“We have a hearts and minds problem in this country,” exclaimed a friend of mine who worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign. She then shared, “I had a really hard realization after the election was over. I worked for years drafting amazing policies that would have immensely helped women and children. But we didn’t get to implement them, and it wasn’t because people disagreed with the policies. It was because we didn’t have the hearts and minds, we hadn’t brought the culture along with us.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Against all odds, the #MeToo movement transformed 2017 into a watershed cultural moment for women. Perhaps, the election of Donald Trump was the straw that broke the camel’s back. His election was like a huge mirror reflecting back at us, and we were forced to reckon with this disturbing image and face our truth head-on.
How did we get to this place, and is this really the culture we want to be? Do we remain a country that propagates racism and misogyny? That picks a man to represent us who openly threatens people of color and has been accused of harassment by 19 women? (Let’s be real, how many women have yet to come forward?!) And would we really choose anyone no matter how terrible, no matter how base, to avoid the election of a powerful woman? Do we really hate women that much?!
We continue to ask these questions, and we have arrived at this particular moment of cultural change where women are saying “me too,” “no more,” and “enough” in spades. Where we are imploring that our pain and injustice be taken seriously. And demanding that serial perpetrators be held accountable for their actions.
The fact is, this is an enormous victory for the hearts and minds changers of America, especially those in the feminist movement. For decades, a plethora of individuals and organizations have worked to change attitudes and beliefs around gender, gender-based violence and cultural norms. We should pat ourselves on the back for this progress, all the while acknowledging that there is still so much more work to be done. And we must ensure this moment reaches women of color, LGBTQ women and working class women, the women who often catalyze these movements to begin with (and are often harmed the most).
We have a culture and a country in crisis where violence against women and people of color has been normalized and even institutionalized. And, change is only possible when we awaken enough people’s hearts and minds to ensure justice for all.
So, yes, we know that you won’t enforce a sexual harassment policy if you primarily see women as objects and not agents, and if you devalue their humanity and leadership in the first place.
And you won’t believe survivors if you think women are “not to be trusted” and that reporting assault is just a means to a payday.
And you won’t enforce punishment for sexual assault, if you believe it’s just “boys being boys” and that your responsibility and allegiance is to the more powerful male perpetrator, regardless of the number of accusations or the definition of consent.
You can never change society if you don’t win people’s hearts and minds in the first place.
That is why I am so proud of our work at The Representation Project, and why I believe quite frankly that our work is more important than ever before. We fight every day to change people’s hearts and minds ― their attitudes and behaviors ― around limiting stereotypes and gender norms, so that everyone can fulfill their human potential. And we do this at the individual, community, corporate, and institutional level.
We use education and activation to teach everyone that women and men are truly equal. That a woman’s value is not in her youth, her beauty and her sexuality, but in her agency and capacity to lead. That a man’s value is not in his strength, his virility, and his wealth but in his agency as a whole human being with emotions and empathy. That we’re all comprised of “masculine” and “feminine” traits and that what makes us human is acknowledging our wholeness, our humanness. That all of us are more alike than we are different, even as we celebrate those things that make us unique. That grace and decency reside in all of us and that each of us has the power to become better versions of ourselves, especially when we are allowed to be our true selves, our whole human selves.
This is the work of culture change. This is the work that we do on a daily basis to make the world a better place for future generations. And this is a battle we most definitely can win working together. Join us.