A few ways to advocate for gender equality

As I discussed in my previous post, gender discrimination is still alive and well pretty much every where you look in today’s world. It rears its ugly head in politics, in magazines, on television, in the office, on the street, even at your local bar. But what can we do about it? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I hope you come away with a few concrete ways to take action on this issue.

Stand up for women in your everyday life: We all have moments when gender bias comes out amongst friends, at work, or when we are going about our daily errands. Consciously acknowledge and push back against these instances.

  1. Support women in your workplace. If you are a woman in a higher position at your company, reach out to them with kindness and offer encouragement or mentorship. We need to fight to change the idea that the other women in the office are competition–instead, let them be colleagues. Just the other day, I overheard three women gossiping about a co-worker. Two of the women were really digging in, insulting her actions and even accusing her of lying to get the job. This all stopped when the third woman spoke up and provided positive examples of how hard the woman in question in worked. Be the third woman.
  2. Find your voice at work. Even though studies show that women’s ideas get shut down more than men’s in the workplace, fight to get your points across. The study also shows examples of companies who started a “no-interruption” policy during meetings. The result? More satisfied employees and better collaboration between all staff members. If you are a man, support female co-workers by listening to and collaborating with them just as much as you would a male coworker.
  3. According to Missrepresentation, women hold 86% of purchasing power in America. How you spend your money matters. Boycott products (including movies) that objectify women and share your choices on social media with the hashtag #notbuyingit.

  4. Don’t put up with stereotypes or negative talk towards women. If you are a man, step up when you hear other men talk or treat women badly. If you are a woman–same thing. We need to stop judging and treating each other so harshly regardless of gender. You have the power to walk away from negative conversations.
  5. Be a model for the children or young adults in your life. As someone who works in schools, too many times I have heard kids make gendered statements. For example: “Girls can’t be pilots, they are the people who give out the drinks” (YES, this is something I actually overheard between a group of 6 year olds, so I stepped in). Step in where you can and model healthy interactions in your own relationships so that children can learn through observation.
  6. Consider donating to or getting involved in organizations who work towards gender equality. Here are a few to check out: Women in FilmSisters of Hope, Black Girls Rock!, Women Sports Foundation, Girls Who Code, Girls for a Change. Share in the comments more organizations you love!

Support more female representation in the media: This is hugely important because of the power media has over perception.

  1. Support female-driven movies by seeing them in theaters on opening weekend. The big studios still don’t believe that big numbers will turn out to see stories about women on screen. Prove them wrong by giving these movies your support. Opening weekend is important because studios base on lot of their decisions on how well a movie is received when it first come out. Showing up for a movie early in its release shows that it was highly anticipated. Big studio movies that star women this year? InsurgentJupiter RisingTomorrowland, and Mockingjay: Part Two.

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein - © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

    Stockholm, Pennsylvania. Directed by Nikole Beckwith. Photo by Aaron Epstein – © 2014 by Aaron Epstein

  2. It is also important to support female directors and writers, which means being a smarter film consumer. Look into movie credits before the movie and seek out those with women behind the camera. Unfortunately only 4.4% of big studio movies are directed by women, so this feat might take a trip to an independent theater. Check out the this year’s Sundance favorites and get out there!
  3. Have you noticed that in news articles, female politicians are twice as likely than their male counterparts to be described in emotional terms? This has to stop. Call out biased journalism when you see it by commenting on the article or writing to the news source it came from. Most news websites have a ‘Contact Us’ section. Use it.
  4. Only 20% of news stories focus on women. Share your appreciation for positive media that empowers women via social media by using hashtag #MediaILike or #MediaWeLike. Hashtags hold power.They are tracked and analyzed by industries and the media. Use them wisely.
  5. Share your story. We need more quality narratives about women, by women.

In case you need some proof that one voice can change the world, here is Emma Watson’s latest speech supporting UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.

Pink for Leelah

Leelah_Alcorn

Photo via Leelah’s tumblr http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/

Make no mistake, a fingernail can be a parade.

There is a new hashtag trend that is taking over Facebook and Tumblr–#pinkforleelah. It is a movement to honor 17 year old Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life and posted her suicide letter to tumblr for the world to take note. To participate, simply paint your ring finger pink on January 6th to raise awareness of both Leelah’s tragedy and, as she wished, call attention to the discrimination of trans people.

If you haven’t read the note yet…it is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, Leelah’s personal tumblr was recently deleted, probably at the hands of her parents, but the note lives on across the internet. You can also find the full text of the note here and in case any of you doubt the truth of this story, here as well. If you have a tumblr you can easily find it reblogged thousands of times over. In fact, the tumblr community has exploded in support of Leelah, with new tribute  pages popping up with nearly every refresh, dedicated to remembering her as she wished to be remembered–as a beautiful woman.

Leelah Alcorn’s birth certificate tells a different story of her identity. On paper, she was a boy named Josh. To her parents, that was that. Despite bravely coming out to them as a trans-person, they rejected her identity and, according to Leelah’s writings, began a series of harmful actions that led her to severe depression, including taking her out of school and isolating her for five months from her friends.

The saddest thing, to me, is that at 17, Leelah was so close to reaching an age where she could get out from under her parents’ oppressive beliefs and seek a more supportive community. But to her, the reality of entering adulthood, completely unsupported by her family and lacking her once-close friends, was horrific to imagine.

Since her tumblr post, additional posts from Leelah have been found on reddit, titled I’m sure someone on here can convince me not to kill myself and Is this considered abuse? Though the content of the first post has been removed, her responses to commenters remain below (for now). Many redditors did their best to convince her that her living was worth living, but her depression continued to drip from every sentence.

When asked what she was looking forward to when she turned eighteen she replied:

“I’m not looking forward to anything. My life is only going to get harder.”

In the next thread, she asks for help, wondering if her parents’ actions toward her qualify as abuse. There are so many aspects of these posts that are chilling, but this excerpt is perhaps the most tragic (emphasis added):

“The way I feel when I talk to my parents and the way my parents treat me like I’m subhuman and that my feelings aren’t valid all make me think that I’m going through abuse, but I don’t know if it counts or not.”

Though many redditors did comment and provide their support, it wasn’t enough to counteract the years of emotional abuse she experienced from those who were supposed to love her the most. To her parents, Leelah Alcorn’s emotions were invalid and her pain, irrelevant. But that Josh Alcorn, they loved and fought for him. His mother even expressed her sorrow to CNN, by stating, “But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son.”

Too bad her son didn’t exist. She could have worked to build a wonderful relationship with her daughter. I don’t mean to diminish the pain that Leelah’s family is going through. Nothing will bring her back. But the ideology her family used made her feel worthless. This is what I take issue with.

Subhuman.

I can’t stop coming back to that word. To me, this word comprises the root of discrimination and provides the answer to why we still do not have social equality. The idea that some people matter more than others, as if we can quantify every individual’s net worth by the race, gender, sexual orientation, spiritual affiliation, etc., needs to be eradicated once and for all. The reality is that our present society makes beautiful souls like Leelah feel unworthy of life. Is there a bigger indicator of needed change than that?

Leelah hoped her death would mean something.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights.”

In one of her reddit posts, Leelah typed a simple request:

“Please help me…”

Though we couldn’t help her then, we can help her now by taking action to bring her final dream to life.

A change.org petition has racked up 277,140 signatures in the hopes of enacting “Leelah’s Law,” a bill that would ban the harmful practice of conversion therapy, already banned in Washington, D.C., California, and New Jersey. You can sign the petition to protect the gender identity of children nationwide from this emotionally damaging and ineffective practice.

Whether you paint a nail pink, sign the petition, or simply make Leelah’s story a part of tomorrow’s conversation–don’t be afraid to parade around. There are teens like Leelah who need to hear you.

For more information on how to prevent suicide or fight for the rights of trans-people, check out Human Rights CampaignAmerican Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and  The Guardianwhich has compiled an excellent list of resources for trans-people and those who love them.

A Resolution

At the beginning of each year we make our resolutions with the desire to somehow do better, be better, and become the person we have always wanted to be. But when the confetti is vacuumed away and we all leave the party, even the best of intentions tend to fade away as regular life returns. Eventually, that new diet we stuck to so vigilantly in January seems less appealing come February, and we beat ourselves up for not sticking to our resolutions.

So for this New Year, why not try something truly new? Instead of worrying about how to improve yourself, your career, or your love life, consider focusing all of your renewed energy outward by finding a volunteer opportunity that calls to you. Not only will you be contributing to a good cause, but your actions may lead you to the positive changes you desired after all—no guilt necessary! As they say, what goes around comes around; studies show that people who regularly volunteer lead happier and healthier lives. Not only do their insides glow with the satisfaction of giving back but volunteers also feel more connected to their community, which wards off depression. Did we mention that people who volunteer regularly also have a longer life spans? No wonderBetty White looks so good—she has been volunteering for most of her life,beginning with American Women’s Volunteer Service during WWII and continuing to devote her time in the present day to animal rights organizations.

With all the bad news in the media these days, why not contribute some time to cultivating positivity? And with so many different causes out there, you are sure to find something that brings you true joy to assist with. To get you startewe have listed a variety of common volunteer opportunities to help you take the first leap and start your year doing good for others and yourself.

1. Help children reach their dreams.

Being a kid in today’s world can be a scary thing, especially for those facing personal challenges at home or in school. By becoming a Big Sister, you can provide the one-on-one mentorship that a child desperately needs to create healthy social relationships and feel cared about.

Think you would make a tutor? There are many nonprofit programs who pair tutors up with students who have fallen behind in school. Find one in your region and help students have the chance to continue education to whatever level they wish.

2. Brighten the day of those who need it most.

Volunteering in a hospital provides patients with the support they need to stay positive and get healthy while assisting staff with smaller tasks allows them to focus on their patients more fully. You can also give back to those who have served our country at the veteran’s hospitals that are always looking for volunteers.

3. Preserve the earth’s beauty for other generations to enjoy.

If you can see yourself at Reese Witherspoon’s side in Wild then volunteering for a park service or national environmental organization may be best for you. Get dirty, feel alive, and do some good for Mother Nature. Does a particular aspect of nature call to you? You can find the perfect fit for your area of interest and browse current openings in your area by visiting www.volunteer.gov.

4. Make a one-time donation to those truly in need.

Not everyone is at a time in their lives where they are able to commit to a volunteer position, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still make an impact. Do your spring cleaning a little early and clear out your closet this January. Not only will you have more room for any holiday gifts you received, but you will also be helping those in need. Goodwill is an option, as most states have convenient drop-off locations, but you could also consider organizations that provide their customers with clothes free of charge. Have some professional duds lying around that you haven’t needed at the office for a while? There are many nonprofits just a google search away that provide men and women with the business attire they need to land a job. Battered women’s shelters are also a great place to call up to see if they donations since many women do not have a chance to bring their possessions along with them to the shelter.

Looking to pull a T. Swift and swap those long tresses for a sassy bob in 2015? Consider donating your locks to those who have lost their hair due to cancer treatment or other diseases. Locks of Love creates hairpieces for children while Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths program helps women keep their confidence while battling cancer.  It only takes 8-10 inches of hair to change someone else’s life.

Of course, there are endless other ways to volunteer for your community. Whether it is volunteering at a homeless shelter or fostering shelter animals you have the power to donate the most valuable things of all—your time and compassion. Make your 2015 count by changing your community (and yourself!) for the better. Visit idealist.org to find an opportunity near you.

Happy New Year!

Inner Change

How can we create change without changing ourselves first. Turning inward to examine our own reactions, personal biases, and learned history is the only way to achieve mental peace and bring on a true spirit of change.

“Who are you in the deepest sense?”

Strip off the values that our culture has taught you to find those that still exist at your core. By connecting to what makes us human we will then be able to dismantle the unjust structures propping up our culture and rebuild.