A Safer Future: Shaping a New Norm with #MeToo | Editorial

Librarians can do more to raise awareness of the rights of girls and women, and of sexism and its price—and build cultural literacy about consent vs coercion.

I can’t get their faces out of my mind: the faces of the women who have come forward over the last months to tell the stories of the sexual harassment or assault that they have been subjected to in their lifetimes—all too many of them teenagers at the time. As these victims come forward, perhaps for the first time, and share how they have been affected, the #MeToo movement has brought our society to an important juncture. It has made it impossible for any but the most callous (or criminal) to ignore or deny this insidious reality. It has led to a reckoning for many perpetrators. It has also called on each of us to look at what has happened—is happening—directly. While people of all genders are victims of sexual assault, the focus of the #MeToo movement on women and the role sexism plays is especially resonant today for me. We must consider just how we can help shape a safer future for girls and women. Educators and librarians can take important roles in this much needed evolution.

I, too, have been subjected to attempts to exert power over me via sexual harassment. Just one example: my first job out of college was as a canvasser raising money and awareness, door to door, for an organization then called the Sexual Violence Center of Hennepin County, based in Minneapolis. Out in the field each evening, I bore witness. I heard stories from women who were thankful to know about the organization. Many men also thanked me, often emotionally. Others expressed less positive feelings, and I was threatened overtly and obliquely. I’ll never forget the man who upon hearing my pitch sneered and pointed inside, saying, “I’ll show you where the sexual violence center is.” I hated him for attempting to frighten me in that way. I felt afraid for anyone in his sphere, and sorry for any child who would take him as a model.

That kind of verbal intimidation is just one form of harassment girls and women face every day. Now that the #MeToo movement has begun to help us acknowledge the toll this behavior has taken on the lives of women, it has become painfully clear how much further there is to go. If we want to live in, and bring children up in a safer world, we need to better understand sexual violence and its extended consequences.

Librarians and educators can do more to help raise awareness of the rights of girls and women, and of sexism and its price—and build cultural literacy about consent vs coercion. How? Think first before asserting gender stereotypes and, instead, strive to address kids as whole people (rethink those books-for-boys or books-for-girls displays, please). Raise a flag when dress codes target girls. Ensure the library or classroom is a safe space and combat institutional norms that reinforce sexism—or worse, protect perpetrators.

Building fluency around consent is essential, regardless of gender, because it underpins every aspect of a trusting relationship. There are several new books about consent for young people to work with. Just a few recently starred by the SLJ reviews team are Benny Doesn’t Like To Be Hugged and What Does Consent Really Mean?, and SLJ has a list coming soon.

Consider all that is lost when trust is broken, fear replaces confidence, and, because sexual violence is so personal, shame silences the desire to seek help or justice. We must do better, for our children today and for the future so that #MeToo becomes the exception instead of the norm.

 

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Rebecca T. Miller Editor-in-Chief rmiller@mediasourceinc.com

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