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Book Review: Hey Shorty!

I read Hey Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment in Schools and on the Streets written by the Girls for Gender Equity, Joanne N. Smith, Mandy Van Deven and Meghan Huppuch not sure what to expect. To say that I could not put the book down is a gross understatement. By the time I read a few sections, I had contacted several friends and told them that they had to read this book. I’m going to get my 13 year old her own copy, so that my dog-eared and margin filled copy does not distract her.

The book begins noting that sexual harassment is a real problem for girls and young women and avoids polemic by using the Girls for Gender Equity in New York as the case study. But, this is not some academic tome swooping into a community and then leaving in order to tell the story. Instead, the authors are girls and women who have a connection to the organization. Girls for Gender Equity serves the needs of girls and young women primarily from an underserved population—immigrants, girls of color, the working class and poor.

Some might read the start date of the organization (September 11th 2001) and think that the founding coincided with such a terrible act of terrorism. Yes, this is true, but it was a propitious start to the organization that was meant to build community and give voice to the previously invisible in the community—youth. Now, I will first admit to working in the non-profit sector previously and have also completed contract work for a youth serving non-profit. Girls for Gender Equity is the sort of organization that I wish I worked for and that most youth serving organizations can learn from in terms of not just the mission statement, but the ways in which the girls, parents, schools, and volunteers were all deemed integral parts of the organization.

The first sections of the book really set up how the organization helped the girls name sexual harassment. The sexualization of the girls in their lives was normalized. And, not until they discussed the sexual assault of a neighbourhood girl and other experiences did they have the epiphanies to realize that something was amiss—that something was wrong. The book is written by a set of authors who clearly care about the organization and the issue.

The latter part of the book outlines the ways in which the organization sought to change part of the school curriculum to make sure that Title IX guidelines were followed and to put an end to sexual harassment. The organization hit speed bumps, as it turns out that some bureaucrats truly had no clue about Title IX. Add to this the ways in which some did not fully comprehend the reality of sexual harassment.

Girls for Gender Equity responded with an example of Participatory Action Research (PAR) that would put most other attempts to shame. The Girls for Gender Equity’s PAR study follows the understood guidelines by having the girls involved from the ground up with the study.  Ultimately more than one thousand middle school and high school students across four boroughs were surveyed. The results are a breathtaking example of the ways in which sexual harassment is a daily occurrence for most respondents.

The book’s continued strength is in the voluminous and helpful appendices that include an activist tool kit of sorts with resources for other organizations and schools to follow in order to combat sexual harassment. This book is a must read for parents, girls, allies, educators, and bureaucrats. The tone of the book is not jargon-filled and the audience is vast for this book. Do yourself a favor and buy this book for yourself and for a girl or young woman in your life.

For more information about the book or the book’s virtual tour please see: http://www.indiegogo.com/HeyShortyontheRoad

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