I’ll admit it: organizations and groups make it seem quick and easy to stop and prevent violence against women. There’s no shortage of “here’s what you can do” and “join us in the movement” calls to action on our websites. Volunteer, donate, participate, have some wine and cheese as we review current events related to the issue and inspire you. If only the world were willing to stop violence, we seem to say, we would make it happen.
I’m not sure if it’s my crabby, thirty-something scepticism typing for me here, but I’ve come to wonder how easy it is to stop and prevent violence. The issue is so complicated at times. Is it truly a matter of willingness? For those of us who take the issue seriously, is what we’re doing really effective? Is it just a matter of joining existing organizations or campaigns, or is it perhaps something more?
These days, I find myself pensive about it all. I won’t pretend to have the right solutions but there are some things I’ve observed may actually have deeper impact than other things. I’d like to list them out here. Notice that they aren’t contingent on organizations or formal movements.
Exerting influence wherever you have it
Joining a campaign, volunteering and donating to an organization or cause that deals with the issue are all important things, but they strike me as starting from “level one”. In fundraising and sales, people talk about how it’s much easier to get an existing donor or customer to give or buy than it is to get a new one. I can see how that logic might apply to preventing violence against women. It’s easier to exert influence where you’ve already got it to make positive change than it is to try to break into a new realm.
Where do you have influence? Your family life, workplace, place of worship, neighbourhood, school? I don’t think you have to be CEO or the student council president – where might you have some influence, or where might you be able to grow your tiny seed of influence? If you look at it from that perspective, you may find you have more potential impact than you think.
That’s where you can get a little creative. For example, are you taking children out for trick-or-treating? How could you use that moment when you’d be going around your neighbourhood in any event? Could you hand out a flyer or even just communicated an upcoming event or action related to the issue?
At work, if you have a computer-desk job, could you ask permission to close your emails with a copy-and-paste “PS” line? PS: if you know a woman who is experiencing violence and needs help, tell her about The Assaulted Women’s Helpline (1-866-863-0511 | 1-866-863-7868 TTY | #SAFE on your cell phone). If your job isn’t very free-form and open, what quick things could you aim to do with co-workers during your breaks?
It takes thinking and some initiative. If you’re only mildly motivated, it might be hard to get anywhere. But trying it out might be better than hoping that existing organizations and causes will one day break into the places where you have influence. Truth is, it’s more effective for you to act in those spaces, however you can imagine doing so.
Asking questions … lots of ‘em
Whenever I’ve done trainings with future volunteers, I’ve noticed there’s anxiety about answering to people who may be resistant or at least misled about the facts. What if they fight me and say violence against women doesn’t exist? What if they try to say it happens somewhere else but not here? What if they don’t listen? It’s not like I don’t carry that anxiety too. If people are actively resistant and don’t want to take it in, there’s probably no way you could argue like a ninja and win them over. But it’s been my experience that most people aren’t trying to ignore the reality, there are just simultaneous motivating factors that run in the opposite direction.
This is where I’ve found that asking questions and genuinely attending to the answer can open a door for dialogue. You made a comment that women beat men up all the time. Tell me more about that. Authentic conversation – real asking and answering – may seem like a given but I’m often guilty of reactionary conversation where all I’m doing in a spar about the issue is waiting for a break to make my point.
Years back, I was co-facilitating a ReAct youth workshop on dating violence. It was with a group of about ten boys, and we showed a short video clip containing pictures of women who had been physically abused. Oh the horror for anyone who has facilitated these things – the boys began snickering at the sight of the battered women.
I got all sweaty and mad but my co-facilitator was brilliant. “Why were you guys laughing when you saw the women with black eyes and broken bones?” She asked a real question and properly listened to what they said. Turns out, they didn’t find it all that funny, but laughing was a default. One said, “What did they do to make someone hurt them like that?” My co-facilitator said, “What do you think they did?” And we all eventually came to the conclusion that, no matter what, nothing justifies such punishment. What if she just reacted as I was tempted to do? Told them they were being jerks and gave up? There’s no way that workshop would have made any useful impact.
Connecting with friends
People like that ReAct co-facilitator of mine are hard to come by – bold, sharp, personable and willing to take on anything and anyone. Most of us struggle to connect and, in this society, many of us don’t even know the people we live beside. When I first moved into my place, I would wave to my neighbours and many would watch me with shock and puzzlement. It has gotten better but, yeah, I don’t know most of their names.
Most of us do have friends and we can start there. We may not feel ready to become a volunteer peer counsellor for an abuse prevention phone line, but perhaps we could take two minutes out of a hangout with friends to share something we learned about abuse. And we could offer to share more if they’re interested. I don’t know if my friends are especially wonderful, but they love to chat about social issues. Just give them the opening. How about your friends?
Having those chats with friendly sources actually serve to embolden me to have conversations with less friendly sources. It serves a very tangible purpose.
I’m really interested in this subject. What do you think? Please do share your thoughts here, or you can feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.