Today, the Harpies are participating in a virtual book tour for Hey Shorty! A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Public Schools and On The Streets (New York: Feminist Press, 2010), authored by staff and youth interns from the organization Girls for Gender Equality, based in Brooklyn, New York. Part One of the tour was a review of the book. Part Two (this post) is an interview with two of the book’s authors Mandy Van Deven and Meghan Huppuch.
The Q & A format of this interview was pieced together from a series of emails that Mandy, Meghan, and I exchanged over the course of a week. I arranged the text so the flow of question and response makes sense, but did not otherwise alter the authors’ responses.
A huge big “thank you!” to Mandy and Meghan for approaching us with the invitation to be a part of this book tour, and for taking the time to respond to all my wordy questions. Hope y’all enjoy reading our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.
Anna: So much of your work at GGE (and therefore Hey Shorty!) deals with helping young people, especially girls, push back against the culture of normalized sexual harassment. You are clear to distinguish in the book between harassment (unwanted sexual attention) and flirtation (wanted sexual attention), however the major focus of the text was on unwanted sexual attention. From my reading of other books on adolescent girls and sexuality, such as Dilemmas of Desire by Deborah Tolman and Risky Lessons by Jessica Fields, it seems like a great deal of confusion over unwanted sexual attention is the lack of models for positive sexuality. Fields, particularly, discusses the importance of sexuality education that helps students name and honor desire and pleasure, rather than just focusing on sexual risk and violence. Can you talk a little bit about the roll you see for these kind of discussions in the anti-harassment work that you do with youth? Do you see the young women involved in GGE and other young people you interact with finding more positive avenues for sexuality … or is it primarily a site of risk in their lives?
Mandy: There are nearly no discussions of positive sexuality and pleasure in young people’s lives, particularly in the public school system. The topic is primarily framed in terms of risk and safety, which presents many challenges. Additional challenges come in trying to have discussions about safety in a way that is both developmentally age-appropriate, recognizes the reality that gender-based violence is a frequent occurrence, and respects parents’ wishes regarding the sexual education of their children. It’s a tricky balance to strike since we live in a heterogeneous society. I think it’s important to value that diversity instead of trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution. Because the reality is that one size will never fit everyone, so it is important to meet people — youth and adults — where they’re at and support them in moving to a better place.