I don’t know whether Julian Assange raped anybody. But the charges against him are serious. Assange is accused of refusing to stop sex when one woman told him to, pinning her down with his body. He is accused of having sex with another woman while she was sleeping. Should he get a pass because he is a political target?
We all know these charges would never be pursued without the U.S. vendetta against WikiLeaks. But attacking the women who say Assange raped them doesn’t advance free speech. Far from it. The misogynist blustering manages to distract from the important debate about democracy, state secrets, and the limits of journalism — and empower rapists at the same time.
What does it take to feel secure? I wondered about this as I read about the new TSA body scans. As impossible as it seems to figure out how to keep millions of travelers safe, planning for the safety of one can be just as challenging. Women who’ve been abused are faced with this all the time. No one can build them a wall tall enough to keep out a persistent abuser or a machine to screen potential boyfriends for bad tendencies.
Really, what makes us feel secure? I think it is our community of friends and acquaintances. In my community, there is someone I can call any time day or night. Someone who would bring me a pot of soup without asking. And, if they haven’t seen me in a while, someone who would knock on my door.I don’t have to rely on any one person. I have a whole network of people I can count on,and that makes me feel secure.
I think the reason people are upset about the TSA approach is that, in their gut, they realize it isn’t going to make us safer. But is there anything that can? Actually, other safety experts around the world have developed flexible approaches that prioritize engaging with each individual.
People often ask me how they can help someone who is being abused. It’s not so easy — we can’t rely on an automated program or a machine to deal with coercive or violent people. But we can start by being a part of a network of friends paying attention. We can help her feel secure by listening to what she says. And we can make our approach nuanced in a way that the TSA is missing.
I cried at work this week. More than once. It’s something I don’t often do. Like so many of us, I’ve learned to become desensitized, detached even, to the horrific tales of suffering that I hear. But then I met Claire.
Claire has five kids between 6 months and 16 years. She was a teenage mom and has suffered abuse her whole life. She’s had to go on welfare several times since she was a teen on her own. Now it looks like she’s about to lose this safety net no matter how bad things get.
In Washington, you will soon get cut off of welfare if you’ve been on for a total of 5 years. Losing these benefits is about to be a new reality for many struggling families and is a direct result of our state’s budget crisis.
I could tell you more sad and horrible details about Claire’s life in an effort to convince you that what’s happened to her is not her fault. But I think you’ve heard stories like this before. I remember what it was like for me before I started this work. When I heard about an awful situation I thought “I must not know all the facts. They might have made bad choices.”
After years of working with people living in poverty, I now know that there is not always the opportunity to grab those bootstraps and pull your way out. Meeting Claire hammered this home for me once again.
Claire has worked harder in her life than I will ever have to. She’s surely made a few mistakes, but haven’t we all? She has also done a lot of things right. So it makes me angry that in this country, where we have so much, she should get so little for all her efforts.
I am asking you to change your perception of people on welfare. It’s supposed to be a safety net when a person falls on hard times, but over the past 14 years this net has been neglected and cut to the point where it’s not very reliable anymore. Welfare is not a dirty word and it should be there to catch us if we fall.
I live in a really social neighborhood where I chat with lots of people who live around me. Recently, I was talking to one of my neighbors about relationships. It was a normal conversation about the challenges of dating, and sorting through the choices that we make. Then he told me that he was once convicted of domestic violence assault.
To be honest, I had a moment of panic. What was I going to say? As he talked about going through batterer’s intervention, how much he learned, and how different he is in his current relationship, I was thinking: Has this man really changed? Is his current girlfriend safe? Is he manipulating the story to glorify himself?
According to the etiquette of conversation, I had to say something after he stopped talking even though I had doubts, questions, and yes, even a bit of fear. I thanked him for the disclosure, acknowledged his journey, and continued to openly talk to him about relationships.
By virtue of my work, I know how to respond to people who disclose that they have been abused. But what I learned from this conversation is that I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they’ve been abusive. My first instinct was to question this man’s intentions and his behavior, but then I realized that I want to be able to talk with anyone about how to be in a good, loving, happy relationship.
I have decided to believe that my neighbor understands what he did and is making an effort to be a better person. After all, won’t he need a community of people who can support him in his present while knowing his past?
My little friend Jacob hopped into my car the day after Halloween, still wearing his bat costume, and asked: “What’s the biggest bat?” It just so happens that my next door neighbor Greg Falxa is a bat researcher. After he told us about the Flying Fox, Jacob still wanted more details. Where did we turn? Wikipedia, of course. If you dare, check it out. No worries, they eat fruit.
I then unearthed the frightening fact that this Wiki article got (hold onto your hats) 94,632 hits during the 31 days of October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I have been working for 30 years to educate the public about domestic violence and have not come within a light year of talking to that many people. How do your efforts at public awareness match up against the near 95,000 high school and college students and miscellaneous others being spoon fed this out-of-date and unintelligible misinformation about domestic violence?
This is a call to researchers and others with a talent for accurate and engaging prose. Put your money where your brains are. Make it your mission to upgrade the article to be at least as interesting and accurate as the article on bats!
It’s a week after mid-term elections, and I have to say I’m still feeling the sting. Facing a colossal gap in our state’s budget, our ballot was filled with strategies to bring in some new money. Voters said no. Now our state and local governments will have to make devastating cuts to critical services.
I’ve always thought of taxes as a good thing – membership dues I gladly pay in exchange for a vast array of services (running water, meat I’m not afraid to eat, civil rights, cancer research, and so on). But others hold a different view, and now we shall see what happens when government must do less with less.
My thoughts naturally turn to my own work. And not just selfish ruminations about whether or not I’ll still have a job (though as the mother of a child with many special needs, income and health insurance are indeed big concerns). Rather, I worry – and wonder – what will become of the work: the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Over the last few decades, our government has increasingly funded efforts to support victims and stop abuse and rape. I am proud that we the people have invested tax dollars in what used to be considered a private problem.
But now the variables have changed again. Our great radical experiment to create a world of loving and equitable relationships will need some new strategies. We the people can no longer rely as much on our government to take care of this for us. So what happens now?
A new children’s book, My Princess Boy, tells the story of 5-year-old Dyson Kilodavis – a Seattle boy who loves dressing up in pretty, sparkly dresses – and his family’s support for him to be himself. A video of the Kilodavis family’s appearance on a local talk show has been viewed over 100,000 times. What Dyson’s family is doing is so simple, yet it has clearly touched a nerve.
Kids do all kinds of funny things, but when boys cross gender lines, adults get anxious. Why? Sometimes it comes from a homophobic fear that a boy who wears princess dresses will grow up to be gay. Sometimes they’re just worried that he’ll be rejected by peers and targeted by bullies.
I think we should worry more that when we pressure boys to reject “girl things” it sets them up to feel ashamed of important parts of themselves – the sweet, the expressive, the magical. Michael Kaufman argues compellingly that societal pressure on men to conform to “expectations of masculinity” contributes to men’s violence against women and homophobic violence.
I have four young sons who like baseball and racecars and mud. They also like tight sparkly jeans, pink cowboy boots, and tutus. They like the things that make them happy not because they are “boy things” or “girl things” but because they are fancy, or fun, or (in the case of the glitter jeans) “sooo rock and roll”. I want them to know that the sparkly things in life are not off limits to them now or ever. Boys need adults’ permission to like what they like, and they need to see grown men who embrace beauty and sweetness.
Even though he liked the pull ups labeled “GIRLS”, my 3 year old was suspicious: “Are these for girls?” he wanted to know. I told him, “Well…they’re for anybody who likes butterflies. And rainbows. And pink.” Relieved, he shouted “Oh good! I like butterflies!”
After reading last week’s post, I took the call to action and talked to my 13-year old twins about bullying. Because of my work, we’ve had lots of chats about violence in families. But we hadn’t yet talked about how kids treat each other at school.
I asked if they say anything when kids call someone “gay” or “faggot.” Turns out they might – if it’s directed at one of their friends. But more often they don’t, because they’re scared and don’t know what to say. Their school has an anti-bullying curriculum, but it hasn’t given any concrete answers to their questions: “What can I do?” “What if they start saying those mean things to me?”
They deserve answers. I can’t be the only adult in their life having this conversation with them. I want their school more involved. I want their teachers to have strategies for integrating bullying prevention into daily school life and I want them to answer those tough questions. I want my kids to learn, as the poet Audre Lorde said “Your silence will not protect you.”
After I talked to my kids I felt discouraged. But then I found that a local organization has become a national expert on this. Did you know The Safe Schools Coalition will intervene on behalf of individual students? And they have great practical advice for kids and teachers. I encourage you to print one of these out and give it to a kid or teacher you know. I did.
The recent rash of LBTG youth suicides make it clear that we have to change how we treat one another. Like domestic and sexual violence, this kind of bullying sends the message that control, manipulation, and violence are tools that get you what you want. And we have to stop it.
The “It Gets Better” Project lets LBTG adults who have survived bullying tell young people that things will get better. But is this enough? Or do we need to change the conditions that allow this to happen in the first place?
I’ve been thinking about the bystanders who witness bullying and choose to ignore it (maybe you’re glad it’s not you today) or participate (maybe you laugh or repost that degrading message). And what about the adults who think that this is just part of youth culture? What are they really saying by not speaking up?
I know there are complicated reasons for why bystanders do what they do, whether it’s fear for their own safety or not knowing how to respond. But the kind of violence that LBTG and other youth often endure should not be a rite of passage.
So, it may get better. And yes, we get stronger. But the question really is: How can we start making it better today? Let’s speak up against bullying – and support those who already do – so that we can create communities where any kind of violence is unacceptable.
My job involves studying domestic violence homicides. So it’s no surprise that I’m against violent images in music videos. And when stars wear outrageous clothing to get more attention, I am even less interested in the politics of their fame.
Lady Gaga does both these things. But I’m inspired by how she uses her popularity for social and political activism, like taking a stand against SB1070 and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
So how do I reconcile all this? Or should I even try? A coworker told me that to her, Lady Gaga “embodies the complexity of the human experience. She makes me realize that we can’t look at what she is doing in a binary way.”
Maybe we should take this as an opportunity to re-think our views on feminism? And maybe the outrageousness of Lady Gaga’s videos is a brilliant way of challenging our societal norms around sexuality, power and violence?
While I think about Lady Gaga’s choices and messages, I think I’ll listen to (not watch) “Just Dance.”