I’m not a big fan of awareness months. There are so many these days that each month shares a long list of issues to be aware of along with a corresponding ribbon color. There’s even a Zombie Awareness Month. It’s May (gray ribbon) in case you want to mark your calendar.

Every October, when Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I have an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think that domestic violence awareness is important. Of course it is. But I wonder what we are accomplishing. Does awareness actually lead to behavior change? Researchers say no.

I’ve seen awareness about domestic violence grow significantly over the years. That’s a great thing and it needed to happen. But I don’t want us to stop there. Now that people are aware, I want them to act. I want everyone to realize that they can be a part of the solution. They can learn about the resources out there so if someone turns to them for help they’ll know what to do. They can talk to young people about what a healthy relationship looks like. They can ask a friend “How’s your relationship?” and make chatting about this a normal part of life.

I’m not suggesting we all cancel our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. But let’s shift our focus to turning October into Domestic Violence ACTION Month.DVAM-logo

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Echoing Florida’s shameful treatment of Marissa Alexander, prosecutors in South Carolina are arguing that “Stand Your Ground” laws don’t apply to women defending themselves from abusers.

Seattle Police couldn’t be bothered to actually look at a picture of a man taken by the woman he groped until she shamed them on Twitter.

A misogyny-fueled threat of violence coupled with aggressively lax gun laws, left Utah police completely unable to keep feminist activist Anita Sarkeesian safe.

NFL headquarters

NFL headquarters

Two years before Ray Rice pushed the league’s “domestic violence problem” into the headlines, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a Congressional committee: “We are changing the culture of our game for the better.” He wasn’t talking about the culture in which officials brushed off “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of domestic violence assaults by its players—that would come later. Back then, the league was under fire after decades of dismissing the evidence that one in three players suffer long-term cognitive impairment caused by on-the-job brain injuries.

The NFL’s tolerance for its players’ brutality off the field goes hand in hand with indifference to the damage they suffer from violence on the field. Both have been blamed on football’s “culture of violence.”  But ultimately these are business decisions, driven by capitalism more than culture. The spectacle of hyper-masculinity is just another product, manufactured and marketed at enormous profit.

For many players, their assaults against women were covered up by high school and college teams on the route to being excused by the NFL. From Washington to Florida State, university officials are just as invested as NFL executives in protecting their players from accountability, and for the same reason: so as not to hamper the economic engine driving universities, towns, and a professional sports industry.

What is the cost to athletes themselves of being the fuel in that engine? Attention to the few superstars who land multi-million dollar contracts overshadows the far more common story: disproportionately Black and Brown young men, who never see any share of the profit that is extracted from their talent and their bodies. Any serious reform effort has to pay attention to the exploitation of those young men by the same system that colludes with their violence.

Domonique Foxworth, a former cornerback who fought for more safety protections as head of the NFL players’ union, reflects on the physical and economic price college athletes pay to play, the trap of being celebrated for embodying a certain masculine ideal loaded with racist baggage, and how the stage is set for relationships with women infused with resentment and contempt.

Whether motivated by brand rehabilitation or sudden moral clarity, the NFL has hired a team of consultants to advise them on cleaning up their atrocious response to domestic violence. We have yet to see whether advocates can leverage the moment into an opportunity for change deep enough to matter.

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

I often wish for public awareness ads that focus on the accountability of perpetrators of violence rather than highlighting the plight of victims. A powerful new ad campaign in Michigan is doing just that.

How do you invent the Pill in a time where contraception was still illegal in many states? You lie and sneak around.

This week was the birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who was severely beaten for trying to register to vote and went on to become the first African American to serve as an official delegate at a national-party convention. She famously said: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I spend my life working on women’s rights, so when I heard my daughters talking about the Feminist Union club at their high school I couldn’t wait to hear more!  What on earth was this? Their answers filled me with joy! Sixty-six people showed up (about 1/3 young men)—the room was overflowing into the hallway.TIWAFLL-Shirt

The first meeting was action-packed. They all answered the question: “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word feminism or feminist?” My girls said “It was actually kind of fun,” and a chorus of “Ooooh, that is hella deep” spontaneously erupted over and over again. Then they watched 50 reasons why I am a Feminist and shared their own similar experiences.

Future topics were suggested ranging from what feminism looks like in other societies to misconceptions about feminism and domestic violence. Ground rules were covered and they all agreed: you don’t have to identify as a feminist now; maybe you will eventually, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And they even made some real change. After one of their teachers overheard them discussing gender neutral language: “Try not to say guys for everyone. Try saying beings, peeps, y’all, people, beans instead,” he changed his usual “See ya later guys” to “See ya everyone” as his class ended.

I am so proud of the young people who have organized the group and are coming together. So much happened in 30 minutes. Why can’t I get this much done in a workday? Our community is in good hands with this rising group of thoughtful leaders!

Many people equate BDSM with abuse, but in fact that community can teach us a lot of great lessons about healthy relationships. You might be shaking your head in consternation right about now. But playing with power dynamics or intense bdsmphysical sensation is not the same as being abusive, violent, or controlling.

In one of my previous lives, I worked for several years as a sex educator for a feminist sex shop. While I was relatively open-minded, I had a lot to learn. Because even if I wasn’t particularly interested in something for myself, I had to be able to speak knowledgably and non-judgmentally with customers, many of whom were trusting me with vulnerable information. In any given week, I might help a 70-year-old woman who’d never had an orgasm or a 40-year-old man struggling to open up to his partner about his desires to explore role play.

I learned a lot, not just about sex but about communication and boundaries and consent and exploration and healthy relationships. All things that you need to engage successfully in BDSM.

Most people, especially when playing with a new partner, have a get-together where they chat about their yes/no/maybe list. The “yes” list is filled with all the activities you know you enjoy, the “no” list is all about the things you do not want under any circumstances. And the “maybe” list can include things you haven’t tried yet but might be interested in or things that might be okay in certain situations.

This list is one of my favorite tools, and anyone—any gender, any sexuality—can use it, regardless of what kinds of sex they like to have. It’s a great way to think about what your own desires are. And when you do it with a partner, you get to see where your interests overlap, where you might do some new exploration, and where the hard boundaries are. This is just one way to get to that “enthusiastic consent” that so many people are talking about right now.

Or you can do a yes/no/maybe list about other kinds of physical and emotional affection. “Holding hands in public—yes! Hand on my neck—nope. Deep kisses—maybe, but only if we’re in a private place.” For survivors of abuse, this can be a useful bridge to regaining ownership of their bodies and their desires. Being explicit about what is and isn’t okay can help avoid triggering incidents and make them feel safer.

Using the list might seem a little silly or even boring, but I’ve found the opposite to be true. If you find yourself tongue-tied when talking about what you want, it can be a great way to lay your cards on the table ahead of time, when you’re more able to think clearly. Give it a try!

¡Me encanta nuestra conferencia! Es una gran experiencia donde 400 interces@s nos reunimos para aprender, compartir, llorar y reír. Y la parte más importante es que logramos conectarnos con nuestro movimiento, y con nosotros mismos. Durante estos tres días, nos inspiramos, adquirimos más conocimientos, y simplemente soñamos juntos con ese momento libre de violencia contra las mujeres.

Color-Logo-for-online-use---small“Ready, Set, Go” fue nuestro tema de este año. Cada uno de nosotros sabe exactamente cómo prepararse, y sin duda sabemos cómo avanzar, avanzar y avanzar. Estamos listos para intervenir y apoyar a los sobrevivientes en cualquier momento, todo el tiempo. ¡Esto es genial! Sin embargo, la mayoría de las veces no nos tomamos el tiempo para prepararnos a avanzar, y sin esta importante pausa nos mantenemos en supervivencia o en una fase de intervención continua, lo que nos impide llegar a nuestra meta. Es necesario crear este tiempo de preparación donde podemos respirar, analizar, y pensar críticamente sobre cuestiones que nos rodean y que nos ciegan.

Cada uno de nuestros presentadores de este año nos desafiaron a ver, actuar, y pensar de una manera diferente en cuanto a cómo apoyamos a los sobrevivientes. Katya Fels Smyth de la agencia Full Frame Initiative, explicó la importancia de ver las experiencias de las sobrevivientes de una manera más completa—tomando en cuenta su entorno, comunidad y fortalezas—con la finalidad de realmente apoyarlas. Connie Burk del Northwest Network nos ofreció un análisis crítico de la forma en que entendemos el género, el sexismo y el racismo y el papel tan importante que estos juegan en nuestro apoyo y compresión hacia los sobrevivientes y demás personas. Ruchira Gupta, fundadora y presidente de Apne Aap Women Worldwide, nos retó a organizar y confiar en las mujeres para realizar cambios sociales dentro de sus comunidades.

Como pueden ver tuvimos tres días increíbles, donde convivimos y nos propusimos hacer cambios profundos en la forma en que nos preparamos a avanzar tanto a nivel personal, como en nuestras organizaciones, nuestro trabajo, y nuestro movimiento.


I just LOVE our statewide conference! It is a great experience, where 400 advocates get together to learn, share, cry, and laugh. And the most important part is that we connect with each other, with our movement, and with ourselves. During these three days, we get inspired, acquire more knowledge, and simply dream together to be free of violence against women.

“Ready, Set, Go” was our theme this year. Every single one of us knows exactly how to get ready, and we definitely know how to go, go, go. We are ready to jump in and support survivors at any time, all the time. This is great! However, most of the time we do not SET, and without this very important pause we are stuck in a survival mode or in an intervention phase all the time, which prevents us from reaching our goal. To set, we need to breathe and take time to analyze and think critically about issues around us that blind us.

Each one of our speakers this year challenged us to see, act, and think in a different way toward survivors. Katya Fels Smyth from the Full Frame Initiative explained the importance of seeing survivors’ whole experiences—their whole environment, their community, and their strengths—in order for us to really support them. Connie Burk from The Northwest Network brought us the critical analysis of how we understand gender, sexism, and racism and the important role these play in how we support and understand survivors and each other. Ruchira Gupta, the founder and president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, challenged us to organize and trust women to make social changes within their communities.

As you can see, we had an amazing three days, not just being together, but really making some deep changes in the way we set ourselves, our organizations, our work, and our movement.


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