Education for #62MillionGirls

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

“Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” The voice of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks to a crowd of 60,000 on the Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park—women and men of all ages and races gathering for one event: the annual Global Citizen Festival.

Created in 2012, the Global Citizen Festival is an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. Through activist efforts on their website, Global Citizen requires supporters to tweet, sign petitions, send emails, and leave voice messages to help this cause, and in exchange, they are entered into a lottery to win tickets to the music festival. In past years, the festival has welcomed top artists including Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, and Jay-Z, but this year the draw to attend the event was at an all time high because Beyoncé was slated to perform (other headliners included Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and Pearl Jam).

For me, seeing Beyoncé live was a huge draw to attend the show. Of course, I tried to pay attention to the efforts of Global Citizen while I checked off each required action to join the lottery, but once I had the tickets safely in my hands, my attention to the purpose of this event dwindled. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives, that we forget about the bigger picture—this show was the reward for our efforts, but it’s up to us to continue to work to help the cause throughout the year.

Beyoncé’s performance was one for the books. I can’t imagine how any person left that show Saturday night without a full ego boost, but I think that it was the words of the hosts and participating world leaders who took the time to stop by and talk to us that will stick with me. I have to commend the stage manager, or planner, or whoever was in charge of the production of this show. Putting Beyoncé’s performance before the main part of the festival was key—she gave us all that boost of energy and pride for being a woman before introducing First Lady Michelle Obama to the stage, kicking off a chain of celebrity names and speeches before we got to hear Malala Yousafzai speak (a moment that had me in tears).

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Her message was powerful—the key to creating a more peaceful world is not pushing our money towards military, but to education. In countries where women have access to education, they see more peace and prosperity, she said. But that isn’t the case everywhere—Michelle Obama said that right now, there are 62 million girls out there without access to education. That’s 62 million voices that could contribute to our world, bringing peace and working to end poverty in their own countries, if we can just show our world leaders the importance of providing education to everyone. Malala echoed the importance of educating the youth of today, because they are our future.

So that’s why we need to participate in Michelle Obama’s new campaign, #62MillionGirls, because like she said, “When girls aren’t given the chance to realize their potential, the whole world loses out.” It’s Feminism at its core—these girls are denied education because of their gender, and it is time to work together to get them the same education provided to men. This isn’t a matter of men vs. women, it’s a matter of giving everyone the same chance.

How do we do this? To start, share a selfie with the hashtag #62MillionGirls along with a description of something you learned in school. Together, we can start a movement to help those 62 million girls.

I know for me, I would not be here without my education—it taught me how to be a strong, independent woman, with an awareness of how my talents can help our future. And I am very thankful for that.

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‘Till It Happens to You: Addressing College Rape Culture

I’ve stressed over the last few days about what to write about for this post. A lot has happened in politics and pop culture—the Republicans tore each other apart at their second debate, and the Emmys rewarded ‘Veep’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ as this year’s top shows (shout out to Amy Poehler and ‘Parks and Recreation’ for their incredible season. You guys may not have won any awards, but you will always be a favorite). But as these timely events passed into ‘yesterday’s news’ territory, I felt everything regarding these events was already said.

And then Lady Gaga dropped the music video for her single “Till It Happens to You,” composed by Diane Warren, and the anthem for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

When the song first appeared a few months ago, the message was clear—it captured the raw and emotional process of dealing with the aftermath of rape, trying to keep moving forward despite the trauma that comes with that experience. Even with the support from friends, family, and professionals to help you stay strong, you will always carry that lingering pain, and no one will understand that—unless it happens to them.

This does not, by any means, mean that things will never get better. As victims of rape, sexual, physical or emotional assault, the key is to learn to move forward and to know that what happened to you was not your fault, and that you are still able to live your best life. Rape is a terrifying, brutal trauma that no woman should go through (I am purposely singling out women for this particular discussion, however that does not mean that rape does not happen to men), but there are ways to rebuild.

You don’t really get the second part of that message from the song, but as you watch the haunting video, you realize how important it is to offer help and support to victims of rape. I got angry watching the video, because rape culture should not be something swept under the rug—it is real, and it needs to end.

The video opens to black and white shadows in a hall, then shifts to three story lines—a girl in her dorm room, another in the bathroom, two more dancing at a party, all instances where you should always feel safe, and then the attacker is introduced in the scene. (I don’t think I’ll ever shake the predatory look in the eyes of that curly-haired hipster at the party). And without the screams, we watch as these young girls are stripped of their former self, their lives changing in a matter of seconds.

The second half of the five-minute video deals with the after effects of each rape. The girl in the bathroom refuses to shower, because she is too afraid it will happen again. The two girls at the party, who were drugged and raped, lose their friendship because of the incident, resulting in one moving out of the dorm room they shared. Their lives are shattered, and eventually, with the help of friends, they are able to start taking control of their lives again. But that is a process that does not happen overnight—it’s a lifelong effort to repair yourself from something that took only seconds to crumble your world.

What I find so disturbing from this video is that in each story, these girls are supposed to be protected. They shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in and harming them in their own home; they shouldn’t have to worry about dancing or drinking at a party; but this is the world we live in. And it is not ok.

When I first entered college, my school’s orientation team gave a presentation of issues you would have to deal with in your freshman year. Some were lighthearted, like choosing studying over a party, overbearing parents, or changing your major, but others were more serious, with rape culture looming over the examples. I remember my school warning us about date rape drugs, encouraging us to always keep an eye on our drinks. Even now as an adult, I fear taking my eyes away from my drink at a bar, even if I just have to pick up something on the floor. We are taught to always assume the worst, that rape culture is part of our world and it is our job to protect ourselves from it. But that doesn’t solve the problem that rape is still happening in our colleges, in fact, it teaches us that rape culture is here to stay, and there is nothing we can do about it. THAT is where we need change.

Gaga’s lyrics are right—you won’t know what it feels like until it happens to you. You won’t understand the fear and anxiety that goes into your everyday life. You won’t know what it feels like to sit in your shower, trying to wash away the bruises that constantly remind you of what happened. And even when the physical signs fade, you will always live with that pain.

I think the point of this video, and of the documentary, is to change our perception of rape. Instead of teaching our girls about ways to prevent themselves from becoming victims, we need to educate society as a whole about ways to end rape culture. I don’t think I will ever understand how the use of a date rape drug is a good idea for an attacker. I see no way that rape could be justified. I see no way how it could be blamed on the victim. And yet, this is the world we live in.

The Empty Chair

New York Magazine’s July 26th article features the profiles of 35 of the current 46 women who came forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The empty chair is for all the men and women in the world who haven’t reported their own stories.

New York Magazine’s July 26th article features the profiles of 35 of the current 46 women who came forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault. The empty chair is for all the men and women in the world who haven’t reported their own stories.

The best thing you can do this week is set aside a block of time to read New York Magazine’s package of interviews with 35 of the 46 women (so far) who have come forward about being assaulted by Bill Cosby. These interviews are raw, emotional, and necessary to understanding the damages of rape.

The cover shows black and white portraits of these 35 women, all bonded by the horrors of their assaults from one man, and their need to report the crimes decades after these crimes happened. But these women’s stories just brush the surface of the real issue, because it took DECADES for someone to take them seriously. Decades.

The first paragraph to the article highlights how Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist in October 2014, and consistently reminds us that it took a man to point this out before authorities started taking the women seriously. And because of statute of limitations, legal deliberations, and a strong, yet sometimes infuriating backlash from his lawyers, Cosby is still walking around a free man while more and more women come forward.

So my thought: How is this ok? How is it possible for these women to go so long without being heard? And for the ones who were brave enough to come forward, why did it take so long for someone to believe them? And why haven’t we done more to bring justice?

On July 27, 2015, Vulture released a detailed timeline of allegations against Cosby, which shockingly begins with Andrea Constand in 2002, even though since her allegations have come forward, more and more women have found the strength to report their cases that occurred back in the 1960s and 70s. Sexual assault is something that takes tremendous courage to come forward with, and as we’ve seen with these women, it’s also something that unfortunately isn’t taken seriously.

Social media has played a significant role in the war against Cosby. Since more and more allegations have become public, news outlets and readers alike are taking to the Internet to spread the word. Many organizations are breaking affiliations with Cosby, and TV networks are cancelling deals left and right. But even with the negative attention Cosby has earned, he still refuses to admit fault. Which is why it is so, SO important to keep the victims in mind—we have to change how our society deals with rape.

Since the article dropped on July 26, I’ve read every account, watched the videos, and between the emotions of disgust, fear, and disbelief, the emotion I conveyed the most is anger. I’m angry that these women had to live with the effects of their assault—living with the shame, the fear, and the pain that crippled them from coming forward sooner. And because no one believed them for so long, it’s taken an immense amount of courage to break from that fear and finally bring—what’s the word I’m looking for—closure?, a state of peace? to their pain.

While every bit of text in this series is important, what strikes me most is the empty chair—the symbol for every sexual assault that hasn’t been reported ever (not just in the case of Cosby). The chair is for the people still living with that reality. And with the hashtag #TheEmptyChair, we’re beginning to see more stories come forward from all around the world, empowering victims of sexual assault to know that we are listening, and there is help out there.

Sexual assault and rape, are difficult to overcome. For many men and women, they fear coming forward. Maybe they blame themselves. Maybe they are afraid of how it will impact their lives after. Whatever the case is, it does not excuse the aggressor. Rape, is rape, is rape, and no matter how long it takes for you to report it. No matter what the case, if it was not consensual, if it was not welcomed, it’s not ok.

So please, take the time to read these women’s stories. It shows that we are listening, that we are here to help and to bring change to the rape culture so many are still hesitant to address. Because they should all be allowed to live in peace.