When we can support boys to be true to themselves instead of conforming to a rigid idea of what it means to be a man, then boys won’t just be boys. They will be compassionate, safe, secure people.
2016 has been rough. So when the calendar reminded me that I had to work on a Saturday, I wasn’t too psyched. It had been a long week, which was attached to a long month, at the end of an even longer year. But because of our partnership with Goodwill for our Refuse To Abuse 5k, I was scheduled to give a talk at Goodwill’s Youth Aerospace Program about healthy relationships. So, even though my vibe was NOPE, that’s how I found myself driving up to Marysville on a Saturday at 7am.
As soon as I got there, I knew I was going to leave happier than I started. The room was full of young people and their parents, all of whom had come together to talk about healthy relationships and their hopes for the future. So that’s what we did.
We did In Their Shoes: Classroom Edition. I encouraged the parents to let the youth lead, and they did (even though it was sometimes hard). It was remarkable to watch the youth in the room take charge, make decisions, and go boldly forward. Each group walked through the story of one of six characters who experience unhealthy and violent relationships. And then we talked about it.
Youth shared their perspectives and their desire to create new ways of doing things. Their parents listened and then shared their hopes and fears about letting go and standing beside their beloved teenagers as they enter into their first relationships. We talked about the things to look out for and the things to celebrate. And then we reminded each other to continue to ask questions, listen up, and stay connected no matter what.
There was so much love in the room that Saturday afternoon, my NOPE attitude turned into YAAAS! And as I look forward to 2017, I am heartened that although there is still a whole lot to feel down about, talking with young people about their relationships will always be a YAAAS!
In the wake of Election Day, women emerge victorious! History was made in the U. S. Senate when women secured more seats than ever before. In New Hampshire, they added two female Representatives and a Governor to their two women Senators for the first all-woman delegation. Let’s hear it for strong, smart women leaders! What an incredibly inspiring thing—especially for our young women and men—to experience. Progress!
*(insert record scratch)*
And then I see the “news” about Michelle Obama. Apparently, she committed a fashion faux pas on election night and wore a repeat dress. Even Sasha and Malia were not immune from fashion commentary. The point is—I saw nothing in the news about the First Lady’s prospective work for the next four years. Nothing about how she might continue her ground breaking work on the health of our youth, or how she could expand her work on food justice for the poor (OK, maybe that’s just my wishful thinking…) Anyway, there was nothing of substance discussed. But women have secured more seats in the Senate than ever before, you say. This is progress. What’s the harm in a little fashion commentary?
By focusing on what important, smart, powerful women are wearing and how they look, we are sending the message to young girls: this is what you should spend your time, energy, and money on. Don’t listen, girls and boys!
It’s time to move forward, and what better inspiration than last week’s election results. We have work to do and ground to gain, but we are headed in the right direction. Women’s voices will be better represented and that creates both policies and a culture where women are more respected, have more good choices available, and are ultimately safer.
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.
Point #4: Love those teenagers
We often talk about the need to shift popular culture and change social norms. This is the language of primary prevention, and it is gaining momentum throughout the mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault field. For the past 8 years, I have watched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many of our colleagues on the mainland strategize about how to integrate prevention activities into our work, and we are now beginning to see these efforts take root in some of the target communities. Almost all of it involves teen and youth engagement.
While I’ve been largely uninvolved in the CDC initiative, I have been hard at work closer to home. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old son, Hanson, and some of his friends, they too are participating. My frequent announcements of “I feel a lecture coming on” are met by loud groans and an occasional “oh god.” Video games, music, TV, certain levels of Angry Birds―nothing is held harmless. I’ve played “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” watched “Jersey Shore” and two of the “Jackass” movies, and danced to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I am offended by almost all of it, but Hanson is at an age where he is regurgitating the advice he has received his whole life. Don’t reject something without trying it first. And you can’t change what you don’t know. So I study what I can, and go about my parenting in fits and starts.
There is very little polish on most of what I do as a parent. Some day in the future, Hanson and I will thoroughly evaluate my briefings on pornography, condoms, sexting, and what girls like. Someday, I hope he will understand that my social norms work with him really boils down to a mother’s love for her son.
I was planning on writing this blog post about the Lingerie Football League and its recent announcement of plans to start a youth league. (In case you haven’t heard of the LFL, yes, it’s just what it sounds like.) I was going to rant a little bit about the mind-bending absurdity of claiming to strike a blow for girls’ empowerment by grooming them to play football in their underwear just as soon as it’s legal. Or how despicable it is that this “league” claims to break barriers for women while dismissing its players’ requests for basic safety equipment.
But then I realized I was falling for the oldest trick in the book. Curtis Cartier at the Seattle Weekly blog got it just right. This youth lingerie thing is a red herring calculated to stir up controversy―a.k.a. publicity―for an organization that really deserves less attention, not more. So, I’m not going to talk about that after all.
Instead, I’ll just say this. Giving girls real, meaningful opportunities in sports is important. Most girls still aren’t taught to develop their physical strength and skill as fully as most boys are. (In fact, research shows girls are actually trained to make themselves weaker.) As of this morning, the top Google results for “girls in sports” include “hot girls in sports,” “hot Olympic girls,” and plenty of pictures of naked women. In order to change that we need to teach girls to value their bodies’ strength and agility for their own achievement, their own freedom, their own joy―not men’s entertainment or profit.