Futures Without Violence recently presented me and the organization I work for the Futures Without Violence Leadership Award at the National Conference on Health and Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C.  Futures Without Violence called out how our “efforts bridge the gap between advocates and health care providers, and create programs that have improved the lives and safety of countless victims of abuse.” What follows is the speech I gave when presented with this honor.

Leigh-award

I want to thank Futures Without Violence for this award. I also congratulate the other recipients and thank you for your transformative work.

It is humbling to receive this award and I share it with all of you. Each one of us works every day for women, children, and men to have the access and care they deserve.

We are a mighty group and I am so proud to be here with you.

After so many years of advocating for survivors of abuse and working for policies and practices that are shaped by their experiences, I find myself circling back to some of the most important foundations we have.

Self-determination, liberation, bodily-integrity, the freedom to do the things we want—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.

When I think about what it means to do advocacy, what comes immediately to mind are my twin daughters, Basha and Rebekah.

Four years ago, they were Bat Mitzvahed. And as part of the ceremony, they had to write and deliver speeches about the Torah passages that marked their day.  Reflecting on the teachings and finding contemporary meaning.

Two young women with two singular perspectives. Basha talked about Glee (which she watched obsessively at the time). What she took from the show was not just the drama, fabulous singing, and the outfits—what she took were lessons about bullying and homophobia and young people’s experiences both of injustice and of justice.

Rebekah wrestled with her understanding of living an ethical life. What she came to realize is the importance of having an integrity that allows you to be whole, and directs you to live—publically as you do privately.

I am grateful my daughters had this experience. To think seriously, to speak seriously, to have adults listen and take them seriously.

Fast forward to 17, Basha and Rebekah have helped to organize a Feminist Union at their high school. Every week 30 teens show up, 1/3 of them boys, to hang out and talk. They talk about street harassment, rape culture, healthy relationships, international feminism, and gender equality.

That my daughters have had these experiences is a remarkable gift. It is all we want for every girl and every boy. In my work, and our Coalition’s work, we see the power of partnerships that give women and girls, men and boys, the opportunity to exercise their choices, to write their own futures. And, have lives filled with dignity.

I am so very proud to be a part of this movement—and believe that all of us, together, are creating a world of health and happiness, and justice and hope.

Thank you.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

When praise turns into pressure. Mo’ne Davis is getting kudos for forgiving the man who called her a slut. But what if she hadn’t?

Sarah Silverman likes us! Thanks for tweeting our Rape Prevention Tips post, Sarah.

“I don’t say anything. I listen.” That’s the excellent Gloria Steinem when asked what she says to black women who feel excluded by feminism.

What’s the deal with so-called male feminists? You know who I’m talking about. Men who say they support women, call for equal pay and wear Pro-Choice tees and then get caught for sexual harassment. Or the guy that’s shocked by the “obvious misinterpretation” of what he’s doing and is like “But I love women! Look at my t-shirt—solidarity, sister! We’re cool, right?” WRONG.

 

Here’s the thing. There are a lot of great dudes out there. Some who truly understand feminism and act on behalf of the rights of women. What does that dude look like? Here are my thoughts:

  • He makes space to amplify the voices of the women in the room. This means consciously not talking or offering his commentary on everything the women say, even if it’s supportive. We don’t need your constant approval, dude.
  • He refrains from making sexist jokes and remarks (which means he knows what would constitute a sexist joke or remark), and he lets other dudes know that it’s not cool when they do.
  • He makes space to include women in places where they are absent in ways that are not patronizing or disrespectful.
  • He offers support to women-centered organizations, asks how he can help, and does not take the lead.

I’d like to see more dude feminists step up. And being a feminist does not mean declaring it from the mountain top—actions speak much louder than words. When men support women to be heard and respected, abuse of women will have less and less space to exist. It won’t be tolerated. It will be stopped before it gets dangerous. There will be powerful social consequences for abusers. I’m looking forward to that.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Ashley Judd talks about the response she gets when she pushes back against online harassment: “I brought it on myself. I deserved it. I’m whiny. I’m no fun. I can’t take a joke. There are more serious issues in the world…. Grow thicker skin, sweetheart.”

A new book tells the stories of women in the Zapatistas movement: “The [Zapatista army] has always had a clear commitment to women’s right to participate at all levels, and Zapatista leaders insisted on this from the very beginning. In spite of some men’s resistance, there was a strong response from women who wanted to be involved, who wanted to see a change in their lives.”

Of all the critiques of Starbucks Race Together initiative, Tressie McMillan Cottom’s is my favorite: “There is little reticence about race. My students love to talk about race…. They like to talk about the latest race films. This semester it is Selma. Last year it was Django…. Old people in diners tell me about Obama’s race problem. People on the train to the airport talk to me about Ferguson…. People talk about race to me but they rarely talk to me about racism.”

tattooI always knew that I wanted a tattoo. They are a beautiful and unique way of expressing one’s self. I’m sure that anyone who’s gotten inked has their own story of the why, the where, the when.

I got my first tattoo ten years ago, shortly after I moved to Seattle. I didn’t tell my family or many of my Indian friends. It was an act of rebellion only because of my assumptions of what others would say. I also knew that it was what I wanted.

My tattoo has gotten a lot of responses. I’ve heard: “I didn’t think you were the kind of person who got a tattoo.” or “Why did you get a tattoo there?” or “What did your parents say?”

Last week I got a new one:

Dude: Would you get another tattoo?
Me: Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.
Dude: What would you get?
Me: Maybe a half sleeve.
Dude: Don’t you think you should wait until you get married?
Me: No, why?
Dude: Wouldn’t you want to get permission from your husband? What if he’s not attracted to it?

Seriously?! I was so mad I can’t remember exactly what I said, but (1) I have never gotten permission for any of my tattoos or what I do with my body and I am not going to start now, (2) if someone is not attracted to me because of my tattoos or thinks that I need to ask their permission for the choices I make, then they have no business being with me, and (3) it’s 2015, buddy, do you really want to be saying that kind of thing?

Women are under an incredible amount of pressure to meet other people’s expectations. Women are judged for their tattoos and people make all sorts of weird assumptions about them. But I do not plan on ever asking for permission from anyone about what I do with my body; I may decide to get other people’s opinions, but ultimately it’s my choice.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

WNBA star Becky Hammon has become the NBA’s first female coach!

Dealing with domestic violence becomes much more difficult when pets are involved. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act aims to help abused women protect their pets.

And last, this kind but firm mom supporting her daughter’s right to say no:

We bring you this post from Karen Rosenberg, a Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence consultant.

Ever wonder how people justified wife beating as an OK thing to do? For Women’s History Month let’s look back on a bit of legal history that provides not one, but two justifications for wife beating.

old-legal-documentIn State v A.B. Rhodes (North Carolina State Supreme Court, 1868), the Court considered a case involving the married couple Elizabeth and A.B. Rhodes. We can assume they were white, though the legal record does not say. A.B. hit Elizabeth and—unusually for the era—assault and battery charges were brought against A.B. The case went to trial. In the words of the jury, “We find that the defendant struck Elizabeth Rhodes, his wife, three licks, with a switch about the size of one of his fingers (but not as large as a man’s thumb), without any provocation except some words uttered by her and not recollected by the witness.”

So the judge found A.B. not guilty. “His Honor was of opinion that the defendant had a right to whip his wife with a switch no larger than his thumb, and…he was not guilty in law.” (And yes, this is why some people avoid the phrase “rule of thumb.”)

In the appeal, the State Supreme Court challenged the lower court’s rationale, stating that it wouldn’t affirm the right to beat a spouse. But it gave another reason to find A.B. not guilty—maintaining the household’s privacy:

For however great are the evils of ill temper, quarrels, and even personal conflict inflicting only temporary pain, they are not comparable with the evils which would result from raising the curtain, and exposing to public curiosity and criticism, the nursery and the bed chamber.”

In other words, sure he hit her, but it would be more damaging to society if the state intruded on family life. This sounds dated and wrong to modern ears. Thank goodness. Or, more accurately, thank the Battered Women’s Movement. Want to learn more? Check out Susan Schechter’s amazing Women and Male Violence or this tribute to her work.

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