One of the things that has changed most about me over the past decade is the way I look at societal and cultural issues. I've found that with personal and internal change has come a desire to see and consider issues in a different way. In a world where we often want simple choices--A and B--I’ve found myself searching for a third option.
This was never more true than when I worked in the domestic violence advocacy field.
When folks find out I worked at a domestic violence shelter, one of the first responses I get is “I don’t understand why women stay with violent men” or “why doesn’t she leave?”.
The truth is, for every woman who experiences violence in a relationship, there are 10 different reasons why she doesn’t leave. Here are a few that often come up:
Now, while everything I've just said is true, the real answer to this question is that when we ask “why doesn’t she leave?”, we’re asking the wrong question.
When we ask the question this way, we’re putting all the pressure on the abused and forgetting that most abusers don’t just come out and hit someone on the first date--making their intentions known from day one. They slowly whittle away at someone’s self-confidence, making them dependent and in love and less likely to leave before they (literally) strike.
The real question we should be asking is, why does he keep hitting her?
This is what I mean when I mention looking for a third option, seeing issues in a new light. We can’t keep putting the expectation on women to leave an abuser. At some point we have to look at men and say “you don’t get to hit, ANYMORE”.
I thought about this during the #metoo movement as well. At some point these movements can’t just be women standing up and saying “we’re done being abused”. Men also have to stand up and say, “we’re done abusing and we’re done accepting this behavior from other men.”
Violence and harassment aren’t a female problem. They're a male problem. Only when men stand up and say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” is this behavior going to change.
So why doesn't she leave? It’s not for me to judge. Live a minute in a victim’s life and you’ll see most are just doing their very best each day to survive.
So it’s time to ask a new question--one that puts the pressure to change where it should be. It’s time we expected more from our men. Not just those who abuse, but all men.
Fellas, this is our problem to solve and it's time to start now.
In a few short weeks I’ll be arriving back in Nashville--maybe for good. Words I never thought would come out of my mouth.
The reality is I don’t know how long I’ll stick around. I’ve had an amazing journey these past 5 years, and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know where your walk will lead next.
But there are some very real reasons why Sam and I are traveling back right now…
A Bedouin is an Arab traveler, moving animals and goods across deserts for months on end. Never with a home, but always discovering a new place to stay.
My Dad was right. I have been a bit of a Bedouin these past few years--and maybe I’ll always be.
But for now it’s time for this lonely traveler to head back to the place this all began.
Time will only tell what great adventure will come next.
I had an experience recently that struck me. One that I think is important as we traverse a world where we are more alive to issues of violence, a lack of equity and equality, and others.
I was sitting outside the local community college with a female coworker. We were there to acknowledge Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to tell folks about an event that evening--speaking with young men about sex and consent in romantic relationships.
An older student (I say older just because he clearly wasn’t college age--closer to 30) came up to me at one point and started talking. We chatted for a few minutes before he left, at which point my coworker said, "what did you think about that"?
I blathered something about not totally agreeing with what he was saying when she said, “but did you see what he did? He totally ignored me until until the end of your conversation”.
I had not even sort of noticed it in the moment. I was totally oblivious to her experience of feeling small and unacknowledged.
We chatted for a long time that day and I learned an important lesson in power and privilege. I also found myself pushing back as to why this man had engaged the two of us in such different ways.
Not because I didn’t believe her or respect her experience, but because I sensed something else was going on. I sensed this wasn’t just about a social construct (like misogyny, paternalism, etc.), that this person had an individual story that played a part in his actions that day.
What I was attempting to express is we can’t look at each man and narrow down his experience to one of privilege. We’re all far too unique for that. This man, for example, revealed later that evening that he gets really nervous around women. He’s worked in largely male dominated fields--the military, hot shots--and acknowledged there was some reason he’d been drawn that direction.
My guess is there’s something in his story that reveals pain or trauma that involved a woman.
That’s not an excuse. While we’re not responsible or to blame for our trauma, we are the only ones who can do the important work of healing. That evening as I heard more of this man’s story, I came to believe he is willing to push deeper into the pain he experienced.
And that made me smile.
In order to change the culture which allows violence to remain prevalent in our society, we can’t ignore the larger cultural issues or the stories we each hold. We have to be willing to speak up and fight misogyny at every turn while also showing kindness to the individual stories and pain which have led us to this point.
We must be kind both to the stories that led my coworker to feel ignored AND the stories that led this man to feel scared and nervous around my coworker.
Without kindness for our stories there can be no cultural healing for us, and healing is the point, isn’t it?
I don’t mind talking about sex. Not anymore, anyway. I’ll bring it up on dates, in bars, at work and, well, at the doctor’s office.
I mean, the doctor’s office is where you’re supposed to talk about it, right? It seems foolish in 2018 not to ask questions and get tested on a regular basis.
SIDE NOTE: Seriously, if you’re sexually active PLEASE GET TESTED. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it’s IMPORTANT!
Recently I went in for a doctor’s appointment and, as I do every year, got tested and talked with my doctor about sex.
I won’t lie, we both laughed as she started to blush a bit, but it also got me thinking: why is sex so scary to talk about? Why do we have an internal reaction so strong that our faces turn red, our bodies squirm, and we struggle to express ourselves?
Part of it goes back to religion--Christianity is notorious for causing fear and shame around sex.
It’s not just religion though. As I’ve ventured further outside the religion of my childhood, I’ve found it’s still a difficult topic. Non-religious folks may have more sex, but they aren’t necessarily talking about it more often.
The main reason this scares me is I don’t trust secrecy, as it is the playground of toxic guilt and shame.
It’s the stories left untold, the wounds left unhealed, and the dark crevices of our existence that hinder us the most. That keep us from growing and becoming more fully who we’re meant to be.
In other words, when sex is a secret--when it’s left quiet and hidden--it’s almost impossible to live as our most sexual (and most real) selves.
In secrecy it’s impossible to heal our places of shame around sexuality.
I don’t know how many of you have watched the most recent version of Queer Eye (on Netflix), but I love it. Those men come across so deeply themselves--authentic to what’s most real inside.
I know it’s TV and editing is a powerful tool, but I wish for all of us to live so fully into our true selves. To appreciate and exist in our sexuality. To talk openly about sex, how complex it is, and how much we love it.
You can’t cut off one part of who you are and be totally yourself. If even one piece of you is hidden, the rest will be only a fraction of what it was meant to be.
So get out there, y’all, make some doctors and friends and family BLUSH. Talk about sex, where you struggle, and what feels good.
Oh and can someone in Hollywood please quit acting like sex is always so smooth and un-awkward? There is nothing more in-authentic than sex on TV and in the movies. It’s awkward, it’s funny, and it still feels damn good.