Monthly Archives: February 2016

Talking to Half the Sky: The Value of Empowering Men

by Alexis Jones, Darling Magazine, Issue 13

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“Where is Columbus?” the young male athlete said, looking at his coach.

“Who?” responded his coach, baffled by who Columbus was and why all these guys were asking about him.

“You know, that girl who came in and talked to us. Where she at? She coming back?”

The coach was confused by the bizarre nickname but he knew exactly who he was talking about.

“Oh. You mean, Alexis. No, she already took a flight home. But why are y’all calling her Columbus?” Coach asked.

The athlete laughed, “Yo. Cuz she showed us a world we didn’t know existed.” He caught the ball and got back to doing his football drills.

Apparently, I’m being called Columbus behind my back. I’m OK with it. It could cer- tainly be worse. There is an irony to a girl waltzing into a locker room, surrounded by alpha males and talking to them about manhood. However, that has become my full-time job—reminding men of the importance of respecting us women. This was not always how I made my bread and butter. In fact, it was quite literally the opposite. I founded I AM THAT GIRL, a nonprofit with the sole purpose of reminding girls that they are awesome. I wrote a book. I spoke all over the planet. It is not only the mission of the organization; it is a searing truth inside my personal life’s journey.

Then I got a phone call. I didn’t know it then but that call would change my life. I was asked to give a talk to the 18 most influential high school quarterbacks in the country for an ESPNU TV show called Elite 11—get this—“about the importance of respecting girls and women.” Taking into account that I had to create a completely new talk, for a completely new audience, and that it was going to be filmed on national television, I did what any self respecting professional would: I used my friend’s wedding as the perfect excuse. “I’d love to, but I can’t because of my travel schedule.” But inevitably, I was flown out three days later to Nike headquarters in Portland.

That. Talk. Changed. My. Life. As I sat there in the room with all men—with past and present NFL players, with executives from ESPN and Nike—I saw the possibility for REAL change.

It dawned on me that for the past 10 years, I had only been preaching to “half of the sky,” and the treatment of women is no longer a women’s issue or a women’s movement, it is a HUMAN movement. We just forgot to include the other half of humanity.

I looked out at that audience of men and said, “Most people think that you are the problem; I just so happen to think that you are the cure.” Little did I know that a week later everything with Ray Rice and the infamous video footage of him knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator would be leaked. Suddenly, having just been THAT GIRL in the locker room talking to boys about better treatment of women turned me into the face of male empowerment. I still laugh at that irony.

Now here’s what I believe: There is a predilection inside male DNA to protect people; it’s why every little boy under the age of 10 wants to be a superhero.

They aren’t alone. Women are also poorly influenced. Our self-esteem often comes from an unrealistic, unattainable, impossible standard of “beauty.” This “self-worth epidemic” is a human issue, not a sex issue. We’re taught to be “pretty” and they are taught to “bang girls” and tragically those two lies fuel an unhealthy cycle.

The ESPN show aired and suddenly I was hired to speak to boys in locker rooms all over the country. When I speak, I have a black and white slide with this fact: “One in four girls will be sexually assaulted on your college campus.” Eyes glaze over with the expression of “Really?! I gotta listen to a chick lecture me right now? I’m tired. I have class. I have afternoon practice. I have … ” I click to the next slide and say, “But what happens when it’s her?” Little do they know that with access to social media, I have pulled pictures of their girlfriends, their sisters, their friends, their moms. They are staring at a stranger’s presentation recognizing and loving the faces looking back at them. Their eyes quickly come back into focus and suddenly this topic is real. Suddenly, this isn’t a stat anymore. Suddenly, it matters to them and I officially have their full attention.

Not enough of them have been spoken to this way, and not enough of them have heard the message that we want to trust them to help us. The truth is, I’d be ticked off if I were them. I’d also be insulted if I were the majority of men who don’t hurt, rape, insult or disrespect women and I was lumped into the small percentage of men who do. Because, having traveled all over the country, not talking at, but listening to young men share their insecurities, their wounds and their vulnerability, I am witnessing first hand that we have a generation of boys who desperately want to be respectful, compassionate, confident men.

But how do you become what you can’t see? In order to give respect and treat people with dignity, you have to first believe you are worthy of it, and so many young men don’t. Sadly, with the lack of strong, positive role models, so many boys simply haven’t been taught what respect looks like in the first place. With youth consuming over 10 hours of media a day that overtly objectifies and blatantly disrespects women, young men are doing exactly what they have been programmed to do. I am certainly not excusing any of the poor behavior splatter-painted as headline news, but I don’t think that we as a society take a responsibly for them, and therein lies the problem and, simultaneously, the possibility for change.

There are infinite social causes appropriately capturing our attention, but much like Martin Luther King Jr.’s understanding of the pervasiveness of cancerous racism deteriorating the fabric of our humanity, so is the poor treatment of women a reflec- tion of our society’s lost moral compass. We all have a mother and a grandmother. Many of us have sisters, girlfriends, nieces and aunts. This affects us all, and, I audaciously think, may single-handedly be the lynchpin to the future of our humanity.

I’m the first person who owes guys an apology. In my cavalier pursuit to “empower girls and change the world” I drove off and forgot half of my team. I AM THAT GIRL still stands for its mission of empowering girls. However, I am now building a new movement, a new brand, a new world with a new vision called ProtectHer. My mission is simple: to redefine manhood and to inspire men everywhere to better respect and protect the girls and women in their lives and on our planet. My goal is for our digital curriculum to be integrated into every high school in the country. Every middle school. Every elementary school. Every university. Every professional locker room. Every prison. Every military base. And even when we’ve achieved that, it will still be just the beginning.

What I have learned over a decade in the activism space is that real change takes a holistic approach to how and what impacts social behavior. Education is one slice of the pie. But so are legislation and fashion, entertainment, business and major corporate brands. I’m grateful that campaigns exist like “It’s on Us,” “No More” and #HeforShe; I think they are important to highlight the problem. However, ProtectHer is an attempt at a solution because it’s an idea, and ideas have a way of changing the whole world. ProtectHer is a reminder to us all—not just men—because girls need to better protect themselves as well as each other. It is not just about raising consciousness for women, it is about inviting men into the conversation, asking them to lean in and sit up at this table.

Call me Columbus, but I have seen a world in which men and women are both taught that their inherent self worth is not found in external consumption but internally, that they are taught to respect one another and to protect one another. I may not see the whole staircase, but Dr. King reminds us all that faith is taking the first step in spite of it.

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#ImABadassBecause Day 4

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 5.13.57 PMWe know in theory that we have to take care of ourselves in order to take of others but DAMN it’s hard to actually do that! It’s so easy for me to show up for my friends, to support my loved ones and to encourage complete strangers… And it’s so difficult for me to show up for myself. That being said, it’s not an excuse. We are exponentially more effective, more productive more compassionate and more successful when we are selfish and take care or ourselves FIRST. This weekend, do something JUST FOR YOU, whatever makes your heart smile. Start to notice how much more you have to give when you do what’s best for you! Q. What are you willing to prioritize above yourself? #dowhatsbestforyou

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#ImABadassBecause Day 3

IMG_0924The truth is- we are infinitely more powerful than we give ourselves credit for because we’re so distracted by all the noise in life. We stop tuning in to the frequency of our own hearts. We’ve all had moments when we were in the zone, that feeling of invincibility where you feel like you’re on fire and couldn’t mess up if you tried. What if you were told that feeling could be accessed at any moment? The truth is you can. We all can. But we can’t do it when we’re all over the place, juggling a thousand different things, beating ourselves up and focusing on everything but the little voice inside us screaming to be heard. The power exists in you to be brave… We just forget. Close your eyes and remember the last time you felt like you were unstoppable. Q. What did it feel like? How did you stand and walk? What expression was on your face? What did your voice sound like? You already have all the courage and wisdom and guidance you need; you just have to stop looking outside of yourself for it. The journey to discovering your Badass just requires you remembering that you already are… #youvealwayshadthepower

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#ImABadassBecause Day 2

IMG_0909So apparently “trauma” is real. Haha. I took Bella (my new puppy) to meet my brother’s cats yesterday and in the midst of their first meeting ended up on the wrong end of the cat’s teeth and claws. I’ve never been attacked by a cat (so that was a first) but I have been attacked by a dog. Three. Times. I have the scars and surgeries to prove it. And I’m flat out terrified of dogs because of it. But I played it cool during my niece’s six year old birthday party and it wasn’t until I got in the car and headed home that I started hyperventilating and shaking and hysterically crying. Something deep inside got triggered, and I couldn’t stop bawling for hours after I got home. It’s like the 1.5 year old, 11 year old and 13 year old in me who’d been attacked years ago freaked out all over again. So here’s the deal, when you get hurt or scared or emotionally wounded- whether it was something a mean kid said in 4th grade, or when you got bullied in high school, or when your dad bailed on you or your coach yelled at you and embarrassed you in front of everyone, or you got cheated on or your mom said she didn’t want you or you got your heart broken… The truth is we have these wounds and the invisible ones are the most severe and hardest to heal because we think we can bury them deep down. But we can’t. If we don’t address them, they will rear their ugly heads at some point. Trust me! So when someone says something and your panic button gets pressed and you don’t even know where it came from… Don’t shut it down and ignore it, it’s an opportunity to let all that energy and fear and heartbreak go by just being present with how you feel, honoring it and breathing through it. We’re all emotional creatures and we’re all sensitive beings. It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us human. Take five minutes to think about the trauma monsters in your own life, hiding in your closet. Q- what has been the biggest heartbreak in your life? What did you allow that to mean about you? #facingourtraumamonsters

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#ImABadassBecause Day 1

IMG_0899I started a #40day series on Instagram called #imabadassbecause mainly because I don’t always feel that way :). The craziness of the world gets to me and I forget that I’m just a girl, trying to figure it all out. Because sometimes life is surprisingly hard, and disappointments sting more than we want to admit, and yes, sometimes it’s breathtakingly beautiful and thrilling… But the truth is our confidence gets shaken easily and I’ve found that most people rely on external validation to fuel it, like (and I totally struggle with this) winning that football game or making a lot of money, or getting public accolades, an A in class, a promotion at work or hanging your hat on your good looks… And the truth is that there is an expiration date to all of that because having a strong, authentic confidence ONLY comes from within and it tends to be the LAST place we go to find it. So I’m on a journey inside and over the next 40 days, I invite you to join me ;). If you really want to go on a mind blowing adventure, all you have to do is get really still. You can’t fathom why lies in store. Today, try and spend five minutes in complete silence (set an alarm on your phone and turn it face down), put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and just listen. I have a feeling it has a LOT to say and we are just getting warmed up. Write in a journal or share with a friend what came up for you. Today’s Q: how do you feel the most loved? #day1

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