By now, you may have seen the street harassment video that Rob Bliss Creative published this week, showing a young white woman walking around New York City for 10 hours, while the filmmaker walks secretly in front of her with a camera shooting the oodles of harassment she receives on the street. It’s important to note that a lot of folks think that the (wonderful) organization, Hollaback!, created the video—to clarify, Hollaback! was approached by Rob, who had full creative control.
A lot of women, myself included, shuddered and felt nauseous watching at least parts of the video, if not the whole thing. There are plenty of others who don’t see what the big deal is with the simple “hello, beautiful” kind of approaches. And then, there are folks—again, myself included— upset with the racial and ethnic under- and overtones that get sort of glossed over in both mainstream discussions, and mainstream feminist discussions, when we talk about street harassment. There’s a lot to unpack, here.
There’s a lot of chatter about Sheryl Sandberg‘s new book and effort, Lean In, going around the Interwebs this weekend. The premise of Sandberg’s work seems to be that women currently don’t have all that they need to be ultimately successful in their professional lives: we don’t speak up enough, we have biological clocks and workplaces that don’t deal well with those, and a variety of other gender barriers. Sandberg wants to build women up to places where they can overcome those barriers, and build a social movement along the way. The book won’t come out til March 10th, and review copies have been hard to come by. (I haven’t tried, for the record, that’s just the word in the backchannels where I hang out.) Thus, it’s difficult to make deep commentary, so my thoughts here are based primarily on the article in the New York Times, a few other other blog posts online, and private conversations with colleagues over email.
Trouble’s brewing in Germany. No, it’s not the euro crisis; it’s the good kind of trouble: Feminism is finding new life in networked voices online. Last week, a German blogger named Maike Hank put out a simple, defiant call to end harassment and daily sexism with her post, “This Is Not Normal.” It resonated deeply with many on Twitter, and people like Nicole von Horst started sharing their own stories: “The doctor that patted my ass, as I lay in the hospital after an attempted suicide.” That’s when Anne Wizorek, founder of the blogkleinerdrei and digital media consultant (and, disclaimer, a very good friend of mine), recognized what was happening, and suggested a hashtag to capture the stories: #aufschrei (#outcry). And then all hell broke loose when an article came out in the magazine Stern stating that Rainer Brüderle, Germany’s minister for economics and technology, had allegedly sexually harassed a journalist.
I love food. I wouldn’t say I’m a foodie, per say– I’m too picky and have to be seriously coaxed into being food-adventurous– but, like every good New Yorker, I love to eat out, and am always looking for tools and experiences to help me sort through the myriad of options here. Over the last few years, the food justice movement has been gaining in momentum, and I’ve learned more and more about the ridiculously difficult economic and working conditions that most food industry people face. It’s time we make the people that prepare our food as important as decisions to buy local to support independent farmers and to seek out organic products for healthier living.
Since Occupy Wall Streetlaunched over a year ago, many people (myself included, to some degree) have spent a lot of time wringing their hands and wondering, “What is OWS going to do?” Well, this month, in addition to the incredible Superstorm Sandy relief efforts they continue to coordinate, it looks like we’ve gotten another answer: bring the crippling nightmare of American debt to the forefront with its Rolling Jubilee campaign.
There’s a lot of talk about the extreme polarization of public, and specifically, political discourse as we ramp up into the final, could-not-be-over-soon-enough months of the US presidential race. I’m always skeptical when there are claims that we are more polarized than ever, but I have certainly noticed a ramp-up in ideological spewing on social networks that has even lifelong-activist me wondering, “Can’t we all just get along?”
That’s right! Me, who never wins anything! Planned Parenthood awards all kinds of designations each year, and for my work on Planned Parenthood Saved Me, they’ve given me their first-ever 2012 Social Media award. I’m honored!
Here are the remarks I shared at the award luncheon today:
First, thank you Planned Parenthood, not only for your health care and advocacy, but for championing women without fail, with what seems like without compromise. That’s rare in our political climate. Planned Parenthood has successfully negotiated that emotional connection we all feel to the work they do, whether that’s through their clinics or their advocacy, and turned it into a relationship. They’ve embraced social media, both their own properties and the wider world’s conversations.
But also, I’m sharing this award with all the women who shared their stories on Planned Parenthood Saved Me. It’s a crying shame that we live in a world where this is an act of bravery, but that’s what it was. The women that said, “I would have bled to death if it weren’t Planned Parenthood,” or “Planned Parenthood’s staff were the only people who understood me after I was assaulted,” or “Planned Parenthood found my cancer.” That’s what you do. That is your work, and we thank you.
Which is the last thing I want to share– I really want people to understand that PP Saved Me blew up not because Rachel Maddow read from it on her show, or that it was in the Washington Post and a dozen other major major outlets. More than half the traffic to the site came before any major media mention, and that traffic came from Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr.
Women sharing their stories with one another made the difference her. Our stories matter, more than ever.
If you want to learn more about how the Planned Parenthood Saved me campaign worked, check out this 10-minute talk I gave at Personal Democracy Forum: “Don’t Mess with Our Boobs: Ad-Hoc Networks and Online Power.“
You would think that social media as a journalistic and political tool would have gotten far enough into mainstream, regular use that we would collectively be avoiding glaring mistakes at this juncture. But no, all it takes is a major national event that all kinds of people would be paying attention to–like, say, the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, combined with our culture’s obsession with “first!“, and the power of Internet tools to capture the moment.
There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy.
Every few months, it seems like, when the Internet gets its big knickers on and does something righteous, invariably, someone somewhere gets up on a stage and declares that anyone, if the idea is good enough, can be successful on the Internet. Whether that’s a business plan, a political campaign or a cultural meme: you, too, can make it big. It’s our American rugged individualism, intertwined with what looks like an open digital frontier, all packaged up into an utopian bliss for the new century.
What’s true is that more people than ever have access to information, tools and networks that make things happen. And while the news often covers the darker sides of connective technologies like the Internet and mobile devices becoming mainstream, there’s plenty of good to celebrate. Look at just this past week in Internet do-gooding: A video showing a school bus monitor being gut-wrenchingly harassed by 13-year-old boys until she cried sparked a fundraising campaign for her, one that’s now reached over $650,000.
Where things go awry in the analysis of these kinds of situations is two-fold: one, that there is a secret to making something “go viral” (short answer: there isn’t), and two, anyone can create explosive story at any time if the story has merit. If you’re good enough and smart enough, doggone it, people will like you. And you will win the Internet.