Teen activists in action

We’re excited to bring you a guest blog post from Quinn Angelou-Lysaker of Franklin High School’s Feminist Union, an energetic student-led group that has been tackling teen domestic violence along with other feminist issues.
On January 13th, Franklin High School’s own Feminist Union lead a class we called “Intersectional Feminism 101.” Five members of our leadership team created an activity based on WSCADV’s game In Their Shoes. In Their Shoes takes participants through a story about an abusive relationship, where they’re asked to make decisions as the story progresses. We used this idea and wrote our own stories in which sexism and other forms of oppression intersect. One story was about a black girl who was forced to resign from a theater program because she wouldn’t straighten her natural hair. Another followed the story of a boy with two gay mothers who makes some homophobic friends in school. We also used one of the original stories from In Their Shoes about a Mexican girl whose relationship with a boy becomes abusive.

franklin-feminist-union-teensThere was a healthy turn out of both boys and girls, which we were glad to see. As I spoke to groups participating, I found that it was easier for them to detect the racism, classism or homophobia in the stories than the sexism. But as groups went through more and more stories, it became more clear to them how multiple kinds of discrimination could exist in the same situation. It was interesting to hear how people identified with the characters, like to “Cassandra,” the gay daughter of conservative Chinese immigrants. They had insightful comments about how if she were straight, she would have more resources (like her parents) to get her out of her abusive relationship. Overall, people seemed to enjoy the activity and learn a lot.

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

Warning signs

I was watching TV when Jaylen Fryberg shot his friends and himself at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. Which meant that I spent too much time—shocked, scared, angry—watching the media cover this horrible situation. The story was that the shooter was popular, friendly, and the homecoming prince. His popularity didn’t seem to fit in with the kind of person we usually associate with being a school shooter. The loner. The one who was bullied, unpopular.Marysville-Pilchuck_High_School,_Art_Mural_in_Forum,_October_2009

So I decided to look at his Twitter account (I am not linking to it because of the graphic content) and what I saw there was a very different person than the one portrayed on TV that day. The boy on Twitter was full of rage and sadness which seemed to center around a love interest. Who knew?

His friends had certainly seen these posts. Social media is where young people live. It’s their community. We adults aren’t doing anyone any favors by ignoring this fact and not taking the time to understand it. Social media can offer something positive. An outlet. A place for youth to express themselves.

A few years ago, someone who was hurting and raging and planning to take it out on people at school might have kept a journal that would be found after the fact. Now, we can all see the warning signs in real time as long as we’re looking. I don’t know what happened in this situation. Maybe someone did reach out to him and he wasn’t ready to hear it. Maybe an adult in his life was trying to work with him to get help.

Teens are learning how to navigate intimate relationships, and we don’t give them a lot of help. Jaylen retweeted a post that said “I’m not jealous. But when something’s mine it’s mine.” For those of us who work with survivors of domestic violence, this statement is an enormous red flag. When giving an update on this story, a local news anchor said the words “He was heartbroken.” We’ve all been heartbroken. But framing his actions that way minimizes violent behavior motivated by jealousy and rage.

What if we equip young people and their families with tools to recognize unhealthy relationships and where to get help? My heart breaks for the families of the students hurt and killed in this shooting. I hope it can open doors for more and better dialogue about healthy relationships for teens and what friends and family can do when they notice the warning signs of dating violence.

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

Yay for feminist teens!

I spend my life working on women’s rights, so when I heard my daughters talking about the Feminist Union club at their high school I couldn’t wait to hear more!  What on earth was this? Their answers filled me with joy! Sixty-six people showed up (about 1/3 young men)—the room was overflowing into the hallway.TIWAFLL-Shirt

The first meeting was action-packed. They all answered the question: “What is the first word you think of when you hear the word feminism or feminist?” My girls said “It was actually kind of fun,” and a chorus of “Ooooh, that is hella deep” spontaneously erupted over and over again. Then they watched 50 reasons why I am a Feminist and shared their own similar experiences.

Future topics were suggested ranging from what feminism looks like in other societies to misconceptions about feminism and domestic violence. Ground rules were covered and they all agreed: you don’t have to identify as a feminist now; maybe you will eventually, but it’s okay if you don’t.

And they even made some real change. After one of their teachers overheard them discussing gender neutral language: “Try not to say guys for everyone. Try saying beings, peeps, y’all, people, beans instead,” he changed his usual “See ya later guys” to “See ya everyone” as his class ended.

I am so proud of the young people who have organized the group and are coming together. So much happened in 30 minutes. Why can’t I get this much done in a workday? Our community is in good hands with this rising group of thoughtful leaders!

Call of the wild

Survive, reproduce. Survive, reproduce. For 3.5 billion years.

I love science. I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson from Cosmos has become a superstar, and how he has lead people to gasp at galaxies. I like astrophysics okay, but mostly because it serves to put my true love—biology—into that bigger context.

Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife
Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife

Yesterday, I hung out with 100 people who work in schools, health care, and social services on projects that support pregnant and parenting teenagers. We’ve been getting together with folks in this field because domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are all too common experiences for teens who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. We were all there to learn about the impact of trauma on the brain (more science) and what we can do to promote healing and resilience.

I eavesdropped on the conversations around me and heard people discussing the teens and babies they help, and the circumstances of their own pregnancies and the pregnancies of people they know. It made me wonder: How it is that we have birth control but still don’t use it all that intentionally? Regardless of our big brains, many of us are relying on the same biological laws that dictate the offspring of the mosquito, otter, and orca.

Sexual reproduction evolved 1.2 billion years ago. Contraceptive technologies were invented in the 20th century. Let’s be generous, round up, and say we have been able to have sex without reproducing for 100 years. Put in this perspective, I’m surprised that I’m surprised. I mean, we haven’t really been at this deciding to have babies for very long, so how could we expect to have a smoothly running social machine around it?

One reason we aren’t being as smart as we can be about reproductive decisions is that sexism is still a thing. Men still control and attempt to control women’s reproductive rights. This goes on politically and in intimate relationships.

Ageism is also still a thing. What other than ageism—and let’s be honest, fear—has us withholding information about reproduction and all forms of birth control from teens?  Some teens struggle (mostly alone) with their deeply held desires to have a child.  While other teens, once pregnant, reject adults shaming them—and rightly so.  Teens in general are suffering as a result of our not trusting them with information about sexuality and reproduction. Ageism and fear are both terrible excuses for our behavior.

Is there any way to speed up our social evolution so that we can all have control over our decisions? Or are we destined to remain . . . wild?

Talking back and moving forward

We bring you this post from Sarah LaGrange, our Policy and Prevention intern.

collageLately I have been thinking about adultism. It is one of the most common forms of oppression and I would venture to say that every single person who is reading this has experienced it. And yet it is the least talked about “ism” that I know of. You probably haven’t ever heard the term.

At our Teen Leadership Council (TLC), they had never heard of it either. But once I started giving examples, every teen there knew what I was talking about. At the end of the day we asked: What do you want adults to know about teens? Almost every single answer was about wanting adults to treat them with kindness and respect. One youth wrote “I only talk back when you talk back to me.” Is that actually what we want kids to learn, not to talk back? Would we ever say this to an adult? What we really want is for kids to take some responsibility for their actions.

Another TLC member said “You don’t have to yell to get our attention.” Who actually responds well to being yelled at? No one. So why do we yell so much at kids? Because we are allowed to, perhaps even expected to. This starts sounding eerily like why men so often treat women with violence and control, because they have historically been allowed to and even expected to control the women in their lives.

Jody Wright points out, “When we talk of kids being ‘disciplined,’ we mean that they follow what others say or want. When we talk of an adult being disciplined, we mean that they are following inner motivation to do something.” How do we expect children to learn self-discipline and internal motivation when we raise them to do what they are told and not talk back? The problem is, we are teaching them to perpetuate oppression and inequality. If we want kids to resist oppression we have to teach them how to talk back and that they deserve the same respect we give other adults.