White Ribbon Campaign perpetuates the invisibility of same-sex and female-perpetuated domestic violence

A friend tells me that a very insightful adolescent talked to her recently about being irritated that her high school hosted an assembly at which speakers from the White Ribbon Campaign -- Men Advocating Change presented to the students about ending violence against women.

Now, I of course think that ending violence against women is a great cause. I think ending violence against everyone is an extremely important issue.

The presentation involved asking the young men in the audience to take a pledge to never participate in violence against women. But the message this young woman took from the presentation was hardly one of empowerment. Instead, she reported that she thought it was sexist and homophobic that only violence against women perpetrated by men was addressed. She felt that the school was sending a message that the school (and the larger society) are not willing to hear the concerns of men who experience violence or women who experience violence perpetrated by women. She felt that the school was labeling half of the students as potential perpetrators and the other half as waiting-to-be-victimized.

And we wonder why so many men feel like they have nowhere to go to seek help in an abusive situation and to heal from abuse.

I think the approaches this group is using definitely have validity and purpose. The message of men speaking out to end violence against women is very powerful. But the approach of having a school-wide assembly forcing students to join a cause is flawed -- particularly given that it is a non-voluntary, mixed-gender group. It's also questionable how much value there is in taking a pledge in a huge anonymous group. The pledge approach might work quite well if, say, a trusted adult male explained that the issue is very important to him personally and asked his small basketball team or youth group to take the pledge (while also affirming that focusing on violence against women by men does not mean this is the only kind of violence that needs to be taken seriously.) These young men could then ask their fathers, their neighbors, their brothers, and their male friends to also take the pledge.

A better approach in a school setting should probably be done in smaller settings than an assembly, and could involve talking about how violence against women and negative stereotypes of women are promoted in the media and examining the students' own prejudices. Tolerance.org has a lot of great resources on talking to students of various ages about issues pertaining to a specific group. There are units focusing on violence against women, but in a way that allows for more discussion, more personal thought, and can be done without sending the message that other violence is not to be taken seriously. More importantly, the units also highlight the achievements of whatever group of people are being discussed -- which is what really is effective in combating objectification and violence.


ChrisHebden said...

I understand your comments about how the School wide approach of the White Ribbon Campaign could be improved. I suspect no one would disagree that small group workshop stuff would be better. It's always a question of what resources are available. We want an end to all violence and WRC educational materials acknowledge this.

Anonymous said...

I guess I have a hard time understanding why this approach was irritating. As one who has spent time studying sexual assault and violence in general I recognize that it occurs to both males and females and in all different relationships, but statistically women face violence from men at a disproportionately higher rate.
Studies done among teens have shown that both boys and girls feel that violence toward girls from boyfriends, in particular, is OK in certain situations. This tells me that we need to reach out to our youth and a large group setting is just fine.
Just because this was the topic of this particular meeting does not mean that it was pressing homophobia or sexism. It meant that THIS issue was being addressed at this time. Just as when students attend a history class they learn history instead of math. Every social problem cannot be addressed in every setting. If we can reach out and address something that is a disproportionately large problem...lets get to it. Small groups don't get the job done. I've seen it happen again and again. The word doesn't get out. Meetings don't happen. THe message gets mixed. This way it happened all at once and what is wrong with saying to young men, "It's not ok to hurt a woman...ever. Make up your mind now not to do that."
Next meeting can address the next topic.
If you want to end all violence you have to start somewhere.