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Then We Work for Change – Dec 6, Part 2

Button for Dec 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

The following is the second half of a talk I gave on Dec 6 at Royal Roads University as part of their ceremony to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.   The first half is  in another blog post:  First We Mourn – Dec 6, Part 1.  

They say if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.  That might work for the weather but it won’t work to end misogyny.  If we want something to change, we have to change what we are doing.

Ending violence against women and gender-based violence is a pretty tall order.  Perhaps even overwhelming. Maybe you’re thinking:

  • it’s too big;
  • Anything I can do won’t make a difference, or;
  • I have no idea where to start.

Yes, it is big.  You can’t change everything and you can’t alter it all at the same time.  But you can make a difference.

I chose to do paid work that aligned with my values and my desire to effect change in our society, but you don’t have to become a counsellor to make a difference.  You don’t have to give up your day job.

How to Work for Change

Spheres of Influence

Here’s a way to start.

Imagine all of the areas where we have influence.  One way is to picture them as concentric spheres radiating out from us.  At the centre is each individual. Within the next circle are those closest to us.  Expanding outward, our sphere consists of people whom we know and perhaps interact with regularly, but are less close to.  Then we can consider our communities, including groups and organizations we belong to – our neighbourhood, our school, our workplace, the clubs we join.  Beyond, we have systems and organizations that are part of our society.  We have less personal connection to these but they have influence in our lives.  The more external spheres include our government and beyond that our global community.  I find it is helpful to have a framework to make things manageable but if a different framework suits you, that’s OK.

Within each of these spheres there are ways we can have influence. Consider what can be done in some or all of the spheres but break it down to make it attainable. Pick one thing and do it.  I have to believe, and I have witnessed, that small things add up.

Here are some examples.   Modify them to work for you.

At the Centre of the Sphere

Are there changes within ourselves that need to happen?

  • Educate ourselves about power and privilege. Reflect on our use of these.
  • Examine one’s beliefs about gender and challenge binary thinking that boxes people into prescribed roles.
  • Educate ourselves about rape culture and misogyny. How do we enact it?  In what way do our actions undermine it?
  • Avoid expressions like “man up” that imply it is manly and therefore not womanly to take responsibility.
  • Educate ourselves about how other systems of oppression intersect with sexism and misogyny
  • This one may seem obvious but, if we are abusing power and hurting someone, we need to stop doing it.

Within the Sphere of those Most Close to Us

  • Raise children to understand and value consent.
  • Model consent and respect. Don’t expect children to hug us if they don’t want to.
  • Recognize gender falls on a continuum – we all have masculine and feminine aspects.  Don’t try to put people into categories they might not fit into.  Accept how people define themselves.
  • Believe your friend who says they were assaalted. Don’t ask them what they were wearing.
  • Don’t expect the people experiencing oppression to bear the brunt of the work for social change.  Check out this Guide to Allyship for more ideas.
    • For example – regarding – #MeToo. Many women and Trans folks are speaking about their experiences of sexualized violence.  That takes courage in our culture and I am glad that it seems to be raising awareness.  However, I feel angry that so much energy is being put into raising awareness of something we have known about for a long time.
    • More importantly I worry that the emphasis is on the survivor to speak out. Some of my clients have felt guilt for not adding their voices to this awareness raising phenomenon.  I go back to the system – why is the conversation not about what can be done to change this?

Our Associates and Communities

  • Don’t laugh at rape jokes.
  • Risk the discomfort to speak out against sexist comments. Consider the discomfort of the ones who are silenced by these comments.
  • Attend a Trans Day of Remembrance event.
  • Place responsibility for violence where it belongs. Reframe the questions from “why does she stay?” to “why does he do that?
  • Sign up for the Triathlon of Compassion and ask the people we know to sponsor us – all funds go to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC).

Workplaces and Schools

  • Familiarize yourself with the anti-harassment policies of your organization and advocate for changes if needed
  • Organize your coworkers to raise money for programs that educate youth about consent, like Project Respect.
  • Run a White Ribbon campaign in your office

Community Organizations

  • Volunteer at a shelter
  • Engage in programs like “Be More than a Bystander”, which teaches how to intervene when witnessing bad behaviour.
  • Attend a rally to support increased government funding to anti-violence organizations.
  • Donate to places like VSAC or transition houses that support survivors of violence.
  • Donate to organizations that support men to challenge toxic ideas of masculinity.

Larger Systems

  • Write a letter to the newspaper editor when an article perpetuates harmful beliefs about sexualized violence – like those that focus on telling victims how to stay safe instead of looking at how to stop perpetrators from assaulting.  (For tips guaranteed to prevent sexual assault see Feminist Philosophers..)
  • Sign petitions that advocate for gender equality
  • Write a blog if you have concerns about how the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is being run.
  • Start an online petition if your local school board doesn’t foster a safe environment for all, no matter what their gender expression.

We can’t do all of these things.  But all of us can do some of them.

Pick what feels manageable for you, but please pick something.

On December 6 we mourn and then we renew our commitment to work for change.