2019 Scholarship Winners

The attorneys and staff at Charles R. Ullman & Associates, PLLC is proud to announce the winners of our annual scholarship essay contest. This year we chose a topic that has been in the news often and can be a very sensitive subject for many. Students were asked to answer the following prompt:

How can men become allies for the MeToo movement? Since the movement promotes women speaking out, what can men to do make victims of harassment become more comfortable speaking out? How do you think the movement has changed environments in the workplace, social life, and other areas?

We received many compelling essays but could only choose three winners. Please join us in congratulating the winners and read the winning essays below.

First Place

Preethi Konduri

I spent the first six years of my life in India and before I knew what relationships, girlfriends, boyfriends, or crushes were, I had already heard the word “rape” in multiple places around me, including the whispering adults, the loud news, and the scary titles in the newspapers. Maybe the fear was a part of it but I also observed the desire for people to wish and pray for their children to be boys. At that age, a child wouldn’t know this was a societal issue, they would believe that being a girl was an issue. I kept hearing that raising a boy was a lot easier than raising a girl but received no reasons for why. The people I am talking about aren’t the stereotypical “old-fashioned” elders but college graduates who viewed society as more accommodating to boys than girls. Looking back at it, I don’t think it makes sense to live in a society where fear of rape was taught sooner to girls than how to write their first sentences. I vividly remember one instance where a boy in my class threatened to report me to the teacher if I did not kiss him. Choosing not to, I spent the rest of that school year in fear. It sounds trivial now, but at that age I was truly terrified of him. However, since I was in a society where I thought I was the one who should be ashamed for such an event happening, I was too scared to tell my own parents. What can men do? They can be taught to respect women instead of women being taught to fear. Our fear doesn’t stop the evil, but their respect can produce a cognizant society that will hear less about these horrific events.

At age six, I moved to the United States. I truly believed that sexual assaults did not happen in this country, because I didn’t hear about it. I did not hear about girls being kidnapped or sold, which were the fears that were prevalent in India. However, I saw my own peers objectifying women. This was happening in an elementary school. I am speaking through a privileged voice with a hindsight perspective since I did not recognize that there was a word for what was happening at that time. The girls were uncomfortable by the random stares, the unconsented touching, and the loud giggles after the boys were done discussing something about one of us. But the boys thought it was okay, it was “cool.” The girls convinced themselves that “boys will be boys,” because that’s what we heard around us. What can men do? Teach their sons from a young age that a girl is a human being like them and that it’s not “cool” to speak this way. If a few boys were educated on this, they can stand up during these situations and tell their peers that this is not cool and that they should stop. The lack of accountability reinforces such behavior because boys don’t realize that it is wrong. How could it be, when they were just being boys? The scary thing is that these boys will be the men in charge of our politics, in charge of our bodies at a hospital, and in charge of our careers as our bosses.

What I am asking from men is not to speak for us or stand up for us. I am asking for them to create a society where we can speak up and stand up for ourselves. In sixth grade, my friend and I were the only two girls in my bus. The bus driver was a woman. The older boys in the bus decided to watch explicit material and comment in front of us. They even bullied the bus driver into silence. They enjoyed the discomfort that it brought us. What did we do? Absolutely nothing. We were scared that they would do something worse if we spoke up. After months of this, it only ended when one boy on the bus decided to anonymously complain to the school about it. I still do not know who he was. I appreciate him stopping that one instance but he could have had a much larger impact if he said that this was not right in front of everyone. He did not feel comfortable standing up for us and neither did we. I appreciate him but I wish I could have felt like I could have stood up for myself without fear of consequences.

Two years ago, I went to India for the first time after moving away when I was six years old. Again, I faced people who looked at me with pity and directly told me that my dad was unlucky for not having any sons to take care of him. What could a son have done for him that I could not?

All the instances I described above were events that I did not recognize as gender inequality. It was not until I entered junior year and moved to a residential school that I became stronger and identified the situations around me as wrong. My school is a residential school and the students are chosen from all over the state based on merit. However, the advanced classes were largely composed of boys. Were we treating boys differently than girls, allowing them to advance higher? Research from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data supports that the way a student is treated correlates with their performance in school. The observation led the boys at my school to not treat the intellect of the girls with the same respect. As I grew older, I saw that boys were not only utilizing the physical appearance of girls but also our intellectual capability to make us feel a certain way.

I fear what else I will experience as I grow. Just a few months ago, I received an email alert from a local university warning about a sexual assault. An unidentified man walked into a common room at 3 am and forced the girl into doing things she did not consent to.

Last year, we all heard about Dr. Larry Nassar and his terrifying assaults. So, what I had feared in India was an international issue. Although news like this was unfortunately common to my ears, this news disturbed me enough to actively set out to do something about it. I approached my school administration to start a forum and a discussion for both boys and girls: a place where we can understand why such things repeat in our society and take charge as the future generation to make a change. Unfortunately, after months of planning, the event did not happen. Hopefully, we can make it happen this year.

I do recognize my privilege in living with both parents and a financially secure life. I do recognize that there are places where women are subject to worse conditions. However, none of these incidents should be something that should be taken lightly or viewed as the norm. Men can be allies to the MeToo movement by promoting a society that respects women. To me, MeToo is not only focused on sexual violence. It stems from small incidents of disrespect and by condoning them, we create an optimal space for sexual violence to occur. If there is a victim of sexual harassment, we should not show them shame. It is the perpetrator’s fault for engaging in a shameful and harmful behavior. The same people who ask why victims don’t step forward earlier are part of the problem and the reason for why. The society should encourage victims to speak out in a way that is comfortable for them and while these questions seem harmless to some, they are holding society back from addressing the larger issue of why the instance even happened. I would like to say that the movement brought a change to our workplace and social life. However, I don’t recognize a change in my life. So many societal issues are becoming just a topic at a dinner instead of a habit that we implement in our daily lives. It’s not enough to say that we support the MeToo movement or add a filter to our Facebook profile picture. Our education in school should include this topic just like it includes sex ed. This education in school at an early age will promote discussion between genders and families, providing the foundation for children to grow their perspectives on the issue. Not all men are disrespectful, but it is the responsibility of every man to be a part of the movement along with women and show their support to show that we are not alone. Every man can be a feminist and not be scared of asking questions or discussing the movement with women. This is not a time to spread blame or fear but to promote discussion and initiate change.


Second Place

Allyson Stuart Heath

The MeToo movement was originally founded in 2006 with the end goal in mind of helping women and girls of color deal with the lasting drawbacks of sexual violence. The movement was brought back up later in 2017 virally spreading on Twitter by Alyssa Milano in context to the allegations brought against Harvey Weinstein. Her goal was to bring Americans to the realization of the enormity of this problem which is often overlooked.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, “An estimated 13% of women and 6% of men have experienced sexual coercion in their lifetime, and 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men have experienced unwanted sexual contact.” Although the MeToo movement was founded surrounding helping women to tell their story, men also are a victim of this crime. So the question is, why are men having a hard time becoming a helper to women that are being victimized? This reason behind this act is most often men either don’t know what to say, or are afraid to say the wrong thing. The New York Times write in their article concerning the movement that, “men wondered how they could participate without being viewed as disingenuous — or elbowing out female voices.”

Bystander Intervention can be considered the first stepping stone into men becoming allies towards survivors of sexual violence. The act of intervening in a coercive situation as a bystander makes “preventing harassment everybody’s responsibility” instead of just the victim as New York Times stated. The act of intervening allows a conversation to be started with both the perpetrator and the victim. Firstly, opening up honestly towards other men, or so called perpetrators allows you as a man to speak about acceptable and unacceptable speech and behaviors that they generate towards women. Speaking out breaks the toxic masculinity stigma that most women categorize men into. Most men laugh off misogynistic behavior as just a joke while just one in their group may see it as permission. Remember everyone is different behind closed doors contrary to the public. The act of criticism towards the perpetrators allows you publicly to affirm you are an ally of the movement and may allow a survivor to confide in you. If this stand gives you the opportunity to engage with a survivor about their story, there a few ways you can gain their full trust without belittling their account. Converse with them gently and not too overbearing. Before you speak without thinking, ask permission about segments of their story you’re intrigued or conflicted by before bursting out with judgement. Active listening can be considered the best option when engaging with a survivor, hearing and understand their story not to formulate a response. Watch their body language when they talk, if they seem uncomfortable at a break in their story, end the conversation and move on to another subject. In listening to their story, men should make it a habit to always believe a survivor. Considering BBC News quoted David Lisak, University of Massachusetts, stating, “Over the past 20 years, only 2-10% of rape accusations are proven to be fake.” The saying, “innocent until proven guilty” should be considered even with dealing with survivors of sexual violence. Men should empathize instead of question survivors instead of the abusers. The Joyful Heart Foundation shows an example of Donald Trump abiding the abuser, Rob Porter, instead of the survivor. They stated in their article on concerning how men could support the MeToo movement, “He did not mention the victims once, and he bemoaned what a terrible impact the dismissal would have on Porter and his career.” Women and men when committing sexual violence against another human being should be held accountable for their actions, not pitied. They stated, “Expressing sympathy for a perpetrators losses, instead of acknowledging the harm he caused, is misplaced.” Lastly men should recognize their skills and use them for the better good. In other words, identify the strengths you possess and volunteer them at local organizations as small as your workplace or as big as our legal system. Strive for policies and laws that empower and fight for women’s rights. Women want and need men to fight for their sometimes unheard voices. Whether we as a country want to face the facts or not, there is male privilege and power. With power comes a voice and that voice could be heard on several more platforms than some women. Campaigns such as #IWILLSPEAKUP allow men to voice their support for women and their fight against sexual violence, while #NOTALLMEN allow men to shift the normal behavior to acceptable in order to prevent sexual harassment.

One year anniversary since MeToo broke out virally in 2017 due to accusations against Harvey Weinstein, there has been quite an amount of change within workplaces and some legal systems. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which handle complaints of workplace sexual harassment, saw an increase of 12% just from October 2017 to September 2018. Two organizations, Time’s Up and the National Women’s Law Center, created a defense fund that supported women with low income wages with legal fees and attorney consults. In just a years time, 22 million was donated to the organization and 3,500 men and women were supported all across the United States. New York approved legislation requiring state contractors to prove they have a sexual harassment policy meeting the minimum criteria and that all staff members were trained. California on the other hand passed a few bills inspired by the MeToo movement. USA Today stated, “Before an employer in the entertainment industry can receive a permit to hire a minor, underage performers, 14-17, and a parent must undergo training on how to prevent sexual harassment and where to report such offense.” Lobbyist in California must get training on the state’s anti-harassment policies. Many people voiced that gender inequity was a problem in the workplace that was potentially producing sexual harassment. Jerry Brown, California governor, passed a bill requiring “all publicly traded businesses with headquarters in the state to appoint at least one woman director on their boards, and two by 2021” USA Today wrote. Some talk throughout legislatures suggested that public companies report to their shareholders the amount of sexual harassment settlements in the previous twelve months and the amount they paid. The reason behind this proposition is that insight into the ongoings within a business would help uncover the secrecy of sexual harassment coverups. Lastly, the American Hotel and Lodging Association has put their own foot forward is helping to prevent sexual harassment. They hold hotels such as Hilton, Marriott, and Hyatt that have proposed to having a safety devices in close proximity to deflect sexual assault and other heinous crimes by the year 2020.

Although there have been several improvements in many businesses, many citizens are concerned that small business and low income people are falling through the cracks. Many of the survivors that have had publicity for their story and defamed their perpetrator have been famous or in the public eye. USA Today’s quote on Joan Fife, partner with the Winston and Strawn firm, stated, “I think that companies have responded much more quickly. Going forward voluntarily, without waiting for the law to change, that’s how best practices are created.” Her reasoning states that until bills and policies are passed at the state and federal level, many workers at small companies, victims of sexual assault, will most likely never be heard. In months and maybe years to come, advocates for the MeToo movement say they only see progress despite the many roadblocks that are trying to stop them.

References


Third Place

Kiknaja J. Jones

It takes one creator to start a movement, and one voice to make a change. The MeToo was started to send awareness about sexual abuse and assault in society. Afraid of not being heard and understood, women hide and are desperately afraid to speak out. That doesn’t have to be the end for women coping with sexual harassment. Men can play an important role in supporting victims and making our voices louder and advocating for women in need of support.

Men are able to advocate for women in multiple ways. One of the first being starting a support group to teach men of all ages ways to stand up and help protect women who are suffering. Starting a support group can be one of the easiest tasks to do in a community. All it takes is one individual to spread the word about the movement and the positive outcome the support group could bring. During the meetings, simply brainstorm ways to prevent sexual harassment for women, come up with the proper steps to deal with any situation, and determine the right ways to make sure every woman is okay. Even without any knowledge on the first thing to do, think about if this woman was your mother, and move forward with ways to help. Creating a support group doesn’t take much work and with the right mindset, men will be able to be heard.

Making a support group is a fantastic idea to advocate for women, but what may even have an equal amount of support is having men speak up and reveal themselves for the things they have done. Thanks to all the technology in the world today, no man has to come out in public and speak about their faults in person, but we all have the internet. Any man’s face, story and voice can be known from just one post, whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube. The amount of time people spend on the internet is over eleven hours a day, which means at least one out of every human in this world will share the post. To all the men who committed such a crime, speak out and let your voice be heard. Talk about the situation and most importantly what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed from your experience. Not everyone will support you for your actions but speaking out can prevent another man from doing the same thing. At the end of the day, it’s not all about the view others may have on that individual. It’s the fact that they’ve owned up to what they’ve done and they’re not afraid to let their voice be heard. Sharing different stories revolving around any sense of sexual violence can bring about more awareness to the situation and let people know that they are not the only ones who have committed the crime, and they are sorry for the effect it has caused on other people.

For men who love to write, start a website dedicated to sexually harassed women. Provide personal stories from victims all over the world and even have a helpline for those interested in verbally speaking out. Make the website positive and engaging with popular hashtags such as #metoo and provide images of people of all races coming together. With the help of other men, unite as one in making this website welcoming to everyone. Even allowing a section for people to communicate with each other would be extremely beneficial and supporting. Of course, with every website comes negativity and censoring the website can eliminate that issue.  With only a few clicks of a button, a website can be made, and change can begin.

The MeToo Movement has had a drastic impact on our environments in the workplace, social life, and several other areas. For starters, it has had an impact on individuals like me because it has allowed individuals to realize the severity of sexual violence, and how men can become allies for this movement. Sexual harassment is seen in many different ways and because of this movement women don’t need to suffer anymore. Using the hashtag “MeToo” has spread the word about sexual violence and it’s letting individuals know that they are not alone! Even though this movement is generally based amongst women, men have been able to speak out to help women feel more comfortable with speaking out. It has spread all over social media platforms with over 1.9 million posts on Instagram about this movement. It has changed workplaces and even the community by providing more security to help make individuals feel a lot more comfortable. So, step up, let your voice be heard, and advocate for these women who don’t know which way to turn.