I had Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory on my nightstand for about two months before I finally picked it up and started ferociously reading it. I was expecting a tale of a girl trying to help her father through PTSD, and that’s a big chunk of it, but also carefully laced into the story is a perspective on how a girl can relate to a man ravaged by war because for most girls, the world is a warzone. Hayley, our protagonist, sees a possible threat in the face of every strange man and every crowd. Time after time she calculates whether or not someone could be dangerous to her and responds either by fleeing or taking on strategies to protect herself and reduce exposure. It is an incredible peek into the mind of a female–her anxieties, her defenses, the heightened awareness of how vulnerable it is to be a woman in almost any enviroment–and the skill involved in delivering this perspective is beyond impressive to me. It’s not heavy-handed or didactic. There isn’t a fairy tale potion to make it all better. Hayley goes on being a girl in a dangerous world, scarred by sexual harrassment and the threat of violence.
At the time that I was reading this, I was also reading through the enormously important work of Teen Librarian Toolbox’s #svyalit project. The project is a collection of resources meant to empower librarians and educators in addressing sexual violence and street harrassment. It includes book reviews, links to articles, studies, and statistics, posts on thoughts and experiences with these topics, and suggestions on how to talk about these things with teens.
The combined effect of these two sources had a huge impact on me. I wanted to add my voice in talking about this struggle, and it came out as a letter to my husband, here. I strongly believe that one of the ways we can start making a difference in ending sexual violence and misogyny in all its forms is by empowering men and boys to understand what it does to women and girls. We have to raise up strong allies and educate males in advocating for women, because, as most women know too well, a man’s voice simply matters more than a woman’s. If a woman tells her truth, it’s called an exaggeration or it’s used to shame her or it’s simply buried by blame.
I submitted my letter to the editors at A Practical Wedding maybe a month before SBCC, but when the events unfolded, the editors quickly published it and linked it to the already growing #yesallwomen movement. Women joined me in the comments to add their voices to mine and friends of mine shared the letter with other men and women in their lives. It was a powerful experience for me.
All of this is pushing me to think about what I can do in my profession and my personal life to push back against misogyny. Can I speak to Girl Scouts? Can I encourage teenage girls to write about sexual violence and share their experiences? Can I host poetry readings on these topics? What about self defense classes?
What do you think, library world? What are your ideas about how we can change the world for women?