Responding to #MeToo goes Deeper than Policy Changes

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By Loribeth Weinstein

In the months of raised awareness resulting from the powerful #MeToo movement, many of us in the Jewish community have been working to determine the best response – asking ourselves how can we use this movement to take an honest look within, recognize the deep seeded and long standing inequalities and take the necessary steps to initiate change. To that end a number of us have begun working with groups who are seeking to affirm core values, create policy, and hire more women. This is necessary and important work and it speaks to a behavioral shift. But it is far from enough. What we need in the Jewish community is a seismic cultural shift.

For this shift to occur we need a comprehensive, holistic approach – multi-generational and prevention focused, catalyzed by education, training and constant conversation. Grounded in prevention and beginning with our boys. Quite frankly, when our teen boys compete over what they can “get” from girls or when our college men join fraternities that demean women, they graduate to be heirs to a workplace culture that thinks of women as less than.

Sexual harassment, dating violence, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence – they are all connected, all part of a continuum of violence against women. When children grow up witnessing power imbalances and violence whether in the home or in the media, they are more likely to become involved in unhealthy or abusive dating relationships, and are more likely to think of women as targets to harass and abuse. Girls who grow up uncomfortable and uninformed about money are less likely to ask for higher salaries, more likely to be financially dependent on a man, and less likely to have the resources to leave a demeaning or dangerous relationship.

As a community, we need to take a tough, honest look at our complicated patriarchal ethos. It’s not simply an endearing “Fiddler on the Roof” culture of tradition. Many of these “traditions” need urgent change. So, we make changes to our policies and educate our employees and create safe, Jewish workplaces that reflect our values of respect. But with a history cloaked in sexism and hierarchy, strengthening our policies and procedures manuals is more a game of smoke and mirrors than a true formula for lasting change.

Seismic cultural change must go beyond the workplace. It must permeate into our schools, our homes, our cultural institutions and our personal relationships. It must be owned as a core value of our companies and our families. It is less of a “sign at the dotted line, yes I have read the policy on harassment” and more of a commitment to in-person trainings and ongoing conversations around our conference tables and our dinner tables. And more than anything it must be prevention focused.

I have seen the results of this work first hand: We have worked with fathers and sons in Baltimore’s Orthodox community to imbue an understanding of positive masculinity and define “mentsch” as one who respects women. We partner with historically Jewish fraternities and sororities to not only educate students about consent, healthy relationships, and bystander intervention, but also to empower the young men as allies, to lead other young men by way of example and advocacy, to change the culture of violence on campus.

And, this is why we teach financial literacy to women of all ages so that they have resources and means. We know that women who have their own resources are less vulnerable and have options. And why we mentor the next generation of women leaders – not just to inspire them, but to empower them to know their voice, their value, and their worth.

This is what we must do to create real change. We need homes that are filled with loving, supportive relationships. We need our boys to grow to men who value women as true equals – worthy of the same respect, pay, and opportunities as would another man. We need girls to access the power of their voices. And we must model to women, from home to the C-suite, that there is unobstructed access to the top of the ladder.

Loribeth Weinstein is CEO of Jewish Women International. JWI is the leading Jewish organization working to empower women and girls by ensuring and protecting their physical safety and economic security, promoting and celebrating inter-generational leadership, and inspiring civic participation and community engagement.