Superficial Priorities by Gillian Morris

Earlier this year a political scientist named James Q. Wilson passed away. He was best known for his ‘broken window’ theory, which said that if a window in a house was broken and left unrepaired, soon all the windows in the house would be, and crime of all types would increase. If the window were fixed, crime would go elsewhere.

This idea was taken up most famously by Rudy Giuliani, who decided to change New York City’s reputation for crime by addressing the very smallest things: the broken windows, the people begging on the street. By almost any account, it seems to have worked: the crime rate in New York today is not even comparable to what it was in the 80s.

We at Hollaback are big believers in the broken window theory. We believe that street harassment is the very top level of a deep problem of unequal treatment between men and women. If we can address the way that women are treated in public, we think that the way men and women relate to each other in the home, school, and workplace will be improved.

This is why I’m so glad that we had the chance to screen Miss Representation, an American documentary that explores the way women are represented in the media, back in March. The documentary, like Hollaback, forces us to confront assumptions we usually don’t even realize we make. Why do we evaluate a woman’s leadership and personality qualities based on how she dresses? Why do we think women politicians ‘complain’ whereas men ‘state’? What are we assuming about a politician’s emotional state and worthiness to lead based on that choice of word?

The Miss Representation screening was attended by nearly 200 people: men and women, headscarved and tank-top-wearing, black and white. There’s clearly interest in, and momentum for, changing the status quo here. Yet change requires more than a gathering to watch a thought-provoking documentary.

So how to fix these broken windows? We’re now in the process of putting together a report on women’s representation in the media across the countries where Hollaback is active, which we hope will offer concrete examples of how media actors and regulatory agencies can foster a more balanced portrayal of women. Want to get involved?

If you’re interested in helping with our research project, please contact  [email protected]


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