TEACHING GIRLS TO BE UPSTANDERS
YES! Girls Inc. has provided a terrific package of resources and teaching tools for Girls Inc. Week 2019. I especially like the one-pager, How Upstanders Can Intervene to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Violence, for its emphasis on specific actions. In my 30+ years as an educator, filmmaker and author on sexual harassment and bullying, how to take action is absolutely the most critical factor to teach. So use these tools, and not just this week. Sad to say, the environment is getting worse, and the need is greater than ever. Here are three ideas for ongoing conversations that will empower girls to be strong, smart and bold in preventing sexual harassment and violence.
Girls need a toolkit for handling tough situations they will inevitably face. The high school environment they describe today includes frequent body-shaming comments, sexuality cyber-rankings, unwanted touching, genital grabbing and sexual assault. Help them have ongoing conversations, starting this week, to voice their personal experiences dealing with tough situations and sexual harassment. Harassed or supportive, girls can teach each other how to be upstanders. Focus on creating a brave and safe space to share stories, questions and lessons learned. Ask them to describe a time when they stood up for themselves, someone else, or when someone stood up for them in a tough situation. What does that look like? How does it feel? What’s the benefit? Reinforce the importance of having a toolkit with multiple strategies to deal with a variety of situations. Work that muscle in a supportive discussion circle so that girls will be strong when reality hits.
“It could be anyone…a cousin, a friend, someone very close to you, someone you just met, another girl, even…anyone can rape you or assault you in other ways.” [*quote from PASS THE MIC] Sadly, this comment met with knowing nods in a recent discussion with 15 Santa Barbara teens. Balance the importance of using their voices to stand up for themselves and others with up-to-date and comprehensive information about the complaint process, and about potential allies, including their school’s Title IX officer, medical and mental health professionals, police and trusted adults. Make sure they know how to be safe, when to be an upstander and when to get help.
Role-playing is so valuable because girls can stand outside themselves, learning tools to use in real life and developing a support network. One of my favorite exercises is The Mojo Game [from STAND TALL]. Ask your girls to interview each other for examples of a tough situation involving sexual harassment, when they stood up for themselves or when someone stood up for them. Then ask them to pick one of their favorites to role-play in front of the whole group. Tell the non role-playing girls to listen for the power involved when someone acts as an upstander and call out “Mojo” when they hear it. Ask the role-playing girls to try out different responses to the harassment. Remind them that they always have options and can make smart choices. Encourage them to use their bold voices to advocate for themselves and others.
Girls need a toolkit for handling tough situations they will inevitably face…Ask them to describe a time when they stood up for themselves, someone else, or when someone stood up for them in a tough situation. What does that look like? How does it feel? What’s the benefit? Reinforce the importance of having a toolkit with multiple strategies to deal with a variety of situations.
Suzanne Peck is producer/director of the upcoming educational film series, PASS THE MIC: 15 Teens Talk About Sex and author/producer of the film and book, STAND TALL: Lessons That Teach Respect and Prevent Bullying (Corwin Press).