not fear.

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  2. Becky says:

    I’m proud of you Erin. A thoughtful and insightful piece…..
    mom

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  3. Becky says:

    Erin. Nice work. Very thought provoking.
    Dad.

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  4. Julian Manzara says:

    this is really nice, and it contains some positive steps.
    but for me it did not reach the final step which is: how to make men unwilling to make these harmful decisions. you have to get to the bottom of why some of us men do these things. Why do some men rape, hurt and walk out on women?
    I am sure men would not be willing to do these things if:
    1 they deeply respected women as equals
    2 were aware of the consequences of their decisions
    3 did not have some personal unresolved issue with women
    4 understood that harming women is not a solution to his own problem in his family or with women.
    we must identify the reasons and figure out resolutions to the underlying problems. I cannot say what these are. Maybe these men were abused, maybe their fathers walked out, maybe society encouraged a lack of respect. These (or whatever the real reasons are) are the problems that must first be addressed.
    Thanks,
    ~Julian Manzara

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  5. lexismanzara says:

    Julian – so glad to see that you took the time to think about these underlying problems in depth and are getting an important conversation started.
    I will say that I’m sure there are a lot of good reasons why the post didn’t go into the reasons behind men’s behavior – mostly because there is not much reliable data out there and nobody actually has these answers.

    The 4 criteria you listed sound like a great place to start – and I would also argue that there are a lot more baselines to cover. One being that our society celebrates hypermasculinity which normalizes dominance and violence towards women. Also, that it’s taboo for men to challenge masculinity norms at all.

    I would like to see more collaboration efforts from both sides. While I plan to do what I can, men are equally, if not more, responsible for creating this change. There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and discussed on an individual level.

    I’m going to do some investigating for my next post, love this topic!

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  6. Again Julian thanks for the comment! Great Piece Erin. I think it’s important as well to think about why and how these things are happening. I think the ‘awkwardness’ that men feel about feminism keeps many at bay. We need to tell men how they can help, and why feminism would help them in so many ways too! It’s a movement that goes much deeper than women’s issues I believe, and further believes that we messed up with socialization for everyone and as a result we have all of these categories that aren’t working, feminism for me looks further and tries to create space to talk about what’s going wrong and from that people want to change themselves, and that’s how I believe we’re going to have a change. Nobody can change you more than yourself — and that’s what I hope feminism does for us, as well as encouraging people to think about how they can do better to rearrange the layout.

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