YOUth Ending Violence
by Rona Amiri and Tijash Ramirez
(l-r: Nat Shivji, Tijash Ramirez & Rona Amiri)
The Female Perspective
My name is Rona Amiri, I am 23 years old, my family is originally from Afghanistan and I am passionate about ending sexism and ending violence against women. When I heard BWSS was re-launching their prevention workshops for youth and looking for facilitators I jumped at the opportunity to become a facilitator. During this time I was already working on the Intake and Crisis line as a volunteer for a year and a half and had gone through a 12-week training program. I was just as excited to go through the facilitation training, as I was when I had done the crisis line training. I was expecting some over lap and assumed I would be reviewing some stuff I already knew. However, I can honestly say even though it was a short period of time the training was really transformative for me. As a young woman of colour, I already considered myself a feminist with anti-colonial, anti oppressive perspective but there was something about talking about my experiences of trying to navigate through this world with other young women that just clicked inside of me like it had never before. Dealing with racism, sexism and street harassment in my every day life were things that I often just dealt with and tried to ignore, to move past and I realized that I was repressing a lot of my feelings and experiences. I see myself in a completely different way now then I did before, I see my role in the community as a strong female leader. One of the amazing aspects of facilitating workshops with a male co facilitator was the support I had from my co facilitators and the space they gave me to speak and be a leader, which is unfortunately something that I have not experienced a lot.
1 in 7 girls in high school experience dating violence.
During the YOUth ending violence pilot project we reached over 1000 students in over 40 workshops. Before we started I was incredibly nervous about facilitating workshops. I wasn’t nervous to speak in front of the class, I was nervous because I wanted to reach so many people and I was afraid that our message wouldn’t be received well or it would be ignored. Prior to facilitating the workshops when I would speak to others about violence against women from a feminist perspective I was often labeled as radical and I became “that girl” who is a feminist and can’t take a joke and takes everything so seriously. This experience caused me to worry about facilitating workshops because I did not want the same reaction. However, once workshops were underway I began to realize we were able to reach almost everyone who attended the workshop. There was never a workshop; a class, a group of students or an individual I felt was hopeless to talk to. Powerful stuff, I know! Whether the class was asking questions and fully verbally engaged or whether they were quiet, but listening, I knew what we were saying was being heard. Not to say everyone always agreed but incredibly no one disengaged because they didn’t agree. Instead they generated more discussion. Youth are often perceived as selfish, careless and detached from the world and are frequently underestimated. These stereotypes of youth were disproved in every workshop we facilitated. When we (youth) are given the information we are able to think critically and can create powerful and positive changes in our communities.
Teen Dating Violence
Time and again, when folks hear the phrase violence against women they think of domestic abuse and adult women. It is key to recognize violence against women includes violence against girls in teen dating relationships. In fact for many women the cycle of oppression and abuse starts from infancy (CHART). Thus, to say violence against women only happens to adult women is a misconception. Specifically in British Columbia we know that over half of women experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of sixteen proving violence exists in teen dating relationships and is just as serious.
The media has a significant role in illustrating what types of relationships are appropriate for young women. For example, movies such as Beauty and the Beast and Twilight exhibit unhealthy and abusive relationships as acceptable. In Twilight, Edward exhibits extremely controlling behaviour. He prevents Bella from seeing her friend Jacob by disabling her car and even manipulates her into leaving the state during which time he hovers over her and isolates her from her friends and family, and all the while she accepts his behaviour because he is only trying to protect her. Many people do not see this as an abusive relationship because there is not physical abuse. It is important to understand that physical abuse in relationships is less than half of abuse, which occurs in relationships. One study found that 21% of young women in high school reported experiencing physical abuse while 57% reported experiencing verbal abuse in a dating relationship. This demonstrates that while physical violence is a serious issue it is imperative for folks to recognize the seriousness of verbal and emotional abuse.
Moreover, women’s bodies are constantly being sexualized and exploited in advertisements in the media. For example GQ recently released an issue with men of the year on the cover and one woman of the year. All the men were in tuxedos and the one woman, singer, Lana Del Rey, is naked. The men are shown as objects of admiration while the one woman is shown as an object of desire.
Along side with nearly always being naked in advertisements regularly depict women being ganged raped. These representations of women in the media have become a norm in our society. The media demonstrates gang rape as glamorous and sexy, which makes it almost acceptable.
Sexism in the media affects our daily lives as young women victim blaming often leads to shame when it comes to abuse. We are often less likely to talk about the abuse or let anyone know about the abuse because we feel we will be judged or we somehow did something to deserve the abuse.
As young women we are faced with sexism daily. From what we choose to wear in the morning to how late we stay out at night are all decisions we consider carefully. We are told not to dress a certain way, not to stay out too late, not to put our drinks down, not to walk alone. Our safety in our communities completely revolves around what we are not supposed to do, as if in some way the responsibility is on us not to be harassed or assaulted. A police officer in Toronto stated to a group of university students during a health and safety talk: “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This is the world we are living in and victim blaming is a massive issue. Dealing with street harassment almost every day of my life is exhausting. For many young women there is the expectation that we should somehow feel flattered by catcalls, which illustrates how deep rooted sexism really is in our society. Because of victim blaming I have to change my behaviours; what I wear, where I go, as ways to avoid harassment but those changes do not make a difference. Young women are harassed regardless of where they are and what they are wearing. Which makes it even more evident it is not our responsibility to change our behaviour it is the responsibility of men.
The Male Perspective
I guess a good way to start is by introducing myself my name is Tijash Ramirez. My family is from Guatemala, so I grew up in two worlds, the traditional Maya and the modern urban youth. In our home family was/is most important, money was never first. We always had to share chore duties, and from the moment we were in our mothers arms were taught to be strong. It was my mother who taught us to be strong, and my father would always say “listen to your mother, she knows what she’s talking about’. In our family the males outnumber the women, but the women keep us in line. From a young age my mother and father would always tell me to respect women. They told me to never disrespect women, because we are equals. Unfortunately as a teen I decided to ignore them. I became the very person I hated. I felt I needed to show the world how much of a man I was. I began objectifying women, and forgot the values my mother and father instilled in me. Fortunately I grew up and saw who I had become. As I began to change to better myself, an opportunity arose. I was given the chance to work alongside great leaders in BWSS, and I jumped at it. BWSS was offering training to youth members in the community to do work shops in school. This was the pilot project of YOUth Ending Violence. I would like to say I knew lots about the subject before I began the training, but that would be a big fat lie. I was a little nervous because let’s face it, I was a big part of this problem. What I learned there will forever be with me, and is now a big part of who I am. I wish I could say I have completely changed, but that too is a lie. I am still making these changes to better myself, and recognize my faults. One day I will become the man I should be, not the man society wants me to be. I would also like to acknowledge the women who have paved the road I am walking on. The women who are in my life today and help me better our society, and myself I say thank you. To the women of BWSS, I have no words that can express the love I have for your hard work, and inspiring leader ship. I am and will forever be grateful to the teachers and friends that I have gained through this work.
Society has seen much advancement in different areas, technology, science, medicines, etc. Through such advancement, we have improved our way of living tremendously. Although it’s nice how far we have come, we have taken dramatic steps backwards in women’s issues. For the last 500 years we have seen society embrace male dominance. We have seen men strip women of their voices, rights, and worst of all their spirits. All this has been normalized by message we are fed, and that only few notice as wrong. It’s through these messages, that we are told our “roles”.
What do these roles exactly do? Why are they created? They are put in place and enforced to put men in power, and keep it that way. It is through these roles that men are moulded around the idea of masculinity and power. They are subject to intense peer pressure, and the judgment of most people in society. The sad thing is the moment a child is born they are forced to follow these “roles” and the rules that come with them. Just think about it, before the child is even born we are asking ourselves “pink or blue?’.
I never thought about choosing a color would change the way we look at people in such ways that it could potentially change their lives. I will admit that choosing a color for children’s clothing is not the worst of the worst, but it’s still “wrong” for most people if a boy decides to wear purple, and have long hair. As the children grow up they begin to face bigger obstacles that force them to be on one end of the spectrum. Many parents let their children watch shows that are educational, and enjoyable, but some if not most shows always have a lead male role. Although there is a girl in the cast, they are usually depicted as gentle, caring, and always submissive.
In most TV shows, the male characters act like “boys” and their behaviour is always justified or allowed. The girls let these actions go because “boys will be boys”. The moment we see a girl begin to act or do things a boy does she is automatically labeled as a bad girl (for not being lady like) or a tomboy. So what is it that the children are taught? Through mass media young boys are told that being gross, calling girls’ names, teasing girls, or singling out a girl for something is normal. In many shows they begin to show them that violence is justified if you are the “hero” trying to save the damsel in distress. What the boys are taught is they are the night in shining armour, and the girls always need someone to save them. In reality we are confusing the children with mixed messages. We have shows like Sesame Street that talk about helping one another, and actually educate. Then we have shows like Johnny Test that enforce the whole stereotype of boys are strong, don’t care about anything, and don’t need to listen to anyone.
Since we are talking about mass media, we have to tackle everything. We as youth are bombarded with messages and orders on how to behave and act. Music, movies, magazines, ads, and clothing are just some of the weapons used against us. I call them weapons, because they do cause us harm. In movies men are always portrayed as strong, valiant leaders who will always save the day. We see this in kid’s movies all the way up to rated R movies. These movies are specifically tailored to influence young men, and try to brainwash women into thinking they are inferior. Most iconic films show the male roles as strong, violent, angry, and never out gunned. Rambo, terminator, the expendables are only a few of the thousands of films that enforce male dominance. These films in turn also show what a “weak” man is. Anyone who does not fit the look, sound, or act the way these movie characters act are always singled out. They are always said to be weaker, dumber, pussies, fags, and women.
We must also look at the music we listen to. As new artists come, new styles of music come with it. In the past ten years we have seen and heard music completely objectify women. The worst part is I’ve heard six year olds singing these songs. I know most of them don’t understand what the songs are about, but they are already being influenced by it. While the kids are singing lyrics that are just pain stupid and messed up, the older youth and older males listen to music that also explains how male dominance works. In most rap songs we hear the “artist” telling youth that guns, drugs and girls are all part of being a man. We also see how they depict males as being “players” and women are always doing what he wants. Violence and anger are always used as tools, and those who don’t use it are weak. Weapons are also showed as an extra “limb” and are always empowering.
It’s not only rap that does this. Most heavy metal bands have explicit lyrics that say the exact same thing. We associate R&B music as always being romantic, but it also carriers the words of women being objectified. Most music is used to objectify women, and empower men. Very few artists can actually be called artists if we think about it. The few artists that don’t make music which objectify women and empower male dominance are usually independent artists that don’t get the spot light. Sex sells, and while we sell it why not empower men and knock women down a few pegs? That is pretty much the motto every major record label lives by.
Now I would love to say that the media is the only thing that makes men aggressive, but 80% of the men learn this behaviour from their father/father figure. It’s a vicious cycle that only gets worse with time. The youth who witness such violence and/or aggression usually begin to configure their tactics, which as a result become worse weapons then their fathers/father figure. Too add more wood to the fire they are also bombarded by mass media, and society’s lack of interest in VAW.
To the young men I say stop with the oppression. Instead of calling a woman who stands up for herself a bitch, stand next to her. We need to show women that we are support them. We need to acknowledge them and understand women are leaders. We just need to step aside, drop our egos and follow them into the fight. And for those men who do support women, be proud of what you do. Do not expect to hear cheers of gratitude, but be prepared to cheer for the women you see leading the charge against VAW. If there is something I have learned its real men stand next to women, and at times behind them. They never knock women down, but instead will be at the ready when needed. They will understand that we are not heroes, but instead the supporters we needed to be long ago. I urge men to please take a moment to listen, and you will hear the truly incredible stories of courage and honour.
This is the part where both perspectives have to come together. Tijash and I agree on the changes we need to see in our schools, communities and society. Firstly, we need to re-examine the way we raise and educate our young men. In the workshops we have facilitated we see a common trend of young men who are against violence against women but do not have the tools to deal with the situation in a way which won’t result in creating more violence. They often feel the solution is to beat up the guy who is being abusive which instead reinforces gender stereotypes of men being the knight in shining armour and the woman as the damsel in distress. We have to teach these young men, women don’t need ‘saving’. This is where the notion of empowered bystander is essential. Instead of a young man getting physically involved in the matter he should interrupt the abuse by making his presence known and asking what is happening and if the young woman is okay. This is only one of the many ways a situation can be handled.
As youth we must also change what we consider normal or cool. Young men need to stop their friends from harassing women on the street instead of ignoring it; not participating in the harassment is not enough. Young women cannot do it on their own all the time; we need our male allies to support the move away from sexist culture. It is also important that as young women we do not continue perpetuating male stereotypes. We can do this by giving them the space to be emotional and more than just strong because the more we push young men into the ‘box’ the less likely they will be to stand up against sexism. Imagine a world where men aren’t judged for crying, or not being muscular enough. As men, a place where if we stand next to our sisters, mothers, and daughters we are not called names or considered outcasts.
Next, we need to reconstruct our mass media outlets to show that we are all individuals who should be free to be whoever we choose to be regardless of gender or sex. We need better role models for young men so they understand that we need to support women in society. We need to put an end to the objectification of women in our music, movies, TV shows, magazines and ads.
While changing mass media will make huge advancements in society, we need to see social change to. Our whole judicial system has to stop blaming the victims. We need to put pressure on the people in power who are supposed to be representing the people. Our governments need to stop talking and DO WHAT THEY SAY!
Overall, it is important we all understand that female liberation means liberation for men as well because: “no one is free when others are oppressed”.