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Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A New Street Harassment Report, USES FOR BOYS, and our Upcoming Twitter Chat

EXCERPT:
“The sun is on my face and I’m thinking about nothing at all. 
About half a block past the school I hear a knocking. A rhythmic tapping and I look at the building I’m passing and then into the street where the cars are rushing by. I look all around and the tapping continues and then I see him, knuckles against the window, in a parked car by the sidewalk.
He’s sitting in the passenger seat. He’s skinny and white and not wearing any pants. His hand tugs at his penis. He stares at me with wet eyes and an open mouth and he’s not smiling, but I can see his gums. He’s searching out my eyes and for a second I look right at him. Then I look away. I walk faster. I feel a floodrush of nausea, like something rotten is stuck in my throat. I try to swallow past it. The feeling chases me back to my apartment. The street is empty, but I look around before unlocking the front door to my building.”


— Street harassment scene from USES FOR BOYS, by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, “The Wrong Way Down a One Way Street”

We’ve talked a lot about Street Harassment here at TLT. And when we talk about Street Harassment, I am also talking about teenagers on their way to and from school. I’m talking about students being harassed in the hallways as they change classes. I’m talking about in the lunchroom and at after school events. I’m talking about stories like this: “I was entering the eighth grade building when classes were ending and a boy I barely knew wrapped an arm around my waist and stole all my joy when he told me he’d fuck me anytime.” (one of the many moments from You and I are a Miracle).

Next Thursday, HollaBack, one of the organizations dedicated to raising awareness about and fighting against Street Harassment, will be joining us for the Twitter chat of USES FOR BOYS by Erica Lorrainne Scheidt.

Today, you can read the survey results from the National Street Harassment survey done by Stop Street Harassment, one of the other main organizations dedicated to raising awareness about and fighting against Street Harassment. Some of the key findings from this survey include the following:

In a survey of 2,000 people, “65% of all women had experienced street harassment. Among all women, 23%  had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual.”

In addition, “among men, 25% had been street harassed (a higher percentage of LGBT-identified men than heterosexual men reported this) and their most common form of harassment was homophobic or transphobic slurs (9%).”

There’s a lot of information here and I encourage you to read through it all and read their links to other articles on the topic.

Join on Thursday at 7:00 Central as we talk with author Erica Lorraine Scheidt, HollaBack and more to talk about Street Harassment, USES FOR BOYS and more in the #SVYALit Project.

Discuss this powerful, haunting book and its stunning contrast of both sexual violence and consent all month with the hashtag #SVYALit with moderators @TLT16, @CarrieMesrobian, @TrishDoller, @ChristaDesir, and @ericalorraine. You can also follow @iHollaback on Twitter.


A one hour twitter chat, on June 12 at 7pm Central, will bring together YA authors and sexual health educators in a discussion of sexual agency, sexual assault, and consent in USES FOR BOYS. Join the conversation, using #SVYALit.


About USES FOR BOYS

Uses for Boys, St. Martin’s Press 2013, was named a Best First Book for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist and a 2014 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. This polarizing debut from Erica Lorraine Scheidt, has been called “grim, gritty, and heart-breakingly real.”

Talking with Teens About Street Harassment
Street Harassment
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
#EndSHWeek is March 30th – April 5th

Stop Street Harassment Week (March 30th – April 5th, 2014)

Last year, I wrote a very controversial post regarding something that the actor Matt Smith said about the actress Jennifer Lawrence at Comic Con. My basic premise was that I felt that his actions seemed similar to me to street harassment. In some ways, today, I would say they were possibly more like sexual harassment in the workplace. But that post is not the point, because people’s reactions to it were. I heard time and time again from Middle School and High School students responding to this post about how they were harassed walking down the hallways of their schools from boys around them commenting on their bodies, propositioning them for sex, etc. And I recalled that even I, in the 8th grade, had a student that I had never seen before reach out and grab my breast as I passed him in the school hallway. This, too, is a form of street harassment.

According to Stop Street Harassment, street harassment is “catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop.”

Follow #EndSHWeek and @hkearl on Twitter for Info


And yes, street harassment happens in our schools. It happens on the way to and from school both on the street and on the buses, it happens in the hallways, and it happens at school sponsored events.  “According to a 2008 study of 811 women conducted by stopstreetharassment.com, almost one in four women had experienced street harassment by age 12 and nearly 90% had by age 19″, as reported in this excellent YCteen Story: Street Harassment is No Compliment. Just think on that for a moment, by age 12 – the age my daughter will be this year – 1 in 4 girls surveyed had already been subjected to some type of street harassment. And in the responses from teens that I received, many of them have resigned themselves to this fate saying things like, it’s always been this way, boys will be boys, etc.

If we are looking for examples of street harassment in YA literature, there are some really good examples in both Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama and in Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt.

In Monstrous Beauty, the main character, Hester, is working at a historical re-enactment tourist trap when a group of boys begin to harass her:

“What have we here?” a cocky teenage voice said.
A group of boys ducked under the short door frame into the room.  A particularly tall one stared through the open window with his mouth gaping, as if she were an animal in the zoo
.
“Good day t’ ye,” Hester said. “I did not see ye at my door, or I should not have carried out such a graceless act.  Would one of ye care to rest yourself?” She motioned to the chair near the door.
A boy with a Boston t-shirt who looked to be about her age pushed his way past the others. He pointed in the direction of the bed. “I’d like to rest myself there, with you.” Machine-gun laughter burst from behind him.” – Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

 

Infographic found at Hollaback

And in Uses for Boys, the main character, Anna, is walking home from work when she sees a man masturbating in his car and trying to engage the women around him. In one interview, Scheidt even mentions how nobody seems to comment on this scene: “That some see the book as dark, unrelentingly dark, was a surprise. I think Anna has some terrible experiences–nobody even comments on the street harassment, which to me is one of the really dark moments in the book–but I don’t see her story, the way that she tries and reaches and keeps moving forward, as dark” from an interview at The Rejectionist. Is street harassment so commonplace at this point in our lives that when we read about it in books we don’t even feel it’s worth discussing? My fear is that perhaps yes, yes it is.

In fact, the street harassment depicted in Monstrous Beauty was so profound to me that I wrote an entire post on the topic. It made me want to talk about street harassment and how it affected the way I now moved through the world.

In the past couple of years, there have been major movements, in part spearheaded by author John Scazli, to put anti-harassment codes of conduct in place at cons around the globe. And this year ALA even put forth one at it’s own national convention, which was met with very mixed reactions. But what about our schools? Our schools need to have clear sexual harassment policies in place and clearly outline the steps of recourse that students can take in the event that they are harassed. In addition, they need to have training – the same way that work places are required to have training – that engages teens in the discussion of respect, harassment, and what the consequences are. Our schools now have zero tolerance policies for violence, but why don’t they have zero tolerance policies for sexual harassment?

This week is a week dedicated to raising awareness about Street Harassment. Street Harassment is an issue that affects our teens. We need to be engaged in the discussion and raising awareness. It’s a good time to go to your administrator and make sure that you have the policies in place to protect your teens, either at school or in the public library. And it’s a good time to be putting up displays and sharing resources. The bottom line is this: all people deserve to walk through their daily routine without fear and harassment, are we doing our part to make sure we are moving in that direction?

To learn more and get involved visit these organizations:

Talking with Teens About Street Harassment (a part of the #SVYALit Project)
Street Harassment
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con

Teen Issues: Street Harassment (guest post by Pauline Holdsworth)

Street harassment isn’t how we envision teenagers learning about themselves. We don’t name it as a form of education or discuss its consequences or argue over its curriculum – and in leaving out the lived experiences teenagers have with harassment in public spaces from our conversations, we’re leaving glaring gaps in what they’re being taught. 
From Stop Street Harassment: “Catcalls, sexually explicit comments, sexist remarks, groping, leering, stalking, public masturbation, and assault. Most women (more than 80% worldwide) and LGBQT folks will face gender-based street harassment at some point in their life. Street harassment limits people’s mobility and access to public spaces. It is a form of gender violence and it’s a human rights violation. It needs to stop. “

Here’s the kind of education street harassment gives you . . . 

You learn that you live in a world where the act of saying no makes you ungrateful. You study the reactions of adults around you and learn it’s ruder for you to say you’re uncomfortable than for someone else to harass you. You learn that public spaces aren’t really open to people like you, and you start to chart a different kind of map of the world, one where you’re starting to limit the places you can go. You see the rest of the world operating on a 24-hour day, but you feel your own day steadily shortening: these are the hours of the day you feel comfortable outdoors. On some days you can count that number on one hand. 
Street harassment gives you a powerful and unsettling crash course in sexuality, power dynamics, and consent, and it’s rarely countered by any kind of positive counter-intervention that gives you a different set of rules to work with. It’s also a form of education that starts early. It starts before you’ve had the time or space to explore your sexuality or your body or your boundaries for yourself. 
View complete infographic at Hollaback

Perhaps most powerfully, what street harassment teaches you is that your comfort level, boundaries, and sense of safety aren’t seen as important by the world you live in. Street harassment leads to a slow erosion of consent. Over time, you find yourself saying no less and less frequently. You’re told that girls are supposed to be nice, and you begin to understand that when people say that, what they mean is that girls aren’t supposed to contradict or resist. You smile nervously and try to be polite when strangers approach you on the street, but then when you try to walk away, you’re accused of leading them on. Of asking for it. You are no longer a nice girl. You are an ungrateful bitch. 

The lessons young girls learn from street harassment are the lessons they bring to their relationships. Those lessons tell you that it’s not nice to say no, that you should be happy and grateful and welcoming when you receive attention, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Those lesson spill over into the way you approach public displays of affection, into the boundaries you set, into whether or not you feel comfortable enough to say when you’re not. For many teenage girls, the education they’ve received up until that point has convinced them they don’t even have the right to set boundaries, let alone to re-neogtiate them or demand that they be respected. 
What we need is a different kind of education. That education can come from school systems and teachers and parents and friends, but it can also come from creative alternatives, like books that show a world with different rules. Tamora Pierce’s books show a fantasy world where female protagonists encounter and resist street harassment, intimidation, and abuse, and go on to form all-female temple guards that work to create a sanctuary for survivors. They show communities that band together around collective values and refuse to accept harassment as inevitable. For girls who aren’t seeing those actions and those attitudes modeled around them, it can be incredibly powerful to have access to a fictional world where they are. In many cases, young adult fiction that shows these alternatives can prompt readers to start questioning rules they’ve taken for granted. 
For other readers, that spark can come from books that illustrate the consequences of that constant harassment and erosion of consent in a realistic setting. Jay Asher’s novel 13 Reasons Why is a powerful lesson in bystander intervention through the eyes of a teenage boy who was too late. As he listens to the 13 tapes left by his crush after her suicide, he begins to experience the way their town looked and felt different for her and the way the harassment she experienced slowly wore her down. For readers, especially straight-identified teenage boys, 13 Reasons Why is a desperately necessary window into the education they’re not getting – and it’s something that can prompt them to question the education they are getting about relationships, harassment, and their responsibilities as bystanders. 
When we counter the education street harassment provides with alternative lessons (fictional or otherwise) of our own, we’re equipping young girls with the knowledge they need to write their own rules. In a world where they’re constantly being taught they don’t have to right to, helping them draft those rules is a small but revolutionary act. 

To learn more and get involved visit these organizations:

Help us build a book list: What books can you think of that depict examples of street harassment?  What titles can you think of that show girls standing up to harassment?  And what titles can you think of that give us healthy examples of consent, healthy sexual relationships, and strong teenage girls?  Tell us in the comments.


Pauline Holdsworth is a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism, where she is writing her thesis on media coverage of sexual assault and gender-based violence. She covers gender and women’s issues for Campus Progress, the youth partner to ThinkProgress, and regularly writes about sexual assault prevention and representations of consent and assault in young adult literature and the media. She runs a series on consent-based education, which examines how teachers, librarians, authors, and advocates are working to engage teens in a conversation about consent. Pauline has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Toronto, where she worked at her student newspaper as an arts writer, Senior Arts & Culture Editor, and Editor-in-Chief.

Friday Finds – July 26, 2013

This week at TLT:

This week’s Sunday Reflections discusses the presence of violence in YA and why it’s important.

We have book reviews of:

Heather and Karen took a group of teens to the Simon Teen Tastemakers Event at ALA and offer ideas for reproducing the event for a teen program at your library.
Karen asked us to talk about the casual perpetuation of street harassment culture.
Karen discusses how YA literature addresses the issue of abortion. And Christie adds some important thoughts on the issue. We also have a list of 5 YA titles that address the topic to some degree, with additional suggestions in the comments.
Robin posted about her experience working with youth who live in poverty. Karen added a list of fantastic titles that depict teens living in poverty.

Commiserate with Heather in the comments section of her post on Program Fails.

Previously on TLT:
We reviewed Timepiece by Myra McEntire and Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.
Karen wrote about one of the daily realities for teens who live in poverty – going to bed hungry.
Around the web:
There is an important article by Jen Schradie over at The Society Pages on The 7 Myths of the Digital Divide.

You can read an excerpt of The Fall of Five, the next in the I Am Four series by Pittacus Lore at EW. 

There is also a cover reveal and excerpt of Enders, the sequel to Starters by Lissa Price over at EW.

YPULSE has an interesting look at why the show Catfish on MTV matters

What are you guys talking about this week?  Share with us in the comments.

VOYA Magazine released their Teen Pop-Culture Quiz #40.  How well do you know teen pop culture?  Take the quiz.

That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con 2013

Please read this note about the comments:  I wrote this post with the intention that we would consider how we talk to and about people, and that we consider doing so with respect.  I ask that if you comment, that you please comment respectfully.  Comments calling people or people groups names, using curse words, etc. will be deleted. (Note added 7/23/2013)

Fan: What would you like to do before you die?

Matt Smith: To start with, Jennifer Lawrence
(referenced multiple times on Tumblr)

Screen Shot of This Blog is a Mess at http://aldrineriksen.tumblr.com/post/55992976129  7/22/2013 9:24 AM
 Dear Matt Smith,

I have a bone to pick with you.  To begin with, you should know that I only learned who you were about a month ago when my two daughters and I started watching Doctor Who this summer.  We immediately became immersed in this wonderful story of a man, well alien really, who had tremendous integrity, valued life and people, and did hard things at often great personal cost to himself because they were the right things to do.  After a few episodes it became clear that this was a show that we could all watch and enjoy as a family, and we did.

Let me take a moment and tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a woman raising two daughters.  My goal is to help create a culture, an environment, where my daughters can walk safely down the street without being hooted and hollered at by men who feel that they can yell out that they want to “do” them because by golly, they have seen something they like and they are entitled to objectify and harass my daughters because – well – they want to.  I want my daughters to be judged not by their bodies, but by the body of their work.  Not by how they look, what lust they might inspire in a man, but who they are as a person.  And I want the men in this world to grow up understanding that all human beings, including female ones, have the right to walk around the world freely without fear of cat calling, whistling, being fondled, or being raped simply because that is what a man wants (and vice versa). 

So here you sit, a popular cultural figure on one of the world’s biggest stages and you were asked a question: “What would you like to do before you die?”  And you response, “To start with, Jennifer Lawrence.”  That is, at least, how you are being quoted around the Internet.  Not that you wanted to do a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, or to do lunch with Jennifer Lawrence.  No, you wanted to “do” Jennifer Lawrence.  Maybe you don’t know how this can be interpreted, but I can assure you after having worked with teenagers for 20 years now that everyone understood you to be saying that your first goal of things you would like to do before dying is to have sex with Jennifer Lawrence.  Wanting to “do” someone is dripping with sexual innuendo.  And in making this statement, you objectified a talented, hardworking actress and reinforced a lifetime of cultural norms that suggest to girls that they are nothing more than objects put on this Earth to satisfy the sexual desires of men.  You also reinforced the cultural norms that suggest that men are nothing more than an animilistic set of base desires that can hardly be contained.  Basically, your answer did no one any favors.

Here’s the rub: You definitely have a right to answer the questions anyway you would like.  It is your life, they are your last dying wishes after all.  But I would hope that you would come to understand that words have meanings.  These words are all over the Internet.  Fans of yours, of the Doctor Who universe, are reading them and taking them in and they see it as someone they look up to reinforcing this notion.  While we read in the news about rapes taking place in Steubenville and gang rapes taking place in Texas, we are asking ourselves: How can we change the culture so that woman are safe and the landscape of our lives, our cultural legacy, is something other than the fact that men and women are getting raped at all, let alone at such alarming rates?  Part of the answer is that we must take responsibility for our actions, learn to control our desires.  But the other part of our answer is that we must stop objectifying people and instead begin to see them as fully formed and worthy human beings.  Not simply bags of flesh that we can use to satisfy our sexual urges or that we can demean so that we have more power or a greater sense of self.

Many people will think that you paid Jennifer Lawrence a tremendous compliment in your answer.  Some will say you were simply trying to be funny.  Others will realize that you stripped her away of all her hard work and accomplishments, demeaned her, and reduced her to a physical object.  Imagine what a different impact you would have had if you had chosen to say before you died you wanted to make great art, or to learn new things, or to make the world a better place.  But no, your first desire was to “do” Jennifer Lawrence. You were basically engaging in a large scale moment of Street Harassment.  Street Harassment is “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.”  (from StopStreetHarassment.org)  You took the stage and perpetuated a culture that others are working tirelessly to end because it harms others.  Teenage boys hanging their heads out their car windows telling women on the street that they “want to do them” will think nothing of it because, well, Matt Smith did it at Comic Con and everyone thought it was cool.  Bow ties are cool, street harassment is not.

I get that you are not the doctor, you are Matt Smith.  But I think we can all learn a lot from the Doctor.  And the first thing we should all learn from the Doctor is that people are more than simply beings that you want to “do”.  Perhaps you said it best in the character of the Doctor:

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”
The Eleventh Doctor, A Christmas Carol

What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls

Please note: this post is on a sensitive subject and can have triggering discussions for some.
 
“What have we here?” a cocky teenage voice said.
A group of boys ducked under the short doorframe into the room.  A particularly tall one stared through the open window with his mouth gaping, as if she were an animal in the zoo.
“Good day t’ ye,” Hester said. “I did not see ye at my door, or I should not have carried out such a graceless act.  Would one of ye care to rest yourself?” She motioned to the chair near the door.
A boy with a Boston t-shirt who looked to be about her age pushed his way past the others. He pointed in the direction of the bed. “I’d like to rest myself there, with you.” Machine-gun laughter burst from behind him.” – Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous Beauty is the story of an older teen named Hester.  Hester lives in Massachusetts, a place still rich with history and legend and some believe, magic.  Hester is a lover of history with a scientific bent, she does not believe in magic.  A few days after Hester was born, her mother died.  The same thing has happened to every woman in her lineage as far back as they can tell.  This knowledge has made Hester take a vow that she will not allow herself to fall in love so that she is not tempted to marry, bear a child and suffer the same fate as her ancestors.  In an alternating storyline, we hear the story of passionate lovers Syrenka and Ezra.  With each turning page it is clear that their stories intersect in ways that Hester could never have imagined.

While reading Monstrous Beauty, I had a variety of reactions and immediately closed the book upon finishing to write a post about an aspect that I found both true and troubling.  Monstrous Beauty is many things: it is a richly dark gothic tale that slowly peels back the layers of a centuries old mystery and helps our young heroine, Hester, break a family curse.  The building blocks of the story are put together so incredibly well, almost flawlessly.  It is a mastercraft lesson in storytelling.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

But there is one aspect of the story that I found deeply troubling: there is some incredibly disturbing sexual brutality, both outright and implied.  In fact, in the first 100 pages Hester is approached and put in sexually threatening situations twice.  Syrenka herself is raped in a moment that becomes the catalyst for our story.  I found this unnerving.  And then I spent some time really thinking about the implications of what life is like for a girl and how it is depicted in Monstrous Beauty.  So let’s take a quick journey through my life, shall we . . .

As a Middle School and High School student, I can vividly recall three separate instances when a fellow male student – whom I did not even know – purposely reached out and grabbed my breast while walking the hallway and changing classes.  I can also recall my best friend’s father once doing the same (and now you know why we were no longer friends – it wasn’t you, it was your dad.)

Twice in high school I went out with friends, with the clear knowledge that we were indeed nothing but friends, and at some point in the evening the drove me to the place called “lover’s lane” where people went to make out.  Nothing happened, but I had found myself in a very unsafe position with someone who was supposed to be my friend.  Because we were alone in the car, I realized that they were in fact in a position of power.

In another scene, Hester goes onto the beach and when it starts raining she runs into a cave for cover and is followed by a fellow student named Joey.
“Stop it, Joey,” she interrupted.  She pushed his upper body away, but he wrapped both arms around her waist and pressed his hips against her. – Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

In college, I went with a group of students to a local cafe to study.  A male friend from the group was driving me when he went past the cafe and drove me down an empty street in the middle of the desert.  This was definitely one of the most terrifying times of my life.  In the end nothing happened, but he had all the power and control in this moment and I had never been so unsafe.  The conversation clearly indicated what his intentions were and I was just lucky that he didn’t have a weapon or chose not to use it.

Then there are all the times when you are simply walking from point A to point B, often in broad daylight, and men say filthy, lecherous things to you.  A couple of months ago a car of men drove by and screamed what they wanted to do to me as I played outside WITH MY CHILDREN.

Just last month I was visiting my dad when I went for a walk.  As I walked I passed a young man waiting at the bus stop, he got up and started to follow me.  At this point in my life I have learned what this life is like for a girl and I had my phone so I called and my people came out of the house to make sure I was safe.  As my family called me back to the house, the man waited a beat and then went back and waited for the bus.  Thankfully, my family was there to keep me safe.  And it was obvious that he was willing to forgo his bus ride for whatever nefarious plans he had upon seeing me.  This is another instance that could have gone much differently then it did, and I was terrified.

I have shared before, but there was even a time when I was continually sexually harassed by a teenage boy that was coming to my programs.  When we met with the boy and his father, the father said I should take it as a compliment.  There was never any acknowldgement of the innapropriateness of his behavior or how he failed to stop after having been told several times to stop.  These are the types of messages that our boys are being given – women should learn to take a compliment and they are ungrateful bitches when they don’t.

Statistics indicate that 1 out of 3 girls/women will be the subject of some type of sexual abuse/victimization – often before they even reach the age of 18.  If you include catcalls, unwanted sexual advances and off color remarks – all girls will.  Unfortunately, I fear that for a lot of teenage girls, Hester’s experience is in fact way too common.

Question: What is rape culture?
When we teach girls how to protect themselves from being raped and don’t spend our time teaching boys a plain and simple truth: It is not okay to rape.  As if the responsibility somehow rests on the victim and not the assailant.

Earlier this week, a Fox News correspondent made the comment on air that women who find themselves the victims of violence “should make better decisions.”  We continue to shift the blame onto women instead of shouting from the rooftops, Hey guys – it’s not okay to 1) touch a woman (another person really) without their explicit consent, 2) there are in fact situations in which a person can not realistically give consent and they include being under the influence and when there is an imbalance of power, to name just a few and 3) you – the aggressor – are ultimately responsible for your actions.  I can’t make you rape me.  Not by wearing the wrong clothes.  Not by walking in the wrong place. Not by saying the wrong things. Not by being in a night club. Not by being your friend, or your girlfriend, or even your wife.  You and you alone make those choices and they are your responsibility to bear.

On Twitter, I follow several people who are very active in a campaign to stop Street Harassment.  Street Harassment occurs when men yell out or whistle to women who are simply walking by.  Often, it is a group of men and these are terrifying situations that can easily escalate.  Again, there is an imbalance of power.  More importantly, women ARE in fact people and they deserve the courtesy and respect of being able to walk down the street without being harrassed, objectified, and intimidated.  (Side note: the objectification of women would constitute a whole other group of posts.)

Questions: What’s the cultural message we send to girls?
You must be thin, beautiful and sexy – but not too sexy or else I will rape you and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT.

As I continued reading Monstrous Beauty, I came to appreciate it for the rich story that it presented, the quality of the writing, and the way that Fama was able to juggle two story lines and weave them together in a way that followed through.  But I also thought, I want people to be reading and discussing this book because we should be talking about the sexual politics of our world and what it is like for a girl.  What happens in the book is unnerving and off putting – and it should be.  That is the power of story, sometimes it holds a mirror up to truth and makes us think about things we prefer to sweep under the rug.  I don’t know of a single female in my life who hasn’t in some way been the victim – multiple times – of some type of sexual harassment, intimidation or abuse.  We can’t still be thinking that is okay in the 21st century.  Thank you Elizabeth Fama for highlighting how little some of the politics of sex have changed since the time when Syrenka lived.

One final note: In the scene I opened this post with Hester is working her job at a Colonial America tourist resort.  Her job is to play a very specific role and remain in character at all times.  When approached by the group of boys in threatening ways, Hester stays in character and takes the opportunity to leave the cottage immediately under the pretense that a neighbor is expecting her to bring eggs.  She gets herself out of Dodge.  I thought this was an incredibly smart way for Hester to handle the situation because had she responded by verbally attacking the group, they more often than not will respond in anger and use it as an excuse to follow through on their threats – and then they will claim that bitch deserved it because she was disrespecting them.  Because somehow they can disrespect and threaten her, but she doesn’t have the right to defend herself.  I believe that this was a very realistic way for Hester to handle the situation and I applaud her intelligence.

Last night on Twitter I asked for help putting together a reading list of YA Titles that discuss sexual intimidation, violence and abuse.  These are some of the titles that were recommended:
What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton
Live Through This by Mindi Scott
Identical by Ellen Hopkins
Pieces of Us by Margie Gelbwasser
The Mockinbirds by Daisy Whitney
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Schedit
Flawed by Kate Avelynn
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
But I Love Hime by Amanda Grace
Stay by Deb Caletti
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
Something Happened by Joseph Heller
Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Weiss
Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
The List by Siobhan Vivian
Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
Empty by K M Walton
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
Exposed by Susan Vaught

I also asked for titles where a girl was put in a compromising sexual position, stood up for herself and the situation was resolved without harm coming to the girl.  The Twitterverse could not come up with very many titles.  This is what they came up with:
Knee Deep by Jolene Perry
Easy by Tammar Webber
Raw Blue by Kristy Eager
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

A note about boys: obviously sexual violence can and does happen to boys and it is just as horrific of a crime.

More discussion:
Force: Upsetting the Culture of Rape
Teach “don’t rape” instead of “don’t get raped”
Stop Street Harassment