Frazier & Nieves: Stand in solidarity with women at Capitol
You can't be what you can't see. For many decades, Oregon public officials have attested to their commitment to protecting victims of sexual harassment.
They made promises to stem the sorts of behaviors that demean, belittle and discriminate. The recent report issued by the Bureau of Labor and Industry — under the administration of now former-Commissioner Brad Avakian — makes clear that these words and pledges are not enough to create the cultural change we need to prevent sexual violence in the Capitol.
The men who work in our state's halls of power, including administrative staff, lobbyists and elected officials, need to step up. We need to recognize how our actions as well as our failure to take action affect the safety and well-being of the women who work with us every day. The report surely has its share of skewed information, but the underlying stories demand substantive changes to Salem's culture.
As two men who have worked in the Capitol's halls, we are committed to helping improve the climate for all employees. Service to our state should not bring physical or emotional pain.
We do not have a cure-all for a clearly entrenched scourge of sexual harassment and politics-above-people orientation to decision-making. In fact, there is no instant remedy for entrenched cultural biases. But we do have a treatment that can begin to improve conditions.
On Jan. 22, when the legislative session starts, we hope all workers who identify as men will join us in wearing white ribbons. These ribbons will testify to taking the White Ribbon organization's pledge, which includes vows such as "I pledge never to commit, condone or stay silent about violence against women." The full pledge is available at the organization's website: whiteribbon.ca
White Ribbon, a Canadian organization, started in 1991. The campaign describes itself as "the world's largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity." It's a movement that all Oregon men ought to join.
We know that words don't ensure action. There's no guarantee that these pledges will be more effective than the promises that we have heard for decades. But an oath paired with a visual display can serve as another means of accountability, something that has definitely been lacking. Changing culture will require us to hold ourselves and one another responsible for keeping the Capitol safe.
What's more, this sort of display has proven effective in changing behavior related to other difficult issues. Consider the Blue Dot campaign and its success in identifying people as allies to those with mental health concerns. These white ribbons can develop a similar community. Of course, we encourage all men to additionally pursue other ways to be allies to ending violence against women and girls.
You can't be what you can't see. Our hope is that these ribbons, earned by taking a pledge, will signal the start of a new way of doing business in Salem. As The New York Times best-selling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote, "Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture."
Ribbons won't cure a toxic culture but they can signal a readiness to take action.
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