Dads

It’s ironic with Mother’s Day just around the corner, the topic of our blog for last week and this is dads.

Our fathers were the subject of lunch conversation yesterday as three of us regaled one another with tales of our bad dads.

To put it bluntly, they were all jerks. All three drug or alcohol addicts. All verbally or physically abusive to our mothers, and to us. Two of the three died young. Evidently stumbling through life inflicting and suffering pain is bad for your health.

Years after she was grown and gone from the house, one of my co-workers was arguing with her dad about how messed up he was when she was growing up. At one point he defended himself with “well, I never sexually abused you.”

The three of us erupted in shrieks of laughter. That’s setting the bar a little on the low side wouldn’t you say?

Still, as much as our dads were big jerks, they were also smart, funny, hard-working, resourceful. Each of our dads encouraged us, in ways no other man ever would, to try scary things and be successful. Yes, father/daughter land is a maze.

Back at my desk I was left wondering, have we gone down the wrong road to end violence against women and children by thinking we could somehow shove out or wall off all the bad dads? The truth is, even after they die, they still exert an influence. How do we help one another sort this out?

What if this was your son?

“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.”

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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?

Battle vs. Love

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?

What leads to radicalization?

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.

I care, we care, healthcare!

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.

Gamers’ paradise: “Prepare for unseen consequences!” *

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

“But mom, don’t you want your son to protect you?” said my friend’s seven-year-old when she told him no more video games for the night. “With your controller?!” was my friend’s response.

Compared to this boy, I have a much simpler life – one with no TV and no gaming system. So naturally, when I recently saw a male friend playing Halo 3, I was not only appalled at the intense graphics and use of violence, but I actually wanted to flee the room.

I am clearly not a gaming expert. But my strong reaction to Halo made me wonder about my friend’s son and what he is being exposed to. How are these video games impacting young men? How are they undermining the conversations I am having about violence against women?

Look, I don’t think video games are simply good or bad. I have male friends who are brilliant, kind, and sensitive, and play video games that are violent, just as I know people who never play video games, but are real pieces of work.

I will never be a fan of these games. When I spend my days studying domestic violence homicides, it’s hard to imagine playing a game about killing others for entertainment. But what I really want to know is what your take is on violent video games, like Halo, and how (or if) you think it impacts violence against women?

*“Prepare for unseen consequences!”

Baseball season is almost here!

I would like to propose a toast.

Please raise your double mocha cappuccino latte delight to

our

very

own

Seattle Mariners!!!!!

Wait, wait, wait.

Even if you are not a baseball fan, hold onto your cup.

The Mariners are doing something that no other professional men’s team in America is doing. Taking on men’s violence against women. For years now the team has supported Refuse To Abuse™ with powerful messages about respect for women.

If we are serious about ending violence, then we can’t hope for a better platform to preach from than professional sports. Think about it. All those high-profile men who have harmed women. Even if you have never watched a sporting event in your life, you can name these infamous guys. Basketball, boxing, football… oh yes, and baseball.

Even as the Mariners call for respect for women, their roster includes Josh Lueke and Milton Bradley. They stammer through press statements about employing these men. The public and the media raise a stink. This, my friends, is progress!

But here’s even more good news: after the Lueke uproar, the Mariners could have walked away from Refuse To Abuse™ and gone back to ignoring violence against women like other teams do. But they didn’t. They are staying committed and working to figure out how to do this right. That’s integrity.

Lovers of baseball, let the Mariners know you appreciate their commitment to Refuse To Abuse™. If you are a fan of another team, get up off your couch and let your team know you want something as good as what we have going on here in Seattle.

Thank you Mariners. I am so proud of you. Now, get out there and play this great game well.

Cheers!

Who’s losing if Charlie is winning?

No you can't be Charlie Sheen for Halloween!
Steve Breen for the San Diego Union-Tribune

I can’t believe it took an 8.9 magnitude earthquake to shake us out of our bizarre fascination with Charlie Sheen.

I don’t want to be yet another person talking about him. But as Jacob Weisberg said, “while I am not much interested in celebrities, I am extremely interested in why other people are so interested in them.”

Suffice it to say that I’m not a fan of the way he’s treated women over the years. But as the media frenzy has unfolded over the last few weeks, I’ve become especially alarmed to see folks within my circle of friends showing admiration for him – rooting for him like he’s some kind of underdog and proudly wallpapering their cell phones with him.

It has forced me to ponder: What is up with us? Why are we so attracted to someone like Charlie Sheen?

Maybe we’re vicariously enjoying his self-indulgent disregard for all the usual rules and boundaries that constrain our lives. And I’m not saying  it’s wrong to hedonistically pursue one’s own interests. But as blogger Melissa McEwan often states, “my rights end where yours begin.”  You can buck the establishment and carve out your own path without being callous, arrogant, and abusive towards women.

So what does it say about us that we give him so much attention? And what messages are we giving young people about which behaviors get rewarded? If Charlie Sheen is winning, then he’s right: the rest of us are losing.

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In honor of 100 years of organizing for peace, economic justice, and women’s empowerment, check out these links to learn about innovative and inspiring activism happening around the globe right now.

Maiti Nepal works with girls and women in Nepal who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced prostitution. Their work includes teaching girls about trafficking so that they can avoid being tricked or lured in.

Chouchou Namegabe risked her life to broadcast the testimonies of women who had been raped by militia men in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The organization she co-founded — South Kivu Women’s Media Association — uses media to empower women and fight sexual violence.

No One Is Illegal is campaigning to change the Canadian government’s policy that allows immigration enforcement agents to enter shelters for women fleeing violence to detain and deport undocumented survivors.

And have you seen The Girl Effect video? It is a compelling vision of how investing in education for girls living in poverty can give them the tools to improve the health and well being of entire communities.

What has inspired you lately?  Share more links here. Get inspired. Spread the word. Join the movement.

Egyptian women demand a voice

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak resigns and headlines blare –“This is what freedom sounds like,” “People win” and “Egypt will never be the same.”  Together, courageous women and men forced radical change. Yet, incredibly, some things remain the same. As the Egyptian people work to build a new government, women have not been invited to the table.

There are no women representatives in the Constitutional Committee that has been formed to prepare for free elections. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights just released a statement protesting the exclusion of women experts.

Why aren’t women included? For that matter, why can’t they walk down the street without being disrespected? A 2008 poll found that 83% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. Nihal Elwan, an Egyptian who has worked on social development in the Middle East, describes the daily reality of most Egyptian women: “whether you’re rich, poor, you take public transportation, … you’re doing your shopping, whatever social class you’re from, you’re bound to get sexually harassed.”

The way I see it, both of these issues have the same cure – and it’s also at the root of my work. We have to support women’s right to self-determination. Only then will they be allowed to participate in their government, walk safely down the street, and have relationships free of violence.

Can the end of a dictatorship also lead to revolutionary change in the lives of Egyptian women? I am reminded of the words of Abigail Adams, in 1776 “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”