Shifting culture

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ll be blogging all month about what it takes to end domestic violence. It is our view (at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) that to prevent violence we need to:

Address root causes of violence, Shift culture, Build Skills, Promote healthy relationships

 

Last week I wrote about root causes. This week let’s look at shifting culture. How do we do that?

Ultimately we want to challenge our communities to reject all types of violence while at the same time expecting that all people will be treated with respect in their relationships. I know it sounds a little “pie in the sky.” But in our everyday lives, there are simple things we can do to shift culture:

  • Instead of asking, “Why don’t victims just leave?” we could ask, “What can we do to stop abusers from being violent and controlling?”
  • Instead of telling women how not to get raped, we could point out that only rapists can prevent rape.
  • Instead of saying, “I can’t imagine he would do such a thing, he’s so nice,” we could say, “What must it have been like to be with him behind closed doors? Let’s ask her.”
  • Instead of telling little girls, “He must really like you if he hit you,” we could say “Violence is never a way to show love.”
  • Instead of asking what someone did to set someone off, we say, “You didn’t deserve that, how can I help?”
  • Instead of throwing our hands up in the air over teenagers’ relationships, let’s dive in and ask them how it’s going.
  • Instead of thinking that domestic violence is inevitable, we can embrace our huge capacity for love and compassion and learn to Love Like This.

All of these seem doable to me. They aren’t “pie in the sky”—they are right there in front of us, like pie on our plates! Can you commit to making a culture shift this month? Let’s try it and move forward. Together we can end domestic violence!

dvam

When someone you love does horrible things

Bill_Cosby_(2010)Like most children of the 80s, I grew up with Bill Cosby. I loved Fat Albert and Picture Pages. I adored The Cosby Show and sometimes wished I were a part of that family. I probably identified most with Vanessa, but I always wished I were more like Denise, cool and rebellious. I also grew up with family members who were racist, and I’m quite sure that Cosby played a part in me rejecting that racism. It’s not a stretch to say that he helped change the way white Americans viewed black Americans (though that in itself was also problematic).

Those who know me would say that I never lack for an opinion and I frequently talk about various issues of the day that have me all riled up. But I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet about this latest airing of Cosby’s dirty sexual assault laundry.

It’s not that I don’t believe the accusations. I do. Rather, I find myself overwhelmed with sadness and anger in a way that I wasn’t expecting. No one close to me has committed violence (that I’m aware of) so this is the first time I’ve had to face the reality that someone I’m fond of could do terrible things. My thoughts of Bill Cosby are inextricably entwined with laughter and warmth and love…and now also with betrayal and anger and hurt. It’s hard to know how to talk about that.

It helps me understand how people can be in denial about abusers. That doesn’t mean that the denial is acceptable, but I think I now have more compassion for the people who defend abusers or refuse to believe it. No one wants to believe that someone we love or respect is capable of such things. It’s too awful to accept, too painful. I understand that, and I also know we have to move past that and start holding abusers accountable.

In this situation, with a far-removed celebrity, there’s not much I can personally do, other than using it as a way to talk about the issues of sexual assault, a sexist culture that refuses to believe women, and the power of fame and fortune to override justice. But if and when it hits closer to home, I hope I move quickly through my instinct to deny and instead focus on what matters: believing and supporting survivors, seeking justice, and creating change.

Culture of violence

NFL headquarters
NFL headquarters

Two years before Ray Rice pushed the league’s “domestic violence problem” into the headlines, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell testified to a Congressional committee: “We are changing the culture of our game for the better.” He wasn’t talking about the culture in which officials brushed off “hundreds and hundreds” of reports of domestic violence assaults by its players—that would come later. Back then, the league was under fire after decades of dismissing the evidence that one in three players suffer long-term cognitive impairment caused by on-the-job brain injuries.

The NFL’s tolerance for its players’ brutality off the field goes hand in hand with indifference to the damage they suffer from violence on the field. Both have been blamed on football’s “culture of violence.”  But ultimately these are business decisions, driven by capitalism more than culture. The spectacle of hyper-masculinity is just another product, manufactured and marketed at enormous profit.

For many players, their assaults against women were covered up by high school and college teams on the route to being excused by the NFL. From Washington to Florida State, university officials are just as invested as NFL executives in protecting their players from accountability, and for the same reason: so as not to hamper the economic engine driving universities, towns, and a professional sports industry.

What is the cost to athletes themselves of being the fuel in that engine? Attention to the few superstars who land multi-million dollar contracts overshadows the far more common story: disproportionately Black and Brown young men, who never see any share of the profit that is extracted from their talent and their bodies. Any serious reform effort has to pay attention to the exploitation of those young men by the same system that colludes with their violence.

Domonique Foxworth, a former cornerback who fought for more safety protections as head of the NFL players’ union, reflects on the physical and economic price college athletes pay to play, the trap of being celebrated for embodying a certain masculine ideal loaded with racist baggage, and how the stage is set for relationships with women infused with resentment and contempt.

Whether motivated by brand rehabilitation or sudden moral clarity, the NFL has hired a team of consultants to advise them on cleaning up their atrocious response to domestic violence. We have yet to see whether advocates can leverage the moment into an opportunity for change deep enough to matter.

Stop telling me to smile

Over my shoulder, I call towards the back of the car, “Why do you think men yell out at women on the street?” “Because they can,” came the lightning quick response from one of my twin 16-year-old daughters. We were talking about Stop Telling Women to Smile, the public art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh who interviews women about their experience of street harassment, draws their portrait, and uses their words to create posters for buildings and outdoor walls. Both of my daughters said they liked Fazlalizadeh’s posters because they had short, clear messages that anyone could understand.

Last year I blogged about my daughters initiation with street harassment. They were scared and tentative about taking public transportation for a while. Now, only ten months later, I feel like I am talking to experienced and disgusted young women who still don’t understand why men feel like they are entitled to their time and attention, and why they face anger and ugliness if they ignore the catcalls. They wonder how to respond and when is it the right time to say “leave me alone.” All of this feels exhausting for them, and for me knowing that so much can happen out of my sight.

Our conversation transitions to talking about how street harassment is connected to dating relationships. Do guys just turn off this behavior with a girlfriend? Do all guys do it and just not talk about it? I explain that not every guy engages in street harassment, but the fact that it goes on undermines the things you need for a loving and equitable relationship. Street harassment is not just about individual behavior. It is a part of our culture that uses fear, intimidation, or violence to give women and girls the message that they are not in control of their lives. These public art posters are so powerful because they are making women’s experiences of street harassment visible and public rather than a fleeting remark that is too often dismissed and trivialized.

Domestic violence and the Housing First model

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’ve been working on Domestic Violence Housing First for a couple of years now. But I also have a lot of experience working with immigrants. In general, I’ve found that trying to address the needs of immigrant survivors by just tweaking a mainstream system isn’t enough. One of my favorite things about Domestic Violence Housing First is that the flexibility of the housing first model allows individually tailored services that encompass a person’s culture as well as their unique needs and situation.

For example, one of the pillars of our work in Domestic Violence Housing First has been tailored, mobile advocacy. This approach involves an advocate visiting a survivor’s home rather than requiring the survivor to visit an advocate’s office. So we were caught off-guard when an advocate from a provider serving immigrants told us that her version of tailored, mobile advocacy sometimes meant inviting survivors to her office. Initially, that didn’t make sense to me.

Turns out, one immigrant she works with prefers to meet at her office, and with Domestic Violence Housing First money, the advocate can cover her transportation costs to get there.

This advocate shared that in that the immigrant survivor’s culture, it would be considered rude for the survivor not to provide food or drinks for a meeting at her home. When survivors are focused on retaining their housing, the cost of being hospitable can cause pressure and stress. So the advocate focused on making her office hospitable and their meetings comfortable. This was a great reminder to me of how important it is not to get locked into any one way of doing things. We are practicing a philosophy in which we learn to cater to the individual needs of survivors.

Survivors tell me that the tailored services that advocates provide has allowed them to regain a sense of dignity,  while advocates report that the flexibility of this model has empowered them to listen to survivors and offer support that meets the needs of the person in front of them.

This is what masculinity looks like

Perhaps ill-advisedly, I spent last Sunday afternoon at a dance performance with two of my sons. It was an unusually busy weekend, there was laundry and homework to do, and frankly neither of the boys was wild about the idea of sitting quietly in a theater for two hours. But I persisted, and we went.

The show was Men in Dance—a festival held every two years showcasing a wide variety of dance from classical to contemporary. All of the performers are men and boys. What I love about watching these dances is the sheer range of expression and styles. Some performances are tender and romantic, some funny, some bursting with energy and power.

It is tricky raising boys to be men in a culture that tolerates and celebrates men’s violence, and in which that violence does so much damage. One of the challenges is this: how do we teach boys to be conscious of and critical of violence, and at the same time to love and be proud of themselves, when the culture teaches them that violence is something essential about who they are?

I think what moves me about watching these dances is that it feels like a glimpse of liberated masculinity, what men can be outside of the “man box.” And I don’t mean just because men are defying macho stereotypes by dancing. That’s true, but it is only the surface. The dancers embody masculinity that stretches into a wide expanse of human experience, far beyond that narrow range of emotion typically recognized as manly. It is a celebration of men and male bodies. A display of strength and beauty without domination or objectification. Athleticism and skill without winners and losers. I want those models of manliness for my sons, but they are not easy to come by.

I’m leaving my boys for a few days later this week to join in a series of conversations about healthy masculinity. The Healthy Masculinity Action Project envisions a world where “Every man can be strong without being violent. Every man can make the world a better place.” Rejecting violence is only a first step. The conversations I hope to have are about how we get beyond that to a kind of masculinity that is worth celebrating. How we embody it an authentic way, recognize it in each other, and make it accessible to everybody. I know what it is like to grow up with no visible image of the kind of man I wanted to be, so I know it is possible to make it up on your own. I don’t know yet how to make that vision real for my boys and all of our sons, but I am excited to be with other people trying to figure it out.

Well, can you?

I got to musing about the title of our blog…

One angle goes like this: Can you relate to what we’re writing about? Are you also worried about losing pay when you have to take sick leave? Do you wonder whether your voice is heard by politicians? Or what your kids are up to online? Do you get all fired up about celebrity hook-ups and break-ups?

Alternatively, Can You Relate? asks: Do you see how domestic violence is woven into our culture? Do you see the interconnections and the complexities? And will you help us analyze and untangle all the knotty threads?

But in a third—and equally important sense—Can You Relate? challenges all of us to ask ourselves: How are we at relationships? Are we tending to our friends and loved ones well? Are we nurturing our kiddos along? Are we good lovers? I mean: are we good to our dates, our boyfriends & girlfriends, our partners, our spouses? And do we expect the same of them? Who helps us sort out what’s a blunder and what’s abuse?

Talk to a victim advocate, a police officer, a faith leader, a hairdresser, a coach, and you’ll start to see that we still have a real problem on our hands when it comes to relationships, power, and abuse. Thankfully, there’s been a long standing effort to tear down the old model that sees this stuff as a private matter, and a new model is under construction. Over 1,000 of you will literally run and walk alongside us this Saturday to show your support for healthy relationships and teen dating violence prevention. We are on our way to a better world, and I hope you can relate to my excitement about that!

Year in review

First post of the year (again) and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. Last January, I wished for some simple messages to accompany our collective efforts to end domestic violence, and lo and behold, I got what I asked for! It turns out that “Domestic Violence is preventable!”

It sure is.

While there are lots of explanations for the pandemic of violence against women and girls, there aren’t any acceptable justifications. It happens, but it doesn’t have to.

We actually can stop this violence before it starts―by promoting healthy relationships, shifting culture, building skills, and addressing root causes of violence.

So as a new year begins, I’m excited to reflect on the paths that we laid this past year―paths that will bring all of us closer to a world where boys and girls know that they are loved and know how to love, gender doesn’t define how we treat each other, and everyone experiences healthy, loving, and safe relationships. We made great progress in 2011: highlighting new ways to talk about prevention, learning about teen relationships, talking with our own kids, sharing messages about respect, joining national ventures, and making plans to end violence against women and girls.

We (yes, that includes YOU) are now in a position to make incredible leaps forward. Onward to 2012, huzzah!

What next? Part 3

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #2: Evolve our shelters

Emergency shelter saves lives. It’s a refuge, a resource, and a respite. It’s also costly, sometimes chaotic, and almost always, limited in the time, space, and material assistance it can provide. I don’t know if and how you experience these challenges, but I think they are so prevalent now that we must face head-on this question about how to evolve shelter services. While it is essential to keep shelters going, we need to be honest about the fact that they serve only a small percentage of survivors, they make the community dependent on US to provide support and care, and, while they may stop violence against some women, they do not end violence against all women.

In Washington, we are examining shelter in three ways. First, we are re-evaluating shelter rules, so that families have more flexibility and self-determination while in residence. Second, we are designing shelters architecturally and programmatically to support moms with parenting, to respect religious and cultural practices, and to reduce how many people have to share communal spaces―like a kitchen and a bathroom―as a part of shelter life. And third, we are helping shelter programs focus on providing what women say they need in order to be financially self-sufficient: housing, job training, childcare, in one instance, a bicycle, and in another a spare tire.

This work is confirming the thinking that brought us to it. And that is―nobody really wants to live in a shelter. So let’s find a way to preserve what does work and incorporate some other things that might work even better.

What next? Part 1

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Over the next six weeks, we will post installments of her speech. After all, if we can figure out how to end this kind of violence in five steps, shouldn’t we all have a look?

I honour your gods. I drink from your well. I bring an undefended heart to our meeting place.

These words from a Susan Wright prayer express how I feel about being with you here today. I am enormously humbled to be a part of your conference, and I thank the organizing committee for the gracious invitation.

Hawai’i is like a home away from home for me. I come here as often as I am able, which, of course, is not often enough. But always, the colors, the water, the people, the food, and the pace of life remind me why it is that I am forever contemplating a one-way ticket to this place. It is here that I encounter the timelessness of friendship, renewed passion for our collective work, and an understanding of the fundamental importance of connection.

In 2008, we stayed at a house near Haleiwa where we were in the company of some very social Honu. One in particular kept my attention. She was quite large; she had one flipper that, either by birth or by injury, was ½ the size of the other; and her shell was full of scratches and chips. Each day she would arrive in the cove and slowly make her way onto the beach where we would spend the morning basking in the sun as if we were friends.

I learned early on to keep a certain distance from the Honu, and I did. I would even move away, only to be followed. We never spoke, we never shared a meal, we did not friend each other on Facebook. I wondered about her journey and how she decided when to ride the current or swim against it. I wondered if she knew when she was being tossed against the rocks. I wondered if she had a plan when she left and didn’t return.

I have wondered the same things about so many women I’ve encountered. I can’t begin to count them, but I remember many of their names, their faces, their children, and the stories they told. Some are surely dead. And some are surely free.

I am here today, talking with you, because of them. Public speaking is not the comfort zone of introverts like me. But I am indebted to a long line of survivors who have filled my life with theirs. They are my past that informs my present and gives shape to my hope for the future. For me, they are the Mo’o.

I want you to know that I love being able to do the work I do. I see it as a blessing, a privilege, and a chance to participate in something really, really big. I have been fortunate to work with a Who’s Who of advocates and activists all around the country, and to witness the visionary organizing that is happening in other parts of the world.

I believe we are at a critical juncture in our anti-violence, social justice work. We now have state and federal laws that criminalize rape, domestic violence, incest, and trafficking, and that authorize funding for a vast network of shelter, treatment, and advocacy services.

We understand how domestic violence intersects with numerous social and community issues―homelessness, poverty, juvenile delinquency, chemical dependency and substance abuse, differential access to education, healthcare, and public benefits, immigration, sovereignty, global political unrest, and war.

We are paying more attention to what many of us call violence in the margins. We know that the experience of gender violence and the response to it is affected by a host of other factors, like race, ethnicity, class, status, age, sexual orientation, physical and cognitive ability, religion, culture, first language, and so on.

Our work to end violence against women is now quite complex. When I look back over my own 30 years of advocacy, I am both enormously proud of what we have accomplished, and somewhat concerned about where we are headed. In my home state ofWashington, I am referred to as a “movement historian,” and advocates often ask me if I get tired of doing the work. Now once I get over the shock of being considered old enough to be a historian, I always reply, and I mean this, “of course, I get worn out and worn down, but we are in a very challenging and exciting time right now, and I think a fresher and better version of ourselves is going to emerge. I want to see it and I want to be a part of it.”

Here’s the deal. We have been in the anti-violence business for more than 40 years. Many of us talk about being a full generation into the work and, in fact, we see every day what that means. We have women and men who, as children, lived with their mothers in shelter and now as adults, are again calling us for help. We have activists who were raised by activists, young people who now join or replace their parents in our workforce. Some of us work alongside four generations of people, which means that the workplace is equally complicated and dynamic. We welcome new, diverse, energetic voices and ideas at the same time that we mourn the growing loss of our earliest leaders, founders, mothers, and warriors.

When I think about all that we have learned over the decades, and all of the growth and progress and change, what I always come back to is that which has stayed the same. And perhaps the best way for me to describe it is to reflect on my own experience as a fledgling advocate in 1981. I remember being oddly passionate and irritable. I had the textbook answer to the question “Why does she stay?” But whenever I was asked that, I would say, “Because she can’t leave. And you should be asking me ‘Why does he batter?’ The answer to that is ‘Because it works and he can.’ ”

To this day, even though I am capable of articulating a more sophisticated and nuanced response, I still often rely on “she can’t/it works/he can.” My participation in a full generation of anti-violence work has landed me, in some ways, very close to where I began, and this simple fact is what guides my hope for our collective future.

I want to offer the Nan Stoops five-point plan for ending male violence against women. It isn’t written down anywhere, except here. And this is the first time I’ve said it out loud. It’s in no particular order, and it may not even make sense, depending on what you do, with whom, and to what end. However, what I hope comes through is the importance of thinking about the conditions that allow, encourage, and perpetuate violence and the opportunity and responsibility we have to do work that matters.

Jump to: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6