HeForShe: Why We Need Gender Equality

Emma WatsonOn September 20, a declaration was made to all male-identifying individuals worldwide: Feminism is for you, too. I am, of course, referring to the speech given by Emma Watson launching the HeForShe Campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality backed by UN Women. When any celebrity endorses a social cause, they are putting themselves in the line of fire for critique, often coming from both sides of an issue. This issue is no different in that powerful messages for social justice frequently become overshadowed by critical rhetoric.


What we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow.


As a feminist, I am grateful that Emma Watson has used her privilege to deliver this message, but like many, I also believe this is just the start of many conversations that must be had before this movement can see progress. Feminist ideals by and large have made considerable strides in the last several decades, but as Ms. Watson pointed out, we are absolutely not where we need to be. As a woman who was born in Arizona and has lived in the Valley her entire life, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement.

While it is easy to pick apart what Emma Watson didn’t say, and how she said what she did, I believe it is more important to reflect on her call to action, and how we all can embrace gender equality and what that looks like in our individual circles. Continue reading

The State of Girls in the World: International Day of the Girl Child

Content note: This article discusses sexual assault and violence against women and girls.

afghan girlOctober 11, 2014 will be the third International Day of the Girl Child. UNICEF began this day in 2012, a day that focused on the issue of child marriage. Last year, the subject was education for girls. This year the theme is Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence.

I am excited that violence is this year’s focus. When I worked in another state as a child therapist in an inner-city neighborhood, I once had a 14-year-old girl bring in two friends for her session. She and another girl around her age wanted me to talk to their 11-year-old friend, who was thinking about having sex with her older boyfriend. The boyfriend was insisting on it. The older girls agreed with the general idea that “spreading your legs” (in their words) is part of having a boyfriend, but were worried that their friend was too young. Though they could not see any coercion in their own lives, even they could tell that in their 11-year-old friend’s case, something was wrong. At one point I asked them, “Do you enjoy it?” All three looked at me as if I were talking a foreign language. The idea that sex could be pleasurable had never occurred to them.


We need to work to prevent violence against girls where it begins — with the perpetrators and their enablers.


These girls were not alone, and although they reflected a particular cultural setting, partner violence is not unusual anywhere. According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide experiences partner violence, many of them as children and teens. The statistics in this article include countries where teenage girls are often married, and in several countries the proportion exceeds 50 percent.

Violence against girls is often considered acceptable where the social structure gives men dominance over women. Practices like female genital mutilation, which is often strongly supported and facilitated by the women of a culture group, reinforce violence as a social norm. Female genital mutilation is restricted to a group of northern African countries as well as Iraq and Yemen, but the practice has been carried by immigrants into Western countries, including our own. While the practice was made illegal in the United States in 1996, the law was not amended until 2012 to include transporting girls abroad to have the procedure done; this was done as a provision of the Defense Authorization Act that year. Continue reading

When It Happens to a Friend

Computer graphic of a teal ribbon.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

You probably know someone who’s been a victim of sexual assault.

It’s an unsettling thought, yes, but the statistics bear it out. Somewhere between 17 and 28 percent of women* have been victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. According to those same sources, the numbers range from 3 to 17 percent for men.* They increase further for members of particular populations or communities, including Native American and Alaskan women; gay, lesbian, and queer folk; people with disabilities; and trans* people.


There are many ways you can support a friend who has been sexually assaulted.


Nearly every victim, every survivor, has a first person they tell — someone they confide in to help make sense of what happened, to help begin the healing process. Unfortunately, I know too well that sometimes the first person told only compounds the hurt. So I’m writing this based on what I wish people had done for me.

How should you respond if a sexual assault survivor reaches out to you?

Believe the survivor. We live in a culture that regularly disbelieves, minimizes, and judges victims of sexual assault. Additionally, there’s a strong chance that the victim knew the attacker before the assault — and a reasonable chance that both are members of a mutual social circle or community. In this light, it can be incredibly stressful for a survivor to speak up about an assault. Simply telling that person, “I believe you,” can offer immense support and relief.

Don’t second guess the decisions a survivor made before the assault or the reactions your friend experienced during or afterward. Continue reading