April 26, 2011
“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” — Eleanor Roosevelt
A national resource defines bullying as, “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time and can take many forms.” Experts say kids bully because they want to establish a social order, obtain dominance and power, or have control over group membership.
Whoa. That is eerily similar to our movement’s understanding of domestic violence. I guess it’s no surprise that different kinds of violence have similar motives. As I scan through some of the current research on bullying, I see that some of the most common intervention programs, like zero tolerance policies and peer to peer mediation, are now being discredited. It turns out that just as with domestic violence, there are no simple answers on how to get a bully—or a batterer—to knock it off.
And how can there be a simple answer?
Take the recent news story about a father who is facing felony child abuse charges after he was caught on video cheering his teenage son during a fight with a schoolmate who had been bullying him. The father and mother said things got worse after they sought help from the school, and their son eventually came to believe that fighting back was his best option. While the father regrets encouraging his son to “smash [the other boy’s] head into the ground,” he is relieved that after the fight, the bully agreed “to be done.”
So, wow. This family believes that vigilante violence was the best solution for their son. And while we know that boys especially are socialized to both be dominant and fight back against domination, I’m not convinced that street-fighting is the big solution we’ve all been looking for.
There must be more options for dealing with bullying besides “make the school deal with it” or “duke it out.”
So how did this get worked out in the social circles you were part of as a young person? Was there a way to stop bullying, dominating behavior without resorting to violence?
April 19, 2011
Want to see, at a glance, a summary of the messages boys and girls get every day about our expectations for them? Crystal Smith at The Achilles Effect analyzed the words used in television ads marketing toys to boys vs. the words used to market toys to girls. It won’t take more than one look to figure out which is which.
Battle vs. love. Competition and violence for boys vs. cooperation for girls. Competence for boys vs. style for girls.
Marketers are not just selling toys; they are selling a world where boys are strong and forceful, and girlhood is much more about how you look than what you do. Whether toy manufacturers create these gendered expectations or simply reflect the values of the broader culture, the messages are powerful. The average kid watches hundreds of television ads every week, from toddlerhood through teen years.
So, how many dating violence prevention campaigns do you think we have to run to balance this out? How many posters in high schools about equality in relationships will it take? Is there any way we can prevent domestic violence when this is the landscape we’re working with?
April 12, 2011
Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Last month, the White House released the first report on the Status of Women since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) under President Kennedy. Really? There’s been no report on this since the ‘60’s?
This made me want to learn more. Do these commissions actually do anything? I was fascinated to learn that PCSW members didn’t think it was enough. The government was not enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s sex non-discrimination laws. And the commission wasn’t going to change that.
To deal with their government’s indifference or hostility, PCSW and others formed the National Organization of Women. NOW, pun intended, activists could openly rally public support for women’s equality and the end of racial discrimination.
This got me thinking about what led me to the violence against women movement? I had no plan of action. No neon sign telling me to volunteer for a battered women’s crisis line. My past feels more like a mosaic—hard to single out one piece without stepping back and seeing the whole pattern.
Part of my mosaic was formed in the 1980’s. I was a bank secretary in Washington DC on K Street; we secretaries were called “K Street cuties.” I was sitting in the lunchroom one day reading Susan Schechter’s book, Women and Male Violence. One of the executives, a woman, came up and lectured, “You know women who are abused ask for it.” I looked at her thinking, I can’t believe she just said that and—not knowing how to respond —I said nothing.
At the same bank, the chief executive used to slide his hand down the backs of secretaries, and pop our bra straps—which again left me speechless. My own silence bothered me, and I began asking myself, “How do I want to spend my work day?” A dramatic shift in my career path soon followed.
Not everyone is going to form the next NOW or become a domestic violence advocate. You don’t have to. You can change the fabric of your community or your own life in small ways. What gives us the little push to move towards something meaningful and take action? Believing you matter may be radical enough.
April 5, 2011
Last month, the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrated its one-year anniversary, and still its future as real reform for this country is in question. Although many people put health care near the top of their list of Most Important Issues, I rarely hear anyone describe it as our right. It is rather a “benefit” for those lucky enough to have a job.
What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. For example, if leaving an abuser means losing health coverage for your kids, you may choose to stay. These kinds of choices are going to get tougher for survivors in Washington, as our budget crisis gets worse and the state Basic Health program for low income families looks like it’s going to get eliminated.
I think most folks would tell you that we have a right to live free of violence. And many would agree that we also have a right to determine our own path in life and make our own choices. But the reality is that you don’t get to tap into these rights if you are not healthy and cannot access the care you need. Health care is just one piece of the complex puzzle that put us closer to lives without violence, but it’s a vital piece. Let’s change how we think about health care in this country. It should not be just a benefit. It’s our right.