Promoting healthy relationships, take the HR Test

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ve blogged 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

Earlier this month I tackled root causes, shifting culture, and building skills. For our last week, I’m diving into promoting healthy relationships.

So I started thinking about what kinds of relationships I see when I’m watching TV or movies. I already notice when what I’m watching doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)

It seems so simple and yet it’s amazing just how many movies DON’T pass it, even though it is a pathetically low bar. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a similar test for how relationships are portrayed in the media?

So, here it is, the HR* test (*Healthy Relationships):

To pass the HR test, a movie or TV show must at least have:

  1. Two characters that care about each other,
  2. where both people get to talk and have opinions,
  3. and they support and encourage each other’s interests and outside relationships.

Like the Bechdel test, this is a really low bar. There’s so much more that makes up a healthy relationship. How you talk to each other matters. How you listen to each other matters. But what if we started here? What shows would pass the test?

Building skills

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

Earlier this month we tackled root causes and shifting culture. This week we’re looking at building skills. How do we do that and what does it look like?

First, I have a confession to make…I am not a perfect mate. (I know, it’s hard to believe!) Don’t get me wrong, I bring a lot to the table, but I’m sure my partner would agree that I don’t always get it right. For a long time this made me feel unqualified to talk about how to have healthy relationships.

Not anymore. Because here is the reality: I have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to what NOT to do, and that’s a good start. I’ve seen it in my 20 years of domestic violence advocacy and through my whole life of being a human. And so it occurred to me one day that while I may not be perfect, no one else is either. We all need a little help to know what TO do in relationships.

Building skills looks like admitting that we are going to fight, but it’s how we do it that matters.MakingAMove-for-Facebook

Building skills sounds like talking about our feelings rather than hurling accusations when things get tough.

Building skills feels like working up the courage to ask for what you want, and checking in before making a move.

This is a subject that we should be learning in school. It’s part of the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic, AND relating. And not just in schools. I want relationship skills integrated into our sports, our clubs, our hobbies. It is of paramount importance, and we shouldn’t leave it to chance.

Just remember, it’s ok if we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. We still have knowledge to offer and can ask for help when we need it.

What skills do you want to build and how are you going to get there?

 

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

Root causes

For the last 34 years, October has been recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And I’m all for it—except for one little word. Let’s change Awareness to ACTION. We’re all aware that domestic violence occurs and is unacceptable, so it’s time to do something about it.

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

So let’s get started. How do we address root causes of violence? What does that look like?

I just spent three amazing days at our annual conference. Root causes of violence were at the heart of our discussions on government deportation policies, racism, sexism, and homophobia, to name a few. Working to interrupt any of these oppressions is part of addressing root causes of violence. Because ultimately we know that if there is a system in place that values one person over another—for any reason whether it be racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia—that system also allows domestic violence to flourish and thrive.

It seems like a daunting task, but I know change can happen. I want to tell you a story.

When I was three and my sister was six, my Uncle Jerry and Uncle Sean came to visit us. This was such a treat. What kids wouldn’t be squealing with delight when their uncles with purple and yellow hair and rainbow sequin tennis shoes came to shower them with love and affection? So we were pretty excited to show them around our neighborhood. In the time it took for us to take a walk around the block, my mother received a frantic phone call from a neighbor:

“I just saw your children on the shoulders of two weird men holding hands.”

My mother responded, “Those aren’t weird men, that’s my brother and his lover.”

The phone call ended with a click.

That neighbor never spoke to my mother again.

Fast forward to this summer, when I took my children to two (gay) weddings where the only thing that was weird was how darn hot it was for Western Washington.

This shift didn’t just happen. We fought for this change. When we at WSCADV stood in solidarity with Washington United for Marriage we did it not only because it was the right thing to do but because we understood that we must stand together if we want justice.

I know that things aren’t perfect. But I also know that when people are allowed to be who they are, the threat of violence is less. I know that if we take homophobia out of the equation, and people are not punished for being who they are, that relationships are healthier, and that ultimately we are all the better for it.

A change is gonna come, oh yes it will.

Don’t just be aware, be involved

I’m not a big fan of awareness months. There are so many these days that each month shares a long list of issues to be aware of along with a corresponding ribbon color. There’s even a Zombie Awareness Month. It’s May (gray ribbon) in case you want to mark your calendar.

Every October, when Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I have an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think that domestic violence awareness is important. Of course it is. But I wonder what we are accomplishing. Does awareness actually lead to behavior change? Researchers say no.

I’ve seen awareness about domestic violence grow significantly over the years. That’s a great thing and it needed to happen. But I don’t want us to stop there. Now that people are aware, I want them to act. I want everyone to realize that they can be a part of the solution. They can learn about the resources out there so if someone turns to them for help they’ll know what to do. They can talk to young people about what a healthy relationship looks like. They can ask a friend “How’s your relationship?” and make chatting about this a normal part of life.

I’m not suggesting we all cancel our Domestic Violence Awareness Month activities. But let’s shift our focus to turning October into Domestic Violence ACTION Month.DVAM-logo

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

1-2 sucker punch

Another domestic violence awareness month is upon us. Oh yeah, and another breast cancer awareness month.

I cannot name two issues that strike more directly at the heart of every woman … and anyone who’s ever loved a woman.

But I mean, really? Who wants to be more aware of disease and violence? Personally, I am all too aware of these dismal, depressing things.

Cancer and domestic violence have flattened me with a 1-2 sucker punch. Unless you are a really good friend of mine, I don’t think you want to hear about the ravages of being bald, ashen, and exhausted from chemotherapy. And honest, you don’t want to know the horrific details about the domestic violence murder suicide in my family.

Trust me. You do not.

And I don’t blame you.

But how about the flip side? What if we focused on what could be and how to make that happen?

What if I came to you and said: “October is Women’s Health and Liberation Month?” How about we spend at least 31 days each year being aware of the possibilities?

The prospect of equality.

The dream of universal healthcare.

The vision of prevention (not early detection or intervention) for both cancer and domestic violence?

How about that?