Say no to public proposals

olmypics-rings

I loved the Olympics as a kid, and they are still a big deal in my house. My husband is Greek so there’s a lot of “we invented this” pride happening (insert loving eye roll here). But these Olympics have left me deflated. It’s not that there weren’t many AH-MAZE-ING performances and stories. I mean, the US gymnastics team, Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky, the women’s 4X400 relay team, and so many more.

WOW.

So why am I feeling a bit jaded? (That’s a rhetorical question, the answer is sexism). US women were huge winners at the Rio games, and it seemed like no one knew how to properly react. The media were atrocious in their commentary on women athletes—reducing the US women’s gymnastics team to giggly teens at the mall or focusing on athletes’ husbands or marriage proposals instead of their accomplishments.

Seriously, what’s the deal with public proposals? I mean, this one, where a Chinese diver had her Olympic metal moment upstaged by someone who supposedly loves and respects her? And then the media gushed about how getting a ring and this dude was a waaaaaay bigger prize than the silver was?  What a disaster. Even she states in an interview that her feelings about it are “complicated.” Gymnast Ali Raisman got a public proposal for a date while live on a talk show and people thought it was romantic (nope). And there was also a Brazilian rugby player who received a public marriage proposal that even gave me, your local feminist killjoy, some warm fuzzies. But then I promptly had to reevaluate my feelings because public proposals are not good.

We’ve been told over and over (mostly by cheesy movies and TV) that proclaiming your love from the mountaintop is romantic. But the thing about public proposals is that they don’t give the person a real chance to say no. And those who do say no are questioned and criticized. This is coercive behavior and an all too familiar technique used by those who abuse their partners.

I’m not saying that everyone who makes public proposals is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But I am asking that we shift how we think about this. If you are thinking about making a grand public gesture of love, think twice. Do you know how this person feels about public displays of affection? Have you previously talked about the thing you are asking? I love seeing the love, really. I want more love. Love for all! But that means having relationships that are built on respect and space to speak your truth.

My plan for healthy relationships

This week we’re sharing a guest column from Henson Burk Fawcett that was also recently published in Sound Publishing community newspapers.

I am a six-grade Rainier Valley Little League baseball player and an aspiring sports journalist. I am interested in how sports shape people’s lives.

Kids look up to athletes. It’s not news. Everyone knows kids have idolized sports figures for generations. We memorize stats, and trade cards. Kids copy elite athletes. We practice their game day rituals—like pre-game dances, warm up traditions, a certain swing—just to be like the people we adore.

So what happens when athletes commit domestic violence? Does it tell a kid that hurting someone close to you is no big deal? Even okay?

Major League Baseball noticed that the sports world is failing to send the message to athletes and fans that family violence is unacceptable, and they want to do better. The MLB has established a new rule that says if you hurt your girlfriend, partner, or child, it will hurt your career. Recently, a MLB player was suspended for 30 games. It’s a big penalty, taking away 1/5 of a season. And it sends a big message to the players and to the kids too.

Watching sports the past couple years has shown us that being good at your relationships takes as much practice as being good at your game. When the MLB refuses to let any excuses go by, they give all of us a reason to start practicing to do our best on and off the field.

This year for my Bar Mitzvah project, I am talking to over 300 youth about healthy relationships. I am also asking kids to take a stand for positive relationships by running the Goodwill Refuse to Abuse 5K inside Safeco Field. It is a one-of-a-kind 5K through the ball park. I hope you join me at the 5K!

To find the domestic violence program in your community, visit wscadv.org or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

To raise money and awareness for domestic violence prevention, register today for the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field at refusetoabuse5k.org.

It starts with love

Recently I have been recapturing my glory days. Around the time I had two kids under the age of five, my mom asked me how I was doing. While I felt like things were going pretty well―I love my family and my job―I found myself saying, “I am totally happy and grateful and all that jazz but I feel like I am treading water. I don’t know what I’m missing, but I am missing something.” A few days later she called and told that she wanted to buy me a membership at the local tennis club. I hadn’t even picked up a racquet in 15 years! I had all the excuses: I was too busy, it was too expensive, I would be terrible. But she persisted (mother knows best) and encouraged me to do it anyway. Well four years later I have reclaimed my youthful love for tennis (and trophies). As it turns out, it was just what I needed.

Tennis TrophyNow, I don’t spend all my time playing tennis of course. I also spend a lot of time thinking about relationships, and what it takes to make them work. It turns out that everything you ever wanted to learn about relationships, you can learn from tennis:

In tennis love means nothing (actually zero). It’s not that love isn’t important, it’s that that is the starting point for everything else. If you want to play, you’ve got to start with love.

Tennis is a sport where you have to actually win (or lose) the final point. Time doesn’t run out―you keep playing until it’s over. That means you have to be committed. You can’t just wait it out, you have to engage.

In tennis, you always have a chance to come back. Because time never runs out, you’ve always got a chance to make things right. You can start doing things differently. If your groundstrokes from the baseline aren’t working, come to the net more. If your powerful returns aren’t getting you going, try lobbing. Just like in relationships you can try something new/different.

Tennis is fun. Or it should be. If you’re not enjoying yourself, take a deep breath and remember what you love about it and try again. Relationships are the same deal. If you’re not feeling good about things, pause and remember the good stuff and see if you can get back there. And if you can’t, it’s ok to lay down your racquet and play another day.

I love what I’ve learned from tennis and am so appreciative that I have come back to it. It has reminded me of who I am (and want to be) at my core―a powerful woman who starts with love in everything I do.

Football gets it right

Mizzou-logoThis Saturday, I’ll be cheering for the Mizzou Tigers. The entire team will take the field to play a game that might not have happened. Earlier this week, 30 players said they would not play. Thirty players who supported the growing unrest on campus in the wake of the administration’s refusal to address racism and anti-Semitism throughout the University of Missouri system. Thirty players who were concerned about a fellow student’s hunger strike. Thirty players who said: We love the game, but at the end of the day, it’s just that—a game.

They knew that the Board of Curators, alumni, and team boosters would not sit still for a forfeiture loss of $1 million dollars. They knew that nearby Ferguson was not random. And they took a stand. The next day, University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe resigned, and the Columbia campus chancellor quickly followed. The Board of Curators has vowed to take immediate steps to interrupt patterns of hatred and violence that have disrupted the school since it was desegregated in 1950.

NFL players should take note. If you care about injustice in your community, take a Sunday or a Monday or a Thursday off. If you’re sick of the violence—racial violence, gender violence, anti-immigrant violence, etc.—boycott your own game. Maybe your coaches will support you. And maybe your fans will too. I know I will.

Winning big

Last week I sat in a living room with ten of my friends, blinds drawn and snacks in hand, as I watched the USA Women’s Soccer team compete in the World Cup final. I didn’t even get the chance to nervously bite one fingernail before the USA scored their first goal in minute four. By the end we were jumping up and down, tears in our eyes, as we took the trophy.

Here are the three things that made me happiest about this win:

  1. People came together to support and cheer on women for their talent, team work, and mad skills! It was the most watched soccer game (men’s and women’s) in U.S. history. Millions watched the game, more than the NBA finals and last year’s World Series.
  2. Then we found out they made 40 times less than the men’s World Cup team (and they didn’t even win). Obviously, this is not a win. But what makes me happy is that it is an undeniable example that the pay gap is real. And if you think that’s unfair, you can do something about it.
  3. Images of the team in the media challenged stereotypes of women as catty, shallow, and competitive. These women are successful, strong, and supportive of each other.

I grew up playing soccer. It was a space where I could forget the everyday messages around what my body should look like, and what a woman should be. It taught me how to be strong and confident, how to trust myself and others, and to work as a team. So I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to this win. I know we have a long way to go, but these wins inspire me to keep working toward gender equality.

I just can’t even…

Today I saw the story of a woman who was shot and killed by her (recently) ex-husband who is a police officer. And I got angry and started to write about how leaving an abusive relationship can be the most dangerous time, and about how the news reports didn’t even call this domestic violence. I started to write about how this murderer’s fellow officers saw the whole awful scene take place and waited it out for 30 minutes, so they could end this situation without using deadly force despite the fact that he was yelling and brandishing his gun. I probably don’t need to tell you that he is white. But as I wrote, I got so depressed about the amount of work we need to do to end the violence. Sometimes it’s hard to stay hopeful.

So I just can’t write that post today. Instead I’m going to tell you how excited I am about a 5K run. (For those of you who know me, you can pick yourself up off the floor. I still only run if being chased and occasionally for the bus).

For the 4th year, WSCADV in partnership with the Seattle Mariners is hosting a 5K run/walk at Safeco Field. Yes, it’s a fundraiser. But it’s really turned out to be so much more. Over a thousand people come together on one day—some because they love to run, some because they have a personal connection to the issue—to have fun and rally for healthy relationships. How great is that?! One runner said “By far the most fun event all year!” See? Working to change this culture of violence doesn’t have to be depressing. I am excited because the hope that springs from the Goodwill Refuse To Abuse 5K at Safeco Field will refuel me. It will inspire others. Bringing people together to have fun and talk about healthy relationships is a great way to carry on the conversations that we want—no need—to be having to change the culture of violence.

From the Supreme Court to the WNBA

ruthshirtLast week I was eagerly anticipating the gay marriage arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. I even bought this shirt because I’m a big nerd who could listen to Nina Totenberg on NPR recount Supreme Court arguments all day long and I’m a big fan of justice. But when I went to check my news feed, I saw the news of the domestic violence arrests of engaged WNBA stars Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson instead.

I know that abuse happens at the same rate in same-sex relationships as it does in opposite-sex ones, but some folks are thrown off by this. The media had a hard time figuring out how to talk about it. ESPN reporters published their email chain debating how to cover it: How could they report on this in a way that holds the abusive partner accountable and calls for the WNBA to treat this as seriously as other sports leagues have recently promised to do, without feeding into the myth that women are just as abusive as men? Yeah, they didn’t come up with an answer either.

Here’s the thing—power and domination over others is a part of our culture and it rears its ugly head in a lot of different places. We are seeing it in the police brutality in Baltimore and around the country, in the wage gap between races and genders, and in the anti-LGBT backlash to marriage equality. With all this institutional violence it’s no wonder we see abuse in personal relationships as well. Straight or gay, it happens. Not exactly the kind of equality I was hoping for, but one we must recognize and address.

Striving to improve personal behavior is not the only work to be done to end violence in relationships. We have to work on institutional violence as well.

Make the play count

We bring you this post from Karin White, Deputy Director at the YWCA Pierce County.

I got my first Seahawks jersey in 1976 when the team was franchised. While I’ve never been the biggest football fan there is, I have always followed the Hawks, through the good and the bad. So of course it was a disappointing finish to this year’s Superbowl to see them come so close and miss the win.

However, the loss to the Patriots was not my biggest disappointment on Sunday. As a person who has worked on behalf of domestic violence survivors for the last 15 years, my real disappointment was with the NFL’s first ever Super Bowl domestic violence ad. The NFL doesn’t have any more or less of a domestic violence problem than the country as a whole, but they have a lot more visibility and their players are often cast as ultra-male role models.

The reason the NFL’s PSA disappointed me is that it was yet another depiction of the consequences of violence after it occurs. Sensationalized violence is a deeply entrenched mechanism of our culture, and I would’ve liked to see something more innovative out of this ad. Depicting violence is what our culture and our media outlets are very, very good at; it’s also a big part of the problem that leads to the current epidemic of domestic violence. Violence is normalized to the point of seeming inevitable. Wouldn’t it be great to see something about how to prevent violence?

Happily, there were two ads that ran during the game that did get it right, and whether their producers knew it or not, they were sending messages that help prevent domestic violence. The first ad was for Toyota, and featured a father who lovingly raises his daughter to be independent and empowered to make her own choices. The support he gives is coupled with a healthy display of emotions, and the overall scene depicts both healthy parenting and healthy masculinity. If these two things were more normalized in our culture, more visible and more valued, we would see a reduction in domestic violence.

The second ad comes from Procter & Gamble, and is actually part of a larger project, #LikeAGirl. This ad posed the question: Since when is doing something like a girl an insult? This question is important, because it sheds light on the other deeply entrenched part of our culture, which is that when boys and men are told that they are doing anything like a “girl,” it is synonymous with doing it in some lesser fashion; weaker, slower, sloppier. Really, less “manly” and therefore insulting. It also reinforces and normalizes girls and women as actually less-than, which makes for the right attitudes and conditions for violence against them to flourish.

Both these advertisers seem to get that (a) there are a lot of women watching football these days, and (b) positive examples are appealing. These companies paid a very large amount of money to put forward messages about healthy parenting, positive expressions of male emotion, and the importance of creating conditions in which being female is valued. I wish the ad that set out to address domestic violence had opted for this more positive and innovative approach. Instead it was intercepted by yet another focus on violence. Flag on the play. Repeat the down.

No more. Do more.

Living near Seattle is an absolute trial for someone as indifferent to football as I am. Before this past summer, I had never heard of Ray Rice and I didn’t know Baltimore had a football team. But suddenly I know these things. I would not ordinarily consider commenting on football, but knowing absolutely nothing about domestic violence has not stopped sports commentators from weighing in.

Contrary to what you might expect, I am not a fan of player suspensions for the same reason that I am not a big fan of the criminal justice system. Ejecting people from sports or from our communities and throwing them away in prisons doesn’t actually work that well. Ask a bunch of survivors if you don’t believe me.

How about turning these non-consequential consequences on their heads? Rather than throwing people away, how about we try the opposite: pulling them closer?

Instead of suspending players, put them into “suspended animation” that looks something like this:

  1. Take away their salaries and send the money to organizations that work to counter the wrong they’ve committed.
  2. Have the player sit on the bench at each game during their suspended animation wearing a T-shirt that reads “I’m sitting here thinking about why I’m not in the game.”
  3. When the player has a clear idea about what they did wrong, allow them to call their entire team to hear them out. The team’s job, to a man, is to fire up and fine tune their bullsh*t meter and judge what the player has to say.
  4. No matter how long it takes, the team keeps the player on the team (and among them) and only when the entire team’s meters fall into the “I believe you really get the wrong you did” zone, can the player be reinstated.

I floated this idea to some people who responded, essentially: “Yeah, right. Teams will just close ranks, slap a lot of backs, and let the dude off because it could be them tomorrow. Even if all the bullsh*t meters are smoking from being so far into the crap zone, the guy will be playing the very next week.”

I was disappointed by how little faith my friends had in men’s ability to step up. That is, men’s willingness to hold one another accountable with real integrity. The bar for men’s involvement in ending  violence against women has been so low for so long that we’ve practically given up on the idea.

But that has got to change. I felt vindicated by the ads that the NFL aired on Thanksgiving. They actually showed some men (who I assume are well-known football players) in full screen looking not just uncomfortable, but positively vulnerable.

So okay then. Men have raised the bar a half inch. After the football season’s over, will more men step up and help build and maintain momentum here?

Men, thanks for supporting No More. Now do more.