100 Women: Why I chose #MeToo for my sexism experiment


BBC 100 Women contributor Roya Ramezani was painting "me too" onto an installation just hours before the NYT story about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein broke. She writes about how it feels for the phrase to get a life of its own, and her own story of harassment that inspired the installation.

On the day the New York Times broke the story about Harvey Weinstein I was driving a 2.5m-high wooden A-frame installation through the streets of Palo Alto. Once unloaded and installed in a courtyard in the fading evening light, we invited passersby to listen to stories of workplace sexism voiced by male, as well as female, voices as a way of shocking the listener with the unfamiliar. That installation was called Me Too.

media caption100 Women: What does sexism sound like?

Just 10 days later, the hashtag #MeToo began trending on Twitter, started by the US actress Alyssa Milano as a way of encouraging women to share their stories of harassment or assault in the wake of the Weinstein revelations.

I had made the installation as part of the BBC's 100 Women Challenge, which has chosen groups of women around the world to make a product or campaign in just one week that aims to have an impact on women's lives. As part of the Glass Ceiling Challenge, our team came up with a number of ideas, including my installation. We weren't specifically asked to tackle sexism, but I was moved by the stories of women I heard from as part of the project, and also inspired by my own experience as a student.

I grew up in Tehran but aged 18 I moved to Canada and then the US to study. At one of my universities [I studied at three] I had asked a professor for extra help. He invited me to go to his room an hour before class, and everything was perfect - I got the help I needed.

But then the second time I went, he put his hand between my legs. I was motionless for five or six minutes and then I stood up and started to walk out the room and he called my name.

image copyrightRoya Ramezani
image captionRoya was encouraged in her design by Marilyn Loden, who coined the term the 'glass ceiling', and attended the 100 Women Challenge brainstorm

He said, "You had the opportunity to get a 100% score [on your course] but just remember you didn't want it." And then he gave me an F and I failed that course.

I talked to two of my girlfriends and the only thing that calmed me down was them saying, "Me too!" - I felt like I wasn't alone in this.

When I moved to New York I was so surprised - it was still there. People would catcall me all the time. And then when I moved to Silicon Valley I heard all of these stories of harassment in the workplace. It's everywhere.

image captionRoya with her wearable tech necklace

My goal with the Me Too installation was to shed light on the fact that if you're a woman, no matter where you live in the world, regardless of how you dress or the industry that you work in, you will experience sexism in some shape or form.

As part of the Challenge week we heard from Marilyn Loden, the woman who coined the term "glass ceiling" nearly 40 years ago, who feels "not much has changed". She told me she felt building a network of female support was one solution.

So I wanted to encourage all women to share their own stories and participate in this conversation. With the installation, I want to expose men to these stories, let them imagine how it feels like to be a woman in the workplace, and bring them on board to become our allies.

But it's not enough in and of itself.

As a designer I constantly think about how to turn inspiration into action. We came up with several other products during our 100 Women Challenge week, including a wearable tech necklace which allows you to receive messages of support from female colleagues and an app which helps ensure everyone is heard from equally.

Issues such as diversity, equality or harassment are complex and there's no one solution but armed with new technology such as AI (artificial intelligence), AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), designers now have the tools to tackle complex issues from an angle that hasn't been thought of or was possible before.

I am hopeful that the time has arrived when we will make change happen.

What is 100 Women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. In 2017, we're challenging them to tackle four of the biggest problems facing women today - the glass ceiling, female illiteracy, harassment in public spaces and sexism in sport.

With your help, they'll be coming up with real-life solutions and we want you to get involved with your ideas. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and use #100Women

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