NEW YORK — A new video series, “BreakthroughU,” is tackling complicated social issues, like gender-based violence, intersectionality* and culture change, issues that are at the heart of the work that Breakthrough has been doing for over 17 years. The videos employ an unusual approach — puppets.
A cast of rainbow-colored puppets represents a range of identities, from a gay Latino guy with an abusive boyfriend to a gender-nonconforming person struggling to find a restroom. The videos are designed to help high school and college students discuss tough subjects with friends and family members and find ways to challenge and transform harmful attitudes and culture when they encounter it. Students who grew up on Sesame Street will recognize the puppets as a nostalgic, familiar form. But instead of teaching the ABCs, characters break down issues and ideas that contribute to gender-based violence.
The videos explore scenarios dealing with gender-based discrimination and violence as they commonly occur in campus life. By playing out scenarios, the videos address issues such as intimate partner violence (in heterosexual and LGBTQ couples); non-consensual image sharing; sexual harassment; discrimination against gender-nonconforming and transgender people; and hypermasculinity and gender policing.
“These practices are explored in order to connect the dots between the culture we learn, practice and create, the gender norms that perpetuate this culture, and the individual and collective power we all have to challenge and transform culture and create change in our communities,” said Ishita Srivastava, producer and deputy director of programs at Breakthrough.
Breakthrough’s network of campus activists have encountered barriers to changing the culture around gender. “Talking to someone who promotes toxic or threatening expectations about gender can prove befuddling, especially when the behavior is so subtle it’s almost impossible to detect or articulate,” said Srivastava. “‘BreakthroughU’ allows puppets to do the heavy lifting, both in modeling strategies to challenge and transform harmful dynamics and explaining the concepts as a scaffolding to understand them.”
Puppeteers involved in the Breakthrough video series are the best in their industry, coming from Sesame Street and Avenue Q. One puppeteer, Gabriel Rodriguez, who is gender nonconforming, had their first opportunity to portray a character with nonbinary gender.
“I don’t know what a gender is, but I feel like I have one. And I know it isn’t boy, and I know it isn’t girl. But it’s here. It is where I belong. It is my home, this in-between,” said Rodriguez.
The video series will also connect viewers to Breakthrough’s action hotline, which is a one-on-one coaching and mentoring resource for students who want to challenge gender norms and change the culture of gender-based violence in their campus communities.
“BreakthroughU” videos are available to watch online at http://us.breakthrough.tv/