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.”

I love football

The Super Bowl has come and gone. But it’s left me thinking about masculinity and violence. Don’t assume I’m just another woman trying to rain on the manly mans’ celebration of blood, sweat and crunchy helmets. I love football. Seriously. I miss the Sunday afternoons on the couch, hollering at the TV, rooting for my team.

You know what else I love? Peaceful homes and couples who treat each other with kindness.

Now, I know the Super Bowl doesn’t cause domestic violence. Abuse happens every day, regardless of a football game. However, I do think that abuse in relationships can be linked to the qualities that we value in men in this country. Jackson Katz talks about this in his commentary on Ben Roethlisberger. Acting tough and treating women poorly is usually the best way to avoid being labeled weak or called some, um, colorful feminizing insult (as if being compared to a woman is the most terrible thing for a man).

After the Super Bowl, the director of a violence prevention organization in Iowa received death threats, death threats, just for running this ad suggesting that we can prevent violence by raising our boys differently. Let’s just dwell for a second on the irony here.

How about we make it perfectly normal for men to be kind, gentle and respectful? These qualities are not exclusive to women and we should value them more than aggression and brute force. There’s a great place for all that to stay — on the football field.

Matchmaking for Dummies

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Have you noticed how much social pressure there is to be in a relationship and, if you are, the expectation to be romantic? For me, the pressure comes from various self-proclaimed matchmakers who regularly ask the question, “Ankita, why don’t you just get married?”

My mother wants me to get married because it’s time for me to ‘settle down.’ Friends of my family want me to get married because they know a successful Indian man who is looking for a ‘family-oriented girl.’ My attorney informs me that marriage is the best and easiest way to obtain citizenship in the United States.

None of these pass the laugh test, let alone provide a good reason for me to get married.

But I do wonder why no one is:

  • asking me what I want, or what I am looking for in a relationship;
  • coaching me on the skills I need for a great relationship – voicing my needs, negotiating compromises, respecting one another’s autonomy;
  • assuring me that it is all right for me to set my own expectations?

In communities where parents and extended family have a lot of input into marriage decisions, young women like me are often advised more than they are listened to. And that can lead to unhappy – even violent – relationships.

To my self-proclaimed matchmakers: I challenge you to ask, coach, and assure me. This will help me lead a healthy, full life, whether I am in a relationship or not.

Party time!!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this winter. I find myself being inordinately happy – laughing out loud. Sometimes at myself and (full disclosure) sometimes at you too. We can be a grim lot in our movement, wouldn’t you say? Seems like it’s against the rules to celebrate.

Case in point. We just had a great victory. When the brand new Congressional leadership started the session with a bill to try to force us back into a little box by redefining rape, we raised the roof with an outcry.  Shaming them until they backed down.

Take one minute – that’s 60 full seconds – to feel your power.

That, my dears, is the taste of liberation!

Thank you Nick Baumann and Linda Feldmann for your outstanding reporting and follow up on this. Thank you Jon Stewart for your brilliant satire.

Thanks to everyone who

  • posted a link to info on Facebook or email,
  • talked about it with friends,
  • contacted one of the co-signers on the bill.

That was fun!

Someone. Turn up the music! It’s party time!!

Advocacy for rookies

A few weeks ago, our final fatality review report pointed out that most people victims turned to for help did not refer them to a domestic violence advocate.

We know that advocacy saves lives.

We also know that domestic violence programs cannot keep up with the demand for services.

And we know that people turn to family and friends long before they seek help from professionals.

As Traci said earlier, we’re all counting on YOU.

If that makes you nervous – never fear. I just finished teaching at our 3-day Advocacy for Rookies training. It was heartening to learn that many of the attendees have no intention of getting a job as an advocate. They came to the training because they know that anyone can be a critical, life-saving source of support. Here’s how:

1.      LISTEN. Really listen. What is she saying she needs? What does she think will help? (Note: Hear what she is really saying, not what you think she should be saying. For many people, the goal is to end the abuse, not necessarily to end the relationship.)

2.      LEARN. Do a little research on her behalf. Call your local domestic violence program and find out what they offer. And there’s tons of great info online. You can read up on legal and economic options. Get the scoop on housing and employment issues. See what the laws and policy manuals say.

3.      LOOK AHEAD. Talk with her about long-term plans for coping with the abuse. Help her think through the pros and cons of different options and anticipate how the abuser might react. That’s called safety planning.

4.      LEVERAGE. Give her whatever help you can: a ride somewhere, free babysitting, some cash. And use your influence to let the abuser know that controlling and violent behavior is unacceptable.

5.      LOVE. Have compassion. See the victim’s (and abuser’s) full humanness. Be patient and humble – this stuff is complicated. We are all responsible for each other. Love is the antidote.

A Lot Like You

Needing a break after over a decade of working against rape and domestic violence, Eli Kimaro quit her job, took a filmmaking class, and set off to Mount Kilimanjaro to film a documentary about her father’s Chagga tribe. Raised in the U.S. by her Tanzanian father and Korean mother, Eli’s ambitious project was motivated by her struggle to integrate her own complex cultural identity.

After months of filming, the footage she envisioned – village rituals, folk dances – eluded her. Instead, when Eli asked her aunts to tell her about their marriage ceremonies, they told her stories filled with brutal violence. She had no idea this was part of her family’s history – yet it resonated deeply with her own experience as a survivor of violence and advocate for other survivors.

The film that has emerged, A Lot Like You, weaves together big themes – exile and return, multicultural identity, violence against women – all told from an intimate point of view. For me, the film is a powerful reminder that when you scratch the surface of any story – from the tale of an entire culture to your own family’s history – you find stories of women’s suffering and survival. Some are hidden; some are known but not spoken; some have been repackaged as tall tales or family jokes. My family has these stories. I doubt I know one who doesn’t.

A Lot Like You raises questions for all of us – How does violence shape our sense of who we are? When we tell stories that have been silenced does that strengthen or threaten our family bonds? And what stories will we leave as our legacy for the next generation?