pay attention to the man behind the curtain…

In light of the fantastic response to my last article “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” I decided to write a follow up piece.  My colleague, Pat McGann from Men Can Stop Rape, commented that he had written a piece about how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are actually counter stories to societies definition of masculinity (no brain, no heart, no courage).  I started thinking more about the characters in the Wizard of Oz as metaphors for issues like gender, power and oppression.

Throughout the movie, we are told that in order to get what we want, we must go see the “great and powerful Oz”.  It is the Wizard that has all of the power.  He is the gatekeeper.  He can provide the Scarecrow with a brain, the Tin Man with a heart, the Lion with courage, and above all else he can get Dorothy back to Kansas if he feels like it.   Once they reach Oz, he quickly demonstrates his power by refusing to see them and then by declining to help them unless they bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West (a daunting and seemingly impossible task).

Overcoming great odds, and a gaggle of flying monkeys, the 4 travelers return to the Emerald City with the broomstick.  This time around, Oz tries to turn them away by using  intimidation and fear.  Take a look:

The Wizard represents power.  In our culture that translates to wealthy, white, straight, Christian men (the power elite) since it is generally wealthy, white, straight, Christian men who are the “decision makers” in America.  That has not changed much since our country was formed.  The Wizard wields his power in order to maintain control over others (refusing to see the travelers) or to gain more power (obtaining the broomstick) in the same way that the power elite have done for decades.  If you need examples, how about slavery, denying women the right to vote, the ban on gay marriage, “golden parachutes” for corrupt CEOs, and even the whole concept of being “one nation, under God”.  Of course these are the ones you can’t miss, but isn’t it reasonable to think that there are smaller, less noticeable things that also serve the power elite at the expense of the “have nots”?  How about Capitalism?  On paper it seems like a good idea, but in practice it’s a system that makes the rich get richer often at the expense of everyone else.

This is what brings me back to the sexy Halloween costumes.  Not only do these costumes sexualize and objectify women for the pleasure of straight men, they also put more money in the pockets of the CEOs of the companies that make them.  Each time we purchase on of these costumes, we support the current social power structure because the power elite are making money at the expense of women.  To back this claim up, I did my homework.  Let me lay it out for you as best I can.  Spirit Halloween is owned by Spencer Gifts (another company known for selling products that sexualize and objectify women). Spencer Gifts is owned by ACON Investments which was co-founded by Bernard Aronson (ACON also owns Mariner Energy, which was purchased in the aftermath of Enron and since it’s inception in 1995 has managed over $1.5 billion in investments).  In addition to his work with ACON, Aronson currently serves on the Board of Directors for Liz Claiborne, Royal Caribbean, and the Global Hyatt Corporation and has strong ties in the political world.  In fact, he once served on the White House Staff as Deputy Assistant to the Vice President (1977-1981) and as the Director of Policy for the Democratic National Committee (1981-1983).  He also serves on the board forth Democratic National Institute.  Make no mistake, this guy is a heavy hitter and has a tremendous amount of power and influence.  We must pay attention to the man behind the curtain for it is he that is shaping the world we live in.  He only has power if we continue to grant it to him.  Like the wizard, power is often an illusion that we help create and proliferate.

Of course it is not only his fault.  After all, this is a Capitalist society.  People will only sell what others will buy.  Some will say that if women don’t want to be objectified or sexualized, then they shouldn’t buy or wear the costumes.  I agree with that to a certain (small) extent.  However it becomes problematic when you realize how very few options there are for women.  Nearly everything is intended to be sexy.  Also I’d like to point out, as I did in the last article, that  you have to look at what would motivate women to buy and wear these costumes.  For many I have to think that being sexy is one of the few ways women are granted any power by men.  So should women give up the small amount of power they have?  Or is the better solution for men (particularly those that are white, straight and Christian) to be more willing to share the tremendous amount of power we have by building equality for everyone.

It seems obvious that the latter is the only viable option if our goal is to create equality.  If we can agree on that, then why can’t men agree to do it?  Why is it so hard for men to share the power that we have?  Is it that we don’t know how or don’t feel safe doing it?  If you think about it, the power we have is not something we earned.  It was granted to us at birth.  It has been passed down through history from father to son.  To break the cycle, all it would take is a generation or two of men who believe in equality for all to teach their sons differently.  All it would take is to tell our sons things like “pink is just a color”, “it’s OK to cry when you are upset”, “solve problems with your brain, not your fist” and “regardless of our differences, we are all just people.” Small changes bring about big changes.

I wanted to leave you with something a little different this time.  I came across two great videos on Facebook the other day.  I did not intend to make them a part of this blog, but when I blog, I let the article write itself.  Sometimes, I end up in unintended places.  I hope you can appreciate that.  Anyhow, the first video was created by a teenager from a teenager’s perspective.  While it isn’t about preventing violence or building equality, I think it captures what is at the core of my message – doing something to make change happen.  Here it is:

The second speaks to the things that we, as adults, pass along to our children.  This one is about the things we pass on to children.  It is from Child Friendly Australia and it is a little hard to watch, but very powerful.  Take a look:

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to share your thoughts.

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I’ve a Feeling We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

Finally it’s Autumn.  I love this time of year.  In Austin, the weather cools down to a balmy 92° and thoughts turn to things like turning leaves, football, chili, and Halloween.  Ah, Halloween – the one day out of the year where us grown kids can act like our children and nobody will give it a second thought.

Now if you’ve known me for a long time, you know that I have not always been a fan of Halloween.  In fact, I can remember several times in college when I, along with my roommates Pat and Springer, would sit and drink beer with all the lights off in the house so the trick-or-treaters would think we weren’t home.  I hated Halloween.  For me, that tradition more or less carried on until I had a child of my own.  Once my son was born, something changed.  The more he understood Halloween, the more he got into it and the more I got into it.

My son is 5 now.  Last year was the first time he actually cared about his costume.  We shopped at places like Spirit Halloween and Party City to find a Wall-E costume because, in his mind, nothing else would do.  Sadly, none of the costumes we found met his exacting standards.  So, being that I have a degree in art, I decided to make a costume for him.  Check it out…

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Pretty cool, huh?  At first I was sad that I wasn’t able to find a costume all ready to go, but it was fun making this with him.  I was also saddened by what I did find in those stores.  So this year I decided to write about it.  In order to research this article, I visited www.spirithalloween.com to see if anything had changed.  They have costumes for babies all the way to adults.  They are also separated by gender and style for convenience.  I started by looking at costumes for men and then for women.  Quickly I was overwhelmed by the stark differences between the male and female costumes.  In fact, it was so bad that I had to find a way to simplify it so that I could even put it into words.

For this article, I wanted to be able to compare apples to apples.  I wanted you to see just how entrenched male and female gender roles really are in our society.  I decided to focus on a set of costumes to which most, if not all of us can relate…the characters from Wizard of Oz.

First, here are the “standard” costumes for Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy:

all_four

I’d say this pretty much what I expected to find.  They seem true to the original movie wardrobes.  HOWEVER…I also found a series of costumes called the “Wicked of Oz”.  Here are the same 4 characters from that line:

all_fourWhat I noticed right off that bat is that the male characters, in this version, appear more powerful because they are more menacing.  Meanwhile, the female character (Dorothy) became more powerful by seeming sexually dominant – down to the black latex corset and knee boots.  She looks like a dominatrix.

These gendered expressions of power are found throughout pop culture.  Nowhere is it more evident than in the world of superheroes.  Male superheros are powerful because they are physically dominant machines that leave collapsed heaps of criminals in their wake.  The lines between hero and villain are often blurred because of the violent nature of many heroes today.  For female superheroes, their power is expressed in their sexuality.  Take a look at these examples of  Batman in the film The Dark Knight and Silk Spectre from the film The Watchmen and you will see what  I mean:

Batman-Dark-Knight-Solo-FP2062SilkSpectre

Batman is the embodiment of raw power and anger who is always teetering on the brink between good and evil.  Silk Spectre, on the other hand, radiates sexuality.  In fact, her story line in the movie is that she is involved in 2 sexual relationships with 2 other superheroes (Night Owl and Dr. Manhattan).  Oh, and she is the daughter of a superhero who was beaten and raped by another superhero (The Comedian).  Both characters are powerful, but they arrive at their power by very different means.

But I digress.  Where was I??? Ah, yes…KANSAS.  I was stunned (but not surprised) at the divergence of the character paths in the “wicked” costumes.  So, I decided to see if there were any other interpretations of these characters costumes.  I did a search on the site by each of the character names (Scarecrow, etc.).  What I found was nearly unbelievable.  Check it out:

SexyOz

This is wrong on so many levels I will have to focus on just one in this particular post.  These outfits scream SEX regardless of the character contexts.  These costumes make the models look like a strange amalgamation of naughty school girl meets farmer’s daughter meets St. Paulie’s Girl meets “Diamond” from the local strip club.  All of them play on male (generally speaking) sexual fantasies.  They also reinforce the cultural belief that women’s bodies are the most valuable currency women have in order to “purchase” power from men.  In a patriarchal society, men are the keepers of power and women are forced to use their sexuality in order to share in that power – even if temporarily.

I think these costumes send the message to girls and women that females should always exude sexuality or should always give off a sexual vibe.  For boys and men, the message is that females are always looking for sex or to be sexy.  If you combine that with other messages that tell males that “real men” are tough, strong, in control, devoid of emotion (other than anger) and hypersexual, then it is easy to see why some men don’t take “no” for an answer when it comes to sex and/or why some men don’t accept responsibility for getting consent (they put the onus on women to say no rather than actively seeking an enthusiastic “yes”).  It is also easy to see why some women give in when being pressured to have sex even if they don’t really want to and why some women don’t classify or report an unwanted sexual encounter as a sexual assault.  The lines around intent, sexuality, consent, appropriate vs. inappropriate, wanted vs. unwanted are blurred.  Everyone is confused and some men (and women) are taking advantage of that confusion.

Thankfully, most men treat women with dignity and respect (I really don’t like the word respect, but I don’t have a better one in this case).  Most men do not abuse, assault or rape women.  However, I think on some level we all have a hand in paving the way for the men who do.  We are all part of a culture that accepts the sexualization and exploitation of women.  By accepting those parts of our culture, we are creating space and therefore opportunity for the small number of men who see women as sex objects and pressure, coerce and force women into having sex.  When we say things like “I don’t abuse or rape women, so it’s not my problem” we are actually saying that we have no influence on the world around us.  If that were true, then boys who grow up in abusive households wouldn’t frequently grow up to be abusive themselves (for example).

The reality is that men must challenge our own socialization.  We must think critically about the world around us and how we are influenced by it.  If we are ever going to live in a world that values men and women equally, men must join women in challenging anything to the contrary.  We must also be willing to pass on to the next generation a set of attitudes and beliefs that reflect and promote gender equality.  We can do this through schools, community centers, churches, sports leagues, etc. but for these values to really take root and flourish, THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

 

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FOLLOW UP POST CALLED “PAY ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN”

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Beer Me!

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*taken from The Inactivist Blog

I love beer!  Not in the “if I drink enough of it I will forget my troubles” sense.  I love it because it is a refreshing, relaxing, interesting, complex, thirst-quenching roller of good times.  We can come together over a beer and talk about the world’s problems or the stupid things we did in high school (or still do).  Not to mention it is the perfect way to wash down a pile of Buffalo Wings from any place other than Hooter’s (I really need to blog about them – stay tuned).  Ah, beer.

Sadly, the beer industry does some pretty hefty social and environmental damage as it cranks out gallon after gallon of the golden nectar.  The industry has made a habit out of sexualizing and objectifying women to make a profit.  Companies like Budweiser, Miller and Coors are notorious for using images of scantily clad women in their advertisments.  Who could forget the Coors Light TWIIINNS???

Of course this is just one example out of literally thousands and thousands of print ads, tv commercials, billboards, and internet ads that bombard the advertising landscape from September to February.  Why you ask???  The answer is simple – football season.  This is a time of year that companies desperately clamor for the business of men by appealing to their inner man.  Sexy women doing sexy things in sexy clothing is one of the main sales mechanisms employed by these large beer companies.  In a hypermasculine culture, sexism sells.

This type of advertising is damaging in several ways.  Obviously, it objectifies and sexualizes women.  This teaches men and boys to value women for their looks and sexuality first (if not only).  It also teaches women and girls that in order to gain the interest of a male, you must behave in a sexual way – even if you aren’t interest in actually having sex.  It also socializes men to believe that men must act like the men in the commercials in order to be a “real man” or perhaps more accurately all men should behave like the men in the commercial because that is what is normal.  Naturally, if men are taught that women are sex objects that are available to them at any time and women are taught to behave sexually even if they aren’t interested in having sex, then you are bound to have scenarios in real life where men force themselves on women sexually.

Environmentally speaking, the beer industry makes a significant ecological footprint.  On the whole, the industry uses nearly 500 million tons of grains every year.  Since beer isn’t chunky, you have to wonder where all of the grain goes after it has been boiled and the sugars extracted?  In the pre-Budweiser days, smaller breweries would give their “spent” to local farmers who would used it for cattle feed.  This was a tremendous help to farmers and breweries.  It even kept costs lower on beer and dairy products because a production expense has been eliminated (there must be someting to this symbiosis thing after all).  Also, think about the amount of waste that is created during this time of year from the number of bottles and cans of beer consumed is staggering.  What about the massive amounts of petroleum products it takes to deliver the beer across the country to every grocery, liquor store, quick mart and bar in America?  The industry’s environmental load is taxing to say the least.

So, what should an Inactivist do?  Consider drinking craft beers or microbrews made in your state (or locally if possible).  Here is why:

1.  Smaller, independent breweries typically spend their advertising budget (if they have one) on showing you how good the beer is rather than using half naked women to divert your attention from the actual taste of the beer – AND TWIIINNS!!!  Taking your money out of the large corporate pockets just might get those companies to evaluate their advertising practices.

2.  If you buy your beer from a producer that is in your town or in your state, then you are helping to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and cutting down on the automobile emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, and helping local farmers keep their feed costs low.

3.  Buying locally made beer supports the people who live in or near your community.  Keeping your money local will help put food on the table for people who are trying to do things the right way and it send a loud and clear message to the large beer companies.

I did a quick Google search for “TEXAS BEER” since I live in Austin.  The first listing that popped up was http://texasbeer.blogspot.com.  Here I found a great list of existing craft beer breweries all in the state of Texas.  I have had most of these beers myself and they are quite good.  I especially like “Fireman’s 4” made by Real Ale Brewing  Company in Blanco, Texas (70 miles from my door) and “Blonde Bombshell” by Southern Star Brewing Company in Conroe, Texas (200 miles from my door).  Honorable mention has to go to “Live Oak Pilz” from Live Oak Brewing Company right here in Austin.

I encourage you to do a quick google search of your own to see what beers can be found in your neck of the woods.  You just might stumble on something you really like.  Craft beers might cost a few dollars more, but you can’t put a price justice.

Here’s to making the world a better place 12 ounces at a time this football season and beyond.

BeerMeWordle

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“Real Beauty” is only pocket deep

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is incredible, right?  If you haven’t seen it take a look at these videos:

Finally, a company that standing up for women and disconnecting women’s value from their looks or sex appeal.  This is in stark contrast to the majority of horrific ad campaigns that teach us that women’s worth lies in their beauty and level of sexiness.  One of the worst offenders is Axe grooming products for men.  I have written about them before. In case you aren’t familiar, take a look at these ads:

Terrible, right?  I mean, it’s a good thing we have things like the Campaign for Real Beauty to help combat the awful messages embedded in those Axe ads.  It is easy to see the differences in these two campaigns.  However, can you tell what they have in common?  How about this…

unilever-logo

You see Unilever, the makers of Axe, are also the makers of Dove.  Let me repeat that.  The makers of Axe are also the makers of Dove.  The same money that backs the horrific Axe advertising campaigns comes from the same pockets that created the Campaign for Real Beauty.  Ponder that for a moment.  I have been pondering it for quite some time.  I don’t want to believe it, but I have no choice.  Fact is fact whether I like it or not.  So…what does this all mean?

Well, to me it means that Unilever is playing all of us for fools.  They are also proving to me that they have no real interest in crumbling the beauty industry or increasing girls self esteem or making the world and equal place for women to live as the campaign would lead you to believe.  No.  They only care about making money.  The Campaign for Real Beauty, to Dove, is nothing more than an advertising campaign cleverly disguised as an attempt at bringing justice to the world.  Ah, Capitalism!

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do believe that the Campaign for Real Beauty is wonderful and it should be blasted from every mountain top.  However, I feel that we as consumers cannot abide this sort of underhanded deception being doled out by Unilever.  We must demand that Unilever stop undermining the powerful and necessary work of their own campaign and start advertising Axe in a way that is consistent with the messaging in the Campaign for Real Beauty.  We should accept no less.  After all, it is our children that will live in the world we are creating today and it is ultimately our money that deepens the corporate pockets of irresponsible companies like Unilever who gladly profit at the expense of women.

Ultimately, we have no direct control over Unilever or any other corporation.  However, we can control our own behaviors and actions.  We can choose to let Unilever know we feel about their advertising practices.  We can also choose to not purchase any Unilever products until they change.  No more Wishbone salad dressing.  No more Vaseline products.  No more Skippy peanut butter.  No more Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream (yes, them too).  No more Unilever.  For a complete list of Unilever products visit http://www.unileverusa.com/ourbrands/.  Be sure to click around and do your homework.  Our actions dictate their actions.

We have the power to send a clear message.  We have the power to create a world where women’s bodies are no longer a commodity.  We have the power to create real change.  If we are willing to come together and take action.

Now THAT would be real beauty!

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A New Purpose for Father’s Day

As a father myself, I appreciate a day that acknowledges me and and my role as a male parent.  It is very nice to be appreciated.  However, I believe there is more to Father’s Day than funny cards, neck ties, argyle socks and a round of golf.  Those things are great, but there is something more important that is usually overlooked.  Father’s Day should be a time where all men do a little soul searching about what it means to be a father.  We should be asking ourselves what influence do we have on our children – particularly our sons.  What impact do we make in our families and in our communities?

I say “all men” should do this because these days, the role of the traditional father isn’t what it used to be.  So often children are being raised in homes where the “father” isn’t engaged, involved, or sometimes even present.  Therefore, the role of the “father” gets passed on to any male role model willing to take it on.  We must recognize that all men have a part in raising the children in their lives.  Every interaction we have with a child is an opportunity to pass on a version of masculinity that is thoughtful, kind, generous, caring, loving and most importantly involved.  It is also an opportunity to dispel the myth that men have to always be tough, strong, rugged, silent and uninvolved.  If we do not do this, then traits such as compassion and empathy will continue to be thought of as feminine traits.  This is damaging to men and boys because we all feel things like compassion but are forced to hide it out of fear.  We are afraid that we will lose our social standing in the male community for expressing traits and qualities that have long been considered unmanly.  We must recognize that these traits are not male or female, but human traits that all humans experience.

So my Father’s Day gift to all men is permission.  I give you permission to be your authentic selves.  I give you permission to explore your role as a father and to be all of the things you were meant to be to your child and to the other children in your life.  I give you permission to reflect on what being a “father” is really all about and to change the things about yourself that need changing.  Lastly, I give you permission to support other men in their efforts to be better male role models and to create gender equality.

Now that would be something to celebrate!

Happy Father’s Day!!!

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Change for Change

Original post from Give What It Takes:

Go right now to the place where you keep your spare change.  Maybe its in a jar in your closet or in your bedside table drawer – wherever.  Check in your couch cushions and under your car seats.  Gather up all that change that is just sitting there collecting dust (not interest) and take it to your local bank or supermarket where they have a change counting machine.  Dump it in.  Count it up.  Then go straight back home, get online, and make a donation to an organization that is working to create social change.  It is that simple and believe me, those organizations need your money to be able to do what they do.  Many of them are hurting for money and they are all doing great work.  If you need some suggestions, take a look at the Recommendations page.  There are some great ones there.

Share this blog with everyone you know and encourage them to do the same.  Send it out on Facebook and Twitter (#givewhatittakes).  Here is the link: http://givewhatittakes.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/change-for-change.

Change just happened.

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the app of my i

Sometimes a new “thing” comes along that causes a shift in our culture.  I don’t mean in the way that electricity or cars or the internet changed us, but smaller things that might seem less important, but that help plot the course ahead.  Often we don’t recognize these things in the moment. It is only in hindsight that we come to know these thing as cultural icons.  One of those icons is the Apple iPhone.

The iPhone has taken the country by storm and is only just beginning to show signs of slowing down.  There is a very good chance that you know at least 1 person with an iPhone…there is an even better chance that you know 7-8 people with an iPhone.  At it’s peak, Apple was selling a whopping 20,000 iPhones every single day.  Well over 4 million of them have been sold in all.

So you may ask yourself “what is so cool about an iPhone anyway???”  Many users will tell you that their favorite part of owning one is the applications or “apps”.  You can get apps that do just about anything you can imagine.  Some are tools. Some are games.  Some are novelties.  Many are very useful.  Some are just for fun. For example, take a look at the iBeer app:

Personally, I think that is kinda cool.  I’d much rather have a real beer, but I can see why people think that app is cool and fun to have.  Part of owning an iPhone is the competition for having the coolest apps.  That can be fun too.  Check out this popular one called Wobble:

I thought that was kinda neat when I first saw it.  However, it would be naive to think that Wobbling a pig’s nose is the most common use for Wobble.  If you do a search on You Tube for Wobble demos you will find the majority to be something like this:

Ug!  I am not sure who to angry with.  Should I be mad at Apple for approving this (and many other apps that aren’t “adult content” but objectify and sexualize women)?  Probably. In their defense, it is the users of the app that choose how they use it.  The app itself is not inherently indecent or inappropriate. Also, Apple has a fairly strict policy banning adult content.  However, they have nothing in place that bans the blatant objectification of women.

How about I point my lazers at the app developer?  Clearly the app was designed for making breasts wobble.  Even their own marketing suggest it…see:

wobble

I’d say that the developers are  a pretty good place to start.  However, they are a business and by definition are bound by the law of supply and demand.  There is a demand for this type of product, so they are supplying product to meet the demand.  That is what businesses do.  While it is horrible for them to profit from exploiting women, they aren’t stealing money from people.  Consumers of their content are freely giving their money to the developers.

So, I guess I am angry with all of the people (the vast majority of whom are men) who purchased this app.  Why can’t these men understand that every time we support a business that exploits women sexually we are reinforcing a culture that allows for violence against women to occur???  Why can’t men understand that things like this are more than just harmless fun?  Wobble, combined with the hundreds of thousands of other little things embedded in our culture that objectify and sexualize women, does massive damage to women (and men for that matter).  Ask any woman that has been physically or sexually assaulted.  Ask any child that witnessed or experienced abuse in their home.

Most people can see that one cockroach in your house isn’t a huge deal, but having thousands of them would be horrific and unacceptable.  Do you get my point? If you saw a cockroach in your home, you get out the bug spray and take care of it or you’d call an exterminator, right?  But when we come across things like Wobble or an ad for Axe Body Spray or a billboard for Skyy Vodka we remain silent and right it off as no big deal.  Well, it is a big deal. We have to speak up and we have to be more responsible consumers and citizens.  Tell these companies to stop exploiting women.  Educate men on how damaging these products are to women.  Support men in our efforts to change our behavior and our culture.

ACTION STEP:

Forward a link to this blog to 5 people, particularly men.  BUT – don’t treat it like any other forward.  I hate those and so does everyone else I know.  If ending sexism (and ultimately violence against women) is important to you, tell the people you are going to send it to that it is coming and that it is really important to you that they read it and pass it on to 5 more people.  Tell them face to face or on the phone (not in an email) and let them know that you mean it.  It is important that they hear your actual voice so they know this is personal to you.

We must build a critical consciousness around the root causes of violence against women in our society.  This will be a giant step in the right direction. What if we could get 1,000 people to view it this week or 10, 000 by this time next month or 100,000 in a year?  Think about the impact that would have.  One small action on your part could be enough to tip this issue toward gender equality.  I challenge you to make it happen.

Don’t let one rotten app spoil the entire bushel.  Take action today!!!

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