It might seem like sexism would be limited to old, conservative communities, organizations, and workplaces, but the truth is, it's more prevalent than that. Ironically, some of the most sexist people are alleged champions for social justice — and that's where a new online community called the Shine Squad comes in. To acknowledge and combat the sexual harassment and discrimination that occur in the last places you might think to look, four women created the forum for women to share their experiences and get help.
The Shine Squad's Tumblr contains stories submitted by women who have faced sexism in environments including a progressive government agency and several unions. It also contains a survey to find out what types of mistreatment women are facing, where they're facing it, and what they feel would help them overcome it. Co-founder Tracy Van Slyke tells Bustle over the phone that this survey is the first step toward launching a series of actions that will support women dealing with abuse in social change spaces.
"For too long we and other community members have been forced to hide the discrimination, harassment and abuse we face in social change movements for fear of losing jobs, friends, and credibility," a post explaining the project reads. "It is time we talk openly about what we face, in hopes that we can stop what so many of us regularly face." The post explains that the creators of the movement — Van Slyke, Deanna Zandt, Sabrina Hersi Issa, and Jeanne Brooks — have all experienced or witnessed sexism in groups working toward civic change themselves. The team also created a video narrating how sexual harassment in the workplace can work, particularly at seemingly progressive organizations.
"Just because you say you are for a certain policy or politics doesn't mean that you have figured out how to integrate that into your own personal life and decision-making," says Van Slyke. "Our society is constructed that women are objects, and that is so deeply engrained into our society that even people who think they are above it are actual perpetrators of it."
In addition to the creators' personal experiences, the accusations of alleged sexual harassment against Trevor FitzGibbon, president of the PR firm FitzGibbon Media sparked the formation of the group. (FitzGibbon has denied the allegations, although FitzGibbon Media was shut down in their wake.) "That sort of caused a metaphorical explosion in all our heads because we've been dealing with this for so long," Van Slyke says. "We wanted to create Shine Squad to make this a public space for women to share their stories and springboard new ways to challenge this culture within the social change movement." They're especially hoping to combat the embarrassment victims are taught to feel and the widespread acceptance of misogyny in the workplace.
One of the patterns the Shine Squad has noticed from the survey so far, she said, is that sexual harassment and discrimination often take place at conferences and retreats, where there's little oversight. The group is currently brainstorming ways to make sure conference and retreat organizers deal with these incidents appropriately.
Regarding the perception that groups working toward social change are less sexist, Van Slyke says, "The idea that we are better or we don't do that is laughable. It is common from the subtle to the overt to the verbally overt to the physical, from people you consider your peers, people you consider your bosses. It happens all the time." Hopefully, now that we're talking about how common this problem is, we can take steps to change it.
Images: Ethical News Network/YouTube