Mapping Misogyny Around the Globe
By Allison Bolt
Creating tangible solutions for our world’s global misogyny problem
Logging on from around the world, a group of successful and powerful women join the zoom meeting. They have never met, except through a screen. Yet, they all have one thing in common-they are fighting back against misogyny.
On the screen, they look at images of Kayla Van der Byl’s 2020 thesis that she created during her BFA in Communication Design at Parsons School of Design, titled “Mapping Misogyny and Rewriting History.” Flipping through digital images of thoughtfully crafted book pages created by Kayla, now a graphic designer at Apple, the group leans in close to their computers. Kayla speaks quickly but confidently, not pausing for a moment for an “um.” This is what they’re here for.
“It basically has two components, it has a book and a website,” says Kayla while showing the group images of her thesis. Some take notes, others nod in agreement, others still watch closely as if finally hearing someone else tell the story they’ve been telling all along.
Kayla keeps explaining, “the book really looks at analyzing the history of gender-based violence in South Africa and basically, how those problems stemmed from colonialism and apartheid and how this culture emerged. The website kind of aims to offer a possible solution, a positive step forward, it aims to really tackle the culture around gender-based violence and it addresses the behavior.” She goes on to sit up a little straighter and smile for a moment as she says the website also “serves as a platform to really acknowledge and celebrate women’s perspectives.”
Everyone smiles with her because they too, work day in and day out to acknowledge and celebrate women’s perspectives. Everyone here is familiar with similar patriarchal statistics in their own countries and in others. It’s a global issue that is attacking every woman and girl in every country and town in the world. It has been for centuries.
Once Kayla finishes, Safaath Ahmed Zahir takes a deep breath, sighing at the weight of it all but she’s prepared. She’s been waiting to click the unmute button and discuss. “Misogyny is obviously a hatred towards women,” she says without hesitation in her voice while proclaiming this undeniable fact. “It has taken shape in multiple forms such as male privilege, patriarchy, double standards against women and of course, sexual harassment belittling of women.”
Safaath is coming at this from viewing misogyny first-hand in the Maldives where she works tirelessly to help women overcome the patriarchy. As the founder and president of Women and Democracy in the Maldives, she says her organization is “trying to advocate for more women in political positions whereby we are advocating for women to undertake political leadership.”
“In the Maldives what we are doing is currently trying to challenge this norm, or this ideology, that has spread so much within our community,” Safaath says. Misogyny “has rather become the norm.”
Introductions such as companies, organizations, location and so on are quickly stated as each woman is ready to jump into the discussion. They say where they are calling in from, possibly what they’re working on, but move on to discuss the topic at hand. However, there’s one theme throughout everyone’s introductions-they are spread all across the world, but they are all fighting the global problem of misogyny.
Eliza Hatch is calling in from London. She leans closer to the screen quickly explaining her photojournalism and photography projects. “My work is focused on retelling stories of sexual harassment by photographing women and girls in the place that they experienced it in and using these surroundings as a stage to speak out and reclaim the experience,” she says. “It’s something which I started in London and which I take all over the world. It’s gone to the US, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Japan.”
Through photographing women across the world and hearing their stories, Eliza has witnessed all forms of misogyny. “It does affect women and girls differently all around the world,” she says pausing for a moment, looking off screen to think about the root of it all before continuing. “But the kind of common denominator that I’ve seen with my work is that it all stems from the same place which is a lack of respect towards women and an objectification of women. It starts at such a young age. It starts from when you’re going to school. It starts even younger than that and it’s commonly felt among women all around the world.”
Everyone nods in agreement, shifting in their seats ready to unmute themselves and dive into the root of the problem that Eliza has found because they too, have found it.
Kayla speaks up first, in agreement that misogyny is felt by women and girls around the world. “Misogyny, sexism and gender oppressions they’re not culture specific, they’re not race specific and they’re not economically specific,” she says. “A lot of people want to attribute gender oppression to things like poverty and of course, sometimes women who are more impoverished are more at risk just because of housing or being sexually assaulted, but really at all levels of society and across the world this problem is really immensely felt by all women.”
Eliza nods in agreement. She hasn’t even muted herself because she’s ready to jump back in. The two are going back and forth with more and more to say on this topic. “When we’re talking about the issue of misogyny, kind of going back to what Safaath said, the things that you normalize and the challenges that are felt all around the globe but on a very different scale,” she says. “It all kind of starts with this point of normalized everyday harassment, micro-aggressions and microforms of harassment that women have kind of learned to assimilate into their everyday lives and accept as normal.”
Erin Washington has been quiet so far during the discussion. She has waited, listened and now she’s ready to add on but with a slightly different idea. “I think also it’s about empowering yourself as well, right? Once we enter spaces of oppression and we experience misogyny then we have to decide okay, what do we do about it, how do we move forward as women to still continue to navigate and be our best selves,” she says.
Without pausing she continues as if she’s thought about this often and has been waiting to discuss exactly this. Coming at this from the perspective of the founder of Sister Circle, an organization that creates a space for minority women and trans artists to have community and support, she’s thinking about what individuals in her community can do when confronted with misogyny.
She goes on to say that women still need to “reclaim all the things that we want to do because we are still artists, we are still professionals and we have to move through it. So, with the Sister Circle for example, what we do is we create a space for artists black, brown, Latinx, Asian, women and trans identifying makers to come together and be able to support each other, empower each other and hear each other in the space.”
“A lot of the time, we do just need to see each other. We need to have community and dialogue with each other so we can validate the experiences of misogyny that we do experience,” she says.
Angie Chang has also been quiet in the discussion so far, waiting for the right moment to introduce another way to look at this-language. The language used to discuss misogyny and the language used surrounding women in our everyday lives is important. Words matter more than we often recognize.
As the founder and CEO of Girl Geek X, an organization that connects and inspires women in the tech industry, Angie points to a recent successful use of language when speaking on misogyny. , a male republican lawmaker used sexist vulgarity when speaking to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So, she took the house floor and condemned the culture of misogyny in Congress and throughout the country.
“We saw AOC speaking eloquently and calling out sexism and, I think, misogyny on the House floor,” says Angie with a proud smile. The language AOC used during her speech condemned the language we, as women, know too well from men when they defend misogynistic actions. “Someone can say I have a wife and daughters and that’s why I can do this and making it okay and really it’s not,” Angie says.
The group is nodding in agreement, a similar look of pride filling the zoom call. Angie pauses for a moment before deciding it’s all about “just being brave enough to point it out and also make your case for it.”
Kayla who has been nodding throughout Angie’s ideas quickly unmutes herself because she agrees that clear communication is the key in bringing awareness and making tangible changes which is why she implemented this into her thesis. “The data points made the situation more tangible if that makes sense. It made it more upfront and blatant,” she says.
“I tried to design my thesis in a way that was accessible for a lot of audiences and easily understood so that even if you’re not familiar with the topic of gender-based violence in South Africa, you could still look at the data design, the information design, and understand the problem just by the way I designed the numbers and the graphs.”
She starts talking quickly with statistics she’s memorized after researching and working on her thesis. She seems to remember them as easily as one would remember their name because they’re statistics that everyone should know. “Just to see statistics like every 26 seconds a woman is raped,” she says. “About every four hours in South Africa a woman is killed. So, to see things like that visually communicated, it made the situation and the problem definitely more enhanced.”
“Just seeing the statistics, it was a very confronting experience for me personally.”
The group goes silent for a moment as the statistics hang in the air.
Also experienced with documenting survivors, Eliza is the first to speak up. “There’s something really important about documenting these stories, showing the language that is so often used and so commonplace used in such a throwaway way towards women on the street and in public,” she says. “I think it’s really powerful to show these real-life experiences that so many women have yet most of them just keep it to themselves, go about their day-to-day lives just as normal and don’t really share them with anyone else.”
Everyone’s visually agreeing but remaining silent, still grappling with where to move forward from such sobering statistics. “I think it’s really important to basically share these stories and see the words on a page,” Eliza says.
Stories need a setting, surroundings where the action takes place, such as the backdrops Eliza photographs survivors in. Where do these stories take place? Everywhere, Eliza says. “Often when you are experiencing sexual harassment, street harassment, sexual abuse and all forms of abuse it’s happening in private or it’s happening away from where everybody can see,” she says before stating the bleak truth. “You know, most often when you do experience sexual harassment you don’t tell anyone about it, you kind of keep it to yourself, you internalize it because there’s just so much shame and stigma surrounding it.”
These stories also happen in public places. Subway cars, a crowded street or a row of office cubicles. They happen publicly yet they are often not spoken about by the survivor or addressed by bystanders. Thus, they become invisible.
Angie primarily works with women in the tech industry which means she inspires women in the workplace, a very common setting for sexual harassment. She jumps in the moment Eliza is done because in the workplace, giving voices to survivors or addressing harassment is extremely complicated, if not impossible.
“In the modern workforce, it’s been recognized that if you report an incident of harassment you go to HR and that process is more on the company’s side, the company’s interest to manage the situation. So, as the individual contributor in the workplace as women you don’t really have support in the company,” she explains. A few heads shake in disappointment as if they’ve been there themselves.
Angie goes on to say, “So, there have been a lot of conversations about how we can we provide women with support and community so that they stay in the workforce instead of going to HR, going through this really long process that can take years and not actually have a result that you want. So, kind of changing our narratives within ourselves to recognize successes perhaps elsewhere. So that, at the end of the day, we like women leaders and we want to support women staying in the workforce.”
Erin is smiling in agreement after her earlier comments about helping women find the empowerment in themselves following sexual harassment or assault. As she said earlier, following a traumatic event or when entering a misogynistic culture, one must decide “how do we move forward as women” while “empowering yourself” and becoming “our best selves.”
It’s all tying together because empowering yourself is extremely important in a world where instances of survivors’ voices being listened to are few and far between. Who does get past the years of HR investigations?
“It’s unfortunate that women in the workforce have to handle the trauma it seems like on their own and band together into women’s groups and these whisper networks,” Eliza says. “But I have seen in the last five years, some incidents of women coming forward and reporting sexual harassment to say, the New York Times and getting some good responses where male venture capitalists were called out and named and subsequently, conversations were had.”
These #MeToo Movement articles and survivors have “really sparked these conversations for the wider community and whether people agree with you or not, they have that conversation,” says Eliza. Ultimately, this has led to countless powerful men across various industries having public allegations against them and often times, losing their jobs. , 201 men had publicly lost jobs due to allegations and almost half of their replacements were women.
Eliza is eager to talk about #MeToo and how social media platforms have provided an outlet for survivors. “What you’re saying about reporting instances in the workplace and having it go through HR and everything, it’s the same with reporting sexual assault and sexual abuse and that’s why there’s such a low rate of reporting,” she says.
She goes on to shake her head and take a breath before adding more somber statistics to the conversation. “I did a campaign in Sri Lanka and one of the statistics there is, 90 percent of women and girls experience sexual harassment on public transport and only four percent have ever reported it and it’s because there aren’t systems in place that support victims and support survivors. So, that’s where social media and the mainstream media has had to step in instead of the institutions that really should be supporting women and victims of all forms of harassment and abuse. That’s why we’ve seen the #MeToo Movement take off and I expose accounts like mine which are providing these equal platforms for people to share their stories and be able to go through the process of empowerment without having to go through some arduous long process with an official which might end up taking years and be three times as traumatic as the experience itself.”
However, Kayla is waiting and ready with a different take on the #MeToo Movement. A take that exposes its failures for everyday women and girls. First though, she passionately echoes the failure of the system when it comes to reporting. “I totally agree. To speak to that, when I was creating my project mapping misogyny, I looked at a study and it looked at about 2,800 cases of sexual violence and only about three of those persecutors were actually sent to jail. That’s out of a pool of 2,800 and that’s crazy to even grasp and to think of and it’s because there aren’t these systems in place like Eliza said to support women throughout this really trying process, this legal process,” she says.
Kayla takes a few moments to find the right words for the next part, the part that addresses the failure of #MeToo. “It’s definitely a huge concern because just for people at the grassroots level, everyday people, there’s no support for women, for victims, for survivors unless you’re really targeting someone who is famous or who’s in power which I think has been one of the faults of the #MeToo Movement.”
“Of course, it’s great that all of these women are coming out and telling their stories but if they weren’t targeting these huge powerful men, would their stories get the same traction?”
Eliza’s eyes widen at the recognition of this and she begins nodding enthusiastically. “I think it’s also really important to kind of shine a light on the experiences that we don’t often hear and especially from voices who we don’t often get to hear in the mainstream media as well,” she says.
Everyone is in agreement. A small number of women are being heard if they target a powerful man. Because of this, the conversation has been started. However, changing the global culture of misogyny now must help every woman and girl because it affects every woman and girl on a daily basis. We need to move from conversations to action.
Two major themes have emerged throughout the discussion that the women type up on a virtual whiteboard that they will use to visually map their plan forward.
First, more women need to have opportunities to undertake political roles or decision-making power.
Second, we need to have systems in place that support victims and survivors in an efficient manner.
The group is here not only to discuss the problems but to strive toward a potential solution to address misogyny, for people to be allies to help address misogyny and also to address recommendations or potential solutions in order to eradicate misogyny. They will use a “how might we” question, or challenge question, as a jumping off point. This question will frame their creative thinking process, or ideation, in a way that provokes meaningful and relevant ideas.
Kayla arrived at the zoom call with a “how might we” question in mind, “how might we call out this behavior in our everyday lives?” As the conversation has developed and changed throughout the course of the hour, the question begs to change with it and to deepen as the conversation has.
A new expanded “how might we” question needs to be formed, or possibly multiple ones. The group falls silent, glancing at their notes or staring off screen in thought. Safaath breaks the silence with a smile, “I agree on the points noted by the amazing ladies.” Everyone smiles in agreement, mentally returning to the call and loosening up a bit.
She starts thinking out loud, pulling all of the threads of the discussion together as she figures out what the question could transform into. “We are living in the 21st century you know, it is about time for women to get fair access to justice which can be accessed in a fast manner or in a rapid manner,” she says.
“You know, we are not living in a world whereby this was 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, where we don’t have the right technology. We are in a very fast-moving world whereby I strongly believe that countries need to change their current systematic approach so that women do not need to face the bureaucratic approach. However, women do not need to be re-victimized again.”
She keeps talking, pausing here and there to think as she forms her thoughts in front of the group. Each moment from the discussion coming together to form a new idea, a new root cause of misogyny.
She settles on one. It starts in the home. The fight against misogyny is first, a domestic one.
“In terms of all the misogynist things that we face in a daily manner, it all comes down to us and our homes, our beliefs, our ideologies and especially when it comes to child rearing and parenting of our children. So, it all comes down to our own homes,” she says.
For example, Safaath has observed that in the Maldives the mother usually asks the daughter to help with domestic chores while the son is allowed to do whatever he wants. “So, what I’m trying to say is that it also comes down to us on how we are bringing the next generation up as well,” she says.
“My father has been such a huge role model,” she says smiling into her camera. “He really played a very pivotal role in upbringing his daughters and in empowering his daughters. So, all of his daughters had access to education etc. I really get a lot of inspiration from him and show him as an example to other men as well.”
“So, what I’m trying to say is that we need to have more males also to support women, to empower women in a positive manner and we also need role model women to also empower women.”
The women add another theme to the virtual whiteboard under the section entitled “needs,” or “pain points,” that has been growing throughout the conversation. “We need to bring in the next generation to empower daughters and we need men to be an example to support women,” is typed and everyone leans back and thinks for a moment.
With this new need added to the list, the group is back where they started-we have to create a new and improved “how might we” question.
Erin speaks up first, “We discussed the difference of pathologizing versus empowering when it came to allyship and I think that’s the place that we can start right? So, when we think about the ways that people who are misogynists pathologize women by talking over us, thinking one is removed from the struggle or separate from women’s issues, or correcting or giving suggestions not as helping, we can replace all of those actions with points of empowerment instead by standing with women.”
The group doesn’t answer, a few looking up and nodding as if to signal her to continue. She’s onto something. “So, basically replacing the pathologizing behaviors with empowering ones,” she says.
The group types up Erin’s version of the question, “How might we go about communicating the difference between pathologizing behaviors with empowering actions?”
Everyone ponders it for a few moments, turning the conversation over in their minds and relating it to their own work.
Kayla leans in first to turn off her mute button. “Kind of related to Erin’s ‘how might we’ question is how might we unravel implicit bias,” she asks beginning to tie everything back to the earlier point concerning the importance of language.
She continues, talking through something that every woman in the zoom call and across the world can relate too. It’s as if she’s talking to friends. It’s a conversation you can overhear at a restaurant or while walking on the street. It is a mass subconscious bias that permeates our culture.
“Just these subconscious beliefs that a lot of men have about women like when you say doctor or lawyer immediately thinking of a man,” she says. “Because a lot of people think that gender oppression is just these violent actions against women, and it is, but it also manifests in our daily lives in our behavior, in our culture. I think addressing those subtle beliefs that a lot of people have that they don’t realize that they have is very important.”
Now, Kayla’s version of the question is typed up for everyone to think about. “How might we unravel implicit bias (subconscious beliefs) to empower women?”
This global subconscious bias that Kayla brought to the virtual whiteboard seems to be at the center of it all. As Safaath said, it starts in the home. For Erin, it also reveals itself as a power complex that we need to rethink.
“I think a lot of the time we associate masculinity with power,” Erin says. “So, when we go out into the world, when we are gendered as women, our power is taken away from us. So, I think another ‘how might we’ question could be, how might we separate the two?”
“How might we separate the implicit values that we have connected with gender and power?” is added to the board.
All of this makes Angie think of a book she suggested to the group earlier in the week called “For the Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity” by Liz Plank. It all makes her think of the idea of toxic masculinity as the norm in our society and how misogyny could be eliminated with the idea of “mindful masculinity.” What if we raised our sons and daughters with this idea?
“I suggested the Liz Plank book on ‘For the Love of Men’ because it does a really good job of explaining why men have this attitude right now,” Angie says. “It doesn’t explain a framework for mindful masculinity but it kind of starts that conversation that says we can potentially create pathways and role models for mindful masculinity. Men can be empathic, and they can be supportive, and that can be masculine.”
Another question is typed up. “How might we create a framework for pathways and role models for mindful masculinity?”
Each question rests next to the other and revolves around the same central societal problem. They are building something here. Moving forward to create change, possibly one question is not enough to address such an all-consuming problem.
“I think a question which really resonates with me is how might we combat the normalization of toxic behavior in our everyday lives,” Eliza asks after studying everyone else’s questions in front of her.
“I think it’s really important to kind of bring the issue as close to home as possible,” Eliza says. “It’s something which Safaath touched on earlier as well, because you can create large-scale campaigns and do work online and work in the workplace but I think it’s really important to challenge the issue in your everyday life, in your circle of friends, in your family, just by being able to call out even the smallest of small behaviors. I think that’s a really really good place to start because you can share as many and sign as many petitions you want online but the stuff that happens in your home, the stuff that happens when you’re out with your friends on the weekends and the stuff that you observe, and maybe ignore, that’s the most important stuff. That’s how we can begin to make these changes.”
Everyone has added a question to the board now except for Safaath. She unmutes herself and smiles. “I think the ladies have pretty much covered it all,” she says. “If I wanted to add anything, due to misogyny and of course, the stereotypes existing in the world almost all avenues are very much dominated by men. So, I think if we are to look at this in a holistic manner, we must also add how can we empower women in positions of power in all aspects, in all social facets?
The final question is typed on the board, “how might we empower women in positions of power in all sectors (social, economic, and political)?”
The problem may be too large for only one question to encompass it all. However, five questions may be too many and make it too complicated to create solutions. The group looks at the questions in front of them and takes a vote. They all sit back and take in the three questions they will now move forward with.
How might we empower women in positions of power in all sectors (social, economic, and political)?
How might we create a framework for pathways and role models for mindful masculinity?
How might we separate the implicit bias that we have connected with gender and power?
They’re good. They feel right. The group looks at them next to the needs they have identified.
More women undertaking political or decision-making roles, systems in place that support victims and survivors, a new systematic approach to get fair access to justice in a rapid manner, bringing in the next generation to empower daughters as well as for men to be an example to support women and finally, to replace pathologizing actions of misogyny by empowering women.
It’s time to get to work, and time to meet some new team members.
Sandi Edgar, a Business of the Arts Professor at Southern Methodist University and Stephanie Delgado, a Senior Program Manager at GovSpend join the team to provide their perspectives on how we can find a way forward.
The group starts by looking at two personas of women. Sam who is a 29-year-old software engineer is doing incredible research but doesn’t have an online presence and isn’t self-promoting. Sam really wants respect and acknowledgment of her contributions at work and she’s frustrated that she is being given stereotypically “women appropriate” assignments while also not having a network to share her research.
Tamara is a media executive who is in her mid 50s and she feels insecure in her job. She’s often complicit in misogyny because she has experienced an intergenerational cycle of abuse and doesn’t feel empowered in her own voice.
The women each take one of the three challenge questions and consider the question in relation to both Sam and Tamara’s predicaments. They spend some time alone and quiet while scribbling notes, typing quickly and working through tangible solutions to the needs of each woman.
Ideas are typed on the virtual whiteboard in orange sticky notes underneath each name. More notes begin appearing such as Sam could team up with women in her field to promote each other, Tamara could take assertiveness and self-defense classes, Sam could reach out to a friend with PR experience, Tamara could mentor a younger woman and so on.
The group all comes back together and stares at the virtual orange sticky notes pasted on their screens. They’ve created a lot. So many, they scatter the whiteboard, and everyone zooms in to read each one. They begin finding common themes in each other’s solutions and more sticky notes scatter the whiteboard.
The ideas grow, the sound of keyboards clicking fill the zoom call and they begin organizing the sticky notes into categories. These categories include peer communications, employee resources, practice, workshops and teams, networking to elevate, in the moment actions, establishing your own narrative and positive feedback loops. The ideas range from “reach out to collectives of like-minded women’s communities” to “when disrespected in the workplace, ask a disarming question with a smile.”
Now sticky notes of blue, yellow, green and turquoise fill the screen each carefully pasted underneath a category. What does it all mean? These are all solutions, all themes, but now they must all come together into tangible actions.
They go back to the idea of the challenge question, the “how might we” question, that started it all. With all of these solutions and ideas in front of them, organized and color coded after hours of discussion and work, a final question can be solidified.
“How might we collectively empower diverse women to create their own narrative to foster success for their mission,” is typed on the screen in a bright yellow box-the new challenge question.
They drag a box to a blank part of the whiteboard where they will finalize their solution. Their discussion has been enlightening and relatable for everyone however, they are here to move past simply talking and take action to make a real impact. Using larger virtual sticky notes they start to create a poster together that encompasses the details of their tangible solution and how it can be implemented in the real world. No one is on mute, everyone is discussing. They are all throwing out ideas, finalizing ideas from their discussion, adding notes and removing notes.
The team sits back and looks at what they’ve created. In front of them, a densely packed poster is filled with tangible plans for a “compassionate version of LinkedIn.” This new content platform will be for everyone involved in the fight against misogyny including women, men, allies and so on.
This approachable platform will create a safe space to discuss the fight against misogyny, celebrate women’s and allies’ accomplishments, create a support system for users and a mentorship system for younger people, showcase success stories and provide a place for social causes. The platform will also give people the tools to empower themselves especially in their careers or the workplace. This will include networking tools as well as workshops for the interviewing process, resume building, salary negotiations, appropriate workplace behavior, public speaking, personal PR, self-marketing and mental health in the workplace. Overall, the platform will create an empowering space that gives users resources for their unique mission whether it’s personal, social or professional.
The content on the compassionate LinkedIn will be abundant. It will include the stories you often don’t see in mass media that will empower people all over the world and take action against everyday global systemic misogyny.
Everyone sits up a little straighter, a few smiling with pride. They have worked for hours but now, the tangible work begins. With their plan, they will begin creating and testing their new social platform. Together, they will continue to work toward a space for people everywhere that moves the global community closer toward a world without the misogyny millions of people face every day. Together, they will create a real solution that fights back.
Originally published at https://www.forbesignite.com on December 18, 2020.