Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

(Re)Model Behavior

In an earlier post, Tolerating Bad Behavior, LWP Chris describes how men in powerful positions have the ability to control and manipulate women and get away with it. The lingering question is: how can women address this sort of behavior and maintain/regain control of themselves and their environment?

Time to Model Good Behavior

I’ve been enjoying this year’s selection of SXSW film festival selections, many of which effectively focus on issues facing girls and women around the world. One movie, GIRL MODEL, portrays how Russian girls, as young as 12, are recruited to be models in Japan. Their families are promised thousands of dollars through assured modeling gigs. When 13 year old Nadya arrives in Japan, no one meets her at the airport and she is essentially left on her own to navigate a strange, new world. After several weeks and a single photo shoot, she is sent back to Siberia. Her family is never paid and Nadya is told that she is $2,000 in debt from her stay in Japan.

When an the Russian agency head is interviewed, he justifies the unregulated operation saying that he is looking out for the girl models, Japan is safe for these girls and what a wonderful opportunity this brings to the girls and their families. The film reveals the opposite. It shows how the girls are left to fend on their own, housed in tiny apartments; unable to speak the language, no money, homesick, depressed and disillusioned.

Changing the Dynamic

The model-export industry has been around for years, but there is little being done to legislate the industry to protect young girls and women from abuse. The people running the agencies clearly know they are misrepresenting the reality and the financially strapped, naive girls and their families. Is it simply greed coupled with exploitation? Where does the buy-in and turning the blind eye start, and why is it tolerated?

While it may not on the same scale, any form of inappropriate treatment of girls and women — whether at work, politics, home or with peers – can too easily fall into the realm of being tolerated, even when it’s clearly out of line.

Slutgate” Opened the Floodgate

Last weeks attack by Rush Limbaugh on Sandra Fluke and Tracie McMillan was appalling and inappropriate.  His vulgar and false characterizations created an unlikely alignment of many progressives, moderates and conservatives who are repulsed by his comments that seems to be based on the fact that Fluke and McMillan are smart, educated women who speak out. Bravo to the multitude of companies who pulled their ads (45 and counting) and monetary support from his show. Yet, there were public figures, including Mitt Romney, who chose not to criticize Limbaugh. Instead of seizing an opportunity to squelch the vulgar rhetoric, Romney chose to side step the topic.  It’s unclear whether he agrees with Limbaugh, he fears Rush-revenge or he is influenced by the income generated from a deal where Bain, his former company, bought Clear Channel, Limbaugh’s employer. In any case, this sends a message of tolerating bad behavior that has a negative impact on women.

Rebounding

There isn’t a single approach to deal with physical, mental and verbal abuse and /or manipulation. It is clear that people need to be informed, create support networks and be willing to call out and stand up to the bullies. It takes courage to challenge bad behavior, whether an active or passive approach is employed. It can be a difficult route to take with unpredictable outcomes. The alternative is to do nothing – but, nothing will ever change. Learning to lead yourself in these difficult situations not only empowers you but also those around you. It’s time for us all to rebound and get in the game.

How can men and women work to change this dynamic and put an end to tolerating bad behavior? What are your stories? How should these situations be handled?                                                     

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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