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Words and images matter

Hurt. Creeped out. Embarrassed. Outraged. That's how Lily felt when she found herself in a store that used classic "girlie" calendar photos to sell its housewares. "If you see your wives, mothers or sisters here, too bad," said a sign placed next to the images.

In guerrilla fashion, Lily took the sign down and marched out of the store with it.

Have you ever imagined yourself in a similar situation giving someone in a store an earful and a piece of your mind besides? What often happens? We walk away. It's easier to sigh and move on.

But Lily took a different approach. She didn't forget about it and she didn't make a new enemy by ranting. She took the tougher step of contacting the owner and as she described it, "I had an encounter with a lovely man who was willing to be thoughtful about such an issue."

She explained why they might like to consider changing their messaging, especially considering the positive reputation of the store. She talked about what a hostile environment it created for her as a female shopper. "He was also a member of a minority group and I used a parallel example of how he might feel if he saw certain stereotypes of his group being publicly displayed. Though he was nervous about being pressured, he was willing to think about it."

Several weeks later Lily checked back. The store owner had asked his employees to take the rest of the photos down. "That is the beginning of change. A hopeful one," she observed.

"I have always been intimidated by this stuff. But I was able to have a reasonably calm conversation with this man-and get him to listen-without attacking him-and he WAS afraid of being attacked-the outcome was good," Lily said.

"Let us not give up on language change or reversing the misogynist images of women which continue to ingrain a superficial perception of the powerful women we all are," Lily stated. "If we are to be taken seriously-as world leaders, as leaders in answering the environmental crisis, on ending racism, on problems with the local and global economy, as athletes, as workers-then my and your significance as women, and how language and pictures that belittle us, matters like hell. We are NOT just butts, breasts and crotches. We have voices!"


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