CAPE ELIZABETH — It’s important to bring the message of the #MeToo movement back home, according to Jim Sparks, a member of the Cape Diversity Coalition.
For that reason, the coalition and Family Crisis Services will hold a community dialogue at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at the United Methodist Church on Ocean House Road to address the implications of the movement.
The hashtag, coined by social activist Tarana Burke and popularized by actress Alyssa Milano, spread via social media as a way to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace, and remind victims they are not alone.
“I have a 15-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son,” Sparks said. “I would like my daughter to live in a world where there was less of a need for #MeToo and where she might expect to work and be treated equally … and I want my son to treat women with respect.”
The free event will include an introduction by members of Family Crisis Services, a screening of Jackson Katz’s “Violence Against Women: It’s a Men’s Issue,” and small-group discussions.
Sparks said the film emphasizes how a culture, especially the culture of men, can change what’s OK and what isn’t by focusing on what it means to be a bystander and how bystanders can take action.
“There are all kinds of sexist, misogynistic messages that are heard and talked about among men that go unchallenged,” he said. “There is an opportunity to say ‘I don’t want to be hearing this anymore’ and to be willing to deal with whatever comes from that.”
Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Family Crisis Services, said that while watching the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, she noted the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements were the focus of many speeches delivered by women, but not by men.
“I don’t think it’s because the men didn’t care,” Hobbs said. “But I think that sometimes men don’t know what to say and don’t want to say the wrong thing. … People need to be given the tools for how to participate in this dialogue, rather than just being ‘good.'”
Since #MeToo gained traction nationally, Hobbs said she noticed there are many parallels between what victims of sexual abuse in the entertainment industry have said and what she’s heard from victims of domestic abuse.
Family Crisis Services’ mission is to support people who are victimized by domestic violence and to end abuse in homes and relationships.
In both situations, she said, perpetrators often use authority to inflict a fear of being ostracized, isolated, or financially unstable on their victims.
“Hearing the concerns of the community and what people think of this helps inform our response in terms of what sort of education we could provide or how we could be part of this cultural change,” Hobbs said. “There’s a lot we can learn from each other so that we’re not afraid to use our voices and take action.”
The community discussion is arranged in cooperation with the Cape Elizabeth School Department, which will hold a student assembly at the high school on Jan. 26 to focus on how these issues of safety and equality impact young people.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Howard Colter said while prejudice is not a rampant problem in Cape Elizabeth schools, this is a “teachable moment.”
“These are learned behaviors. Children are not born to think that some of us are better than others,” Colter said. “We do want to promote respectful dialogue and deep thinking around these serious and historical issues of equity and human kindness.”
Hobbs said it is important to help youth understand these issues.
“However, we often don’t look at ourselves and say ‘We, as adults, have work to do, too,'” she said.
Sparks said his hope in holding discussions like this would be for people to begin acknowledging that acts of misogyny and discrimination aren’t only taking place in the entertainment industry and aren’t only the result of a “few bad apples falling.”
“We sort of have to acknowledge that we’re living in a culture that’s holding women back,” Hobbs added.
Sparks also said he would like to see the discussion be the start of a continued community dialogue and not just a “one-off.”
“I think a success would be that we meet again, because it’s all too easy to have an event and say ‘we did our bit,'” he said. “… If these things aren’t ongoing, they don’t really make a big change.”