Good work

Photo by Intemporelle at Erin Lassahn Photography
Photo by Intemporelle at Erin Lassahn Photography

Many who know me, know that I have an unabashed love for Ben Affleck. I used to try to keep it under wraps, but after his acceptance speech for Argo at the Oscars on Sunday, I am going public. When talking about his marriage, he said, “it is work, but it’s the best kind of work…and there’s no one I’d rather work with.” I love that. Yes, relationships (even the great ones) are often hard work. That is a message worth sharing.

Ending violence – let’s do it!

Here at Can You Relate we often talk about our desire to prevent domestic and sexual violence—to stop it before it ever starts. But what does violence prevention work look like? How do you actually promote healthy relationships? Our friends at the YWCA of Pierce County (Washington) share what they’ve been up to.

“Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Listening to the news while parenting is hard. (OK, let’s be honest, doing anything while parenting is hard!) Typically I avoid listening to the NPR headlines when my kids are in the car because I want to filter out the murder, mayhem, and messiness. For instance, when I realized they were about to talk about the secret service agents in Colombia, I looked 30 seconds into the future and decided I didn’t really want to answer the question, “Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having the tough conversations with my son, but how do you explain prostitution to a 5 year old? Not just the sex part, but the buying another person part. It’s more than a 5 year old needs to think about or worry about right now. (Actually, I don’t really want to think about that either.) It does make me wonder, what if I never had to explain prostitution at all? What if women weren’t treated as commodities to be bought and sold?

Ted Bunch recently asked a very important question: “What if instead of framing our work…as ‘ending violence against women’ we…had the goal of ‘valuing and respecting women and girls’?” Great question and I look forward to answering it alongside all of you. After all, if we valued and respected girls, I wouldn’t have to answer this question for my son and I could spend more time answering his other difficult questions like, “Mama, how do they get the juice in juiceboxes?” (Now you wanna know too? Look here.)

Start talking

Our friends at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence  are doing some incredible work on promoting healthy teen relationships and are featured in an article in THE New York Times!!! I’m thrilled for them and moreover I’m thrilled for the teens (and all of us!) who are benefitting from their work.

Start Strong and other programs dedicated to promoting respectful and loving relationships are all doing something great. And surprisingly easy. They’re starting conversations with young people. We can all do this! And you know what? We all should.

It’s as easy as checking in with the young people you know. Start by asking if they or any of their friends are dating. (Now, I know kids don’t say dating anymore, and dating isn’t the same as when you and I were young…but here’s the scoop – brace yourselves – we’re old. And most likely anything we say that isn’t a word we would typically use to talk about dating will make us sound, well, old. So just go for it. They’ll know what we mean.) Go from there. Ask them what kind of person they’d like to go out with. Or if they are dating, “How’s it going?” “Do you have fun/feel good about yourself when you’re with this person?”

Ultimately just keep the conversation open. Keep checking in. If we all do this, just think of all the opportunities we’ll be opening up for when the first “uh-oh” happens, or even better when the first “OMG, I’m so in love” happens. Either way, let’s start talking.

Penn State

A lot of folks (who don’t normally talk about this sort of thing) are talking about child sexual abuse and all that is going on at Penn State. It is very interesting (and of course, horribly sad and devastating) and I feel like weighing in.

Not about the details but instead about how is it that someone can be “good” (like a great coach and leader for 46 years) AND “bad” (not a great figure of moral authority – yes he did the right thing by reporting it to the athletic director, but he failed all of us and his humanity by not following up once he saw that NOTHING was being done about it and that more kids were put in harm’s way).

It all makes me think of our executive director, Nan Stoops, talking about how “your performance is not who you are”. This is a complicated concept, especially when your performance makes you seem “good” but in reality you may suck at being a stand-up person who takes care of others and has kind of lost touch with your own humanity.

“So, what do you do for a living?”

Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, I get one of these responses:

  1. they look at me real hard to figure out if I am a crazy raging feminist that they need to be afraid of, or
  1. they say, “Wow, good for you,” or “I could never do that,” or “That must be so depressing,” or
  1. they quickly change the subject.

But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe instead of saying that I work to end domestic violence, I should just say, “I’m an optimist.”

Say what?

Domestic violence advocates envision a world where domestic violence doesn’t exist. We really and truly think it doesn’t have to happen. We believe this so much that we continue to enter into relationships ourselves. You’d think after hearing terrible stories day after day, that all of us would swear off relationships. Not so.

I can’t think of anyone that I have ever worked with in nearly 20 years that has said, “You know what, it’s just not possible. It isn’t worth looking.” Nope. Instead advocates help people pick up the pieces and dream of something better. Then they go home and try to do the same for themselves.

What optimism! I love that we envision a just and loving society. I love that while we see the bad and the ugly, we work for the good and the beautiful. I love that our work is moving towards preventing violence, not just supporting survivors. I believe that we can end domestic violence. I really do. I guess I’m an optimist!

-Ilene Stohl, our economic justice & prevention coordinator