Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls? pt IV

“when women respond appropriately to violating acts in public spaces, we are often treated as the source of disturbance, the offensive presence.  We are the ones told to calm down and are escorted to less populated spaces, as though our interruption of violence has caused the scene, rather than the provoking  incident.”

-Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls? pt III

Responding appropriately to violence in family settings, to that very real  intimate terrorism, is no easy task.  It requires going against family norms and gendered behavioral codes we have consumed since birth.  We learn early when our emotional discharge is “too much” and that our silence is the best way to receive affirmation and praise.

I remember two recent instances very vividly during which women’s responses to violence seemed to cause more upset than the actual incident of violence.  At each occasion a woman was participating in a normal routine, either performing a duty at a public event or relaxing at a festive gathering.  At each occasion a male attendant at the event became angry when his attempt to alter the flow or predetermined activity in his favor, was met with no.  At each occasion the individual men became loud and aggressive, making threats or disparaging comments, both clearly inappropriate responses.  At each occasion, the woman’s no was not accepted or respected.  The first layer of the violation is in not accepting the NO.

The second layer of violation is in the responses of other male bystanders and witnesses-participants.  At each occasion one or more men attempted to bring the violent episode to a conclusion.  At each occasion minimal effort was put into addressing the offending males behavior by stating what  behavior on the offenders part would have been most appropriate or by stating that offending the woman verbally or sexually was behavior that would not be tolerated in that shared space.  At each occasion the male bystanders and witness-participants acted most quickly and thoroughly to silence the offended woman, verbally implying that her response, her anger or outrage was making the current situation difficult and uncomfortable.  At each occasion, the offended woman was told to “calm down” and if she did not immediately become silent she was labeled as “overreacting .”

I do not mean to over-simplify the experience of witnessing violence as a male or female.  Violence causes old and present terrors to lock our muscles and voices, freezing us in time.  It is very difficult to have any response other than shock and terror when violence is witnessed.  But when we are able to speak and act, we must speak and act appropriately.  Even if witnessing violence terrifies us, such that we are not able to intervene, we must never seek to silence the victim of violence  as a means of managing our own fear.


Is Your Family Safe for Women and Girls? PT. I

As we co-create a world where the feminine is respected, female bodied persons are safe, and our humanity shines as our point of connection – where might we first place our attention?

To think of changing the world always seems like an awesome task.  We may at some point feel the deep need for the world to tip its balance towards a way of collective action that is more cooperative and fair.  With so many of us walking the globe, how can we, how can I, change things?  If I am but one person, what can I do?  Especially, If I am marked by race and gender and class as “other”and “marginal”, what can I do to shift the power balance?

Campaigns and catchy slogans are meant to inspire us, and they do often succeed in that task.  In addition to pledging our support to a larger entity or organized effort, is it possible to see the results of our efforts a bit closer to home?  Even those of us who focus our careers on social justice wonder how to bring our efforts into our familial networks.  It is easier at times to work publicly against all forms of gender based violence than it is to work intimately with those same issues.  We can become “fans” of socially oriented pages here, “tweet” the good news there and stay up on the latest releases from our favorite cultural critics, but how does that translate to the growth or lack of the girl children’s breasts and hips no longer being the subject of conversation at family dinner?  At what point do we feel strong enough to confront the issue of that uncle or cousin, rather than just warning the children to keep their distance.  When do we get to dismiss the silence around how our aunts arm was really broken?

The gender violence that happens in family networks can be deeply enmeshed in the ways we interact with and negotiate intimacy with each other.  It is no wonder that we might be re-traumatized in the simplest effort to be with family.  And since the same cycles are often repeated over and over, we have often experienced the violence as children, that we witness or condone through our silence as adults.  Violence becomes normative in families, but its harm is never diminished.

We can reclaim our power in our own families.  The issues that make us limit our visits and specialize in quick phone calls, are never unknown.  There is often at least one other family member that knows what isn’t working.  We can collectively confront the violence in our families.  Family members, regardless of age, can challenge negative family patterns as a unit, by modeling loving interactions.  The next family reunion or spontaneous talent show can feature a poem, song or announcement about how certain remarks and interactions make you feel. We can tell the people in our families how we want to be loved.  We can engage each other in conversation, and while asking for the quality of love we need, we remind the other of the quality of love they deserve.  We can also invite our family members into our professional and public spheres, where our activism is more apparent.  We can decide when and how we gather.   The next time we are volunteered to speak or say the prayer before a meal, we can speak our vision of hope and love to our families.  We can choose which conversations to participate in, which to interrupt.

Every word and intention counts.  We always have power in the present moment create and transform.  Each moment is ripe with possibility.


DV Shelter’s Need Grooming Items for Black Women

Upon my return to Nashville, TN to support my family during a time of crisis, I worked for several months at the YWCA of Nashville’s Domestic Violence Shelter.  Since I needed to be available during the day to take my mom to her chemotherapy treatments or provide any other type of support, I chose to work at the shelter as an Overnight Counselor. 

One of my weekly duties was to fill supply request orders for the shelter guests.  I must admit that I fully enjoyed stocking bags full of supplies.  It gave me a sense of power, that I could do something in the present moment to help.  Even though women were navigating their survival and safety, at least I could fill an immediate need in a matter of moments. 

Our facility was organized brilliantly.  It was obvious that many women had put their love into making this process as easy and organized as possible.  There were staff members before me, some that I would meet, others long gone, who had been thinking well about the guests that would need the shelter’s resources well into the future.  Residents were escorted to a space to pick out their own clothing items, chance decided if a person could find their size, let alone their taste in clothing.  Plus size clothing and shoes over a size 8, maybe 9 were always in high demand, but low supply. 

We used a request list, that named the toiletries and grooming items on hand.  Single women, as well as women with children communicated to me on this small sheet of paper, the necessities that might make this temporary dwelling a bit more like home.  It was my job to fill this particular supply request overnight, so that the items would be available by morning.  Shampoo, diapers, wet wipes, lotion, lipstick, acne cream, face wash, curling irons, blow dryers, hair color were just some of the things that could be requested, and supplied…when we had the items.  Items specifically for Black women were always low in supply.  I took some time while I was there, to make a list of the types of items Black women needed in particular, and shared that with the interim donations coordinator.  My suggestions were heard, but I was made to understand that those supplies were donations, and we could only give what we were given.  I can’t tell you how many times a woman wanted a relaxer or some hair gel, and I had to let her know we didn’t have those items.   It was hard to explain to my staff mates, that shampoo and conditioner, didn’t fully satisfy Black women’s  needs for hair care.   The small combs designed to fit discreetly in a purse, were not meant for our hair. 

I am writing this so that we may all shift our perspective about the needs of women in shelter.  We often think of our donations, as a way to do something that makes us feel good, but mostly as a way to clean out items we no longer have use for.  Certainly, in the age of reuse and recycle, it is good to pass along the gently used items that might be a tremendous blessing to someone else.  But if you had to run off from everything you know and love, all your stuff, what would you want waiting for you when you finally reach your oasis?  What things, would make you feel relief, and ease the terror that has been at your neck from the moment you decided to make a run for your life? 

Women in shelter need everything, the exact same things women need outside of shelter.  We group all vulnerable people together, and have a general sense that they should be grateful for what they get, and make the best of it.  But, your brand and style of tampons are not about preference, it is your need.  Your particular type of body lotion, the shea and cocoa butter infused variety, isn’t an extra – that is what you need to take care of your skin. 

Women in shelter, women dealing with intimate violence are expected to have their lives interrupted, and to just adapt to that interruption.  Part of our hope of services for survivors of domestic violence, is to allow them to put a life back together -a life that includes building new relationships, locating housing, and finding new jobs or maintaining the ones they have.  Isn’t it best if these tasks can be negotiated with confidence, in a manner that maintains dignity?  So then what can we do as friends, family members, coworkers, employers of women who may need shelter services, to make sure that the experience of violence has the least impact?  What can we do to make a Black woman’s shelter stay as easy as possible?  What can we do to communicate that her safety is important, and that she deserves the best help, services, care and love?

Click here to view the Nashville YWCA’s wish list and contact information.  Please contact your local shelter, for a list of their individual needs. 

Creative Writing, Uncategorized

Requiem for a Lullaby

This performance text was written a few years ago.   It is one of my favorite pieces.  The first section is read as a lullaby to a young girl.  The second portion is read as a reporter.   The piece remarks on how views of women’s virtue, worth or goodness are fed to us as propognada to control us, but can betaken away or questioned at any timein order to protect masculinity. 

Little girls hate yourselves and all other women for being born female. 
Your emotion makes you inferior. 
Trusting your intuition makes you weak.
Sleep peacefully tonight knowing that you will never ever quite be …enough. 

You’ll have a mate that will never love you as much as he loves his boys. 
His homoerotic utopia is far more rewarding than anything he could feel with you. 
He has been taught to have no respect for women. 
The culture that feeds him reinforces that ideal in his religion,
in his educational system,
and in all the media information he consumes. 

 Don’t try to run away. 
Where will you go? 

 Its inevitable you’ll fall for a man who has never been held accountable for his actions and feelings. 
One that thinks the world owes him something. 
And that he is free to take out his frustrations on you. 
Banging, stabbing, hitting, beating up your womb until he figures out what that something is.

If you’re lucky you’ll get a pet name like “wifey” or “main bitch”. 
He might have sex with those other girls but he only loves you. 
He’ll look to you to fulfill the roles of wife and mother whether or not children are present. 
Forget about all that self-love crap and get yourself a ring girl.  
Many of your friends won’t be so lucky.  They will grow old alone.

 BUT you can say to world with pride that you got a man that takes care of his responsibilities.  He keeps a job and comes home at night, well eventually. 

And that should be just enough to keep you smiling for years and years to come. 

 In 5…4…3…2…1… you’re on

 Good afternoon.  I am reporting to you live from the Kobe Bryant…Mike Tyson…Robert Kelly community support rally?  I apologize, I’m not sure who the “Black Community” has been asked to come together and support this afternoon.  All we know is that a man with a very large amount of money and therefore very large amount of power wants us to overlook a major felony or other minor male indiscretion committed against a woman such as: sexual assault, abuse, stalking, intimidation, restraint, or harassment. 

 Today’s rally is being led by a large jewel encrusted man in a candy hued suit.  From this distance he appears to be, a pimp, a rapper, a preacher, or possibly even a candidate for the 2008 Democratic Party.

 Until today while Mr. So and So, as the unidentified celebrity will now be referred, continues to avoid the press and live a somewhat regular life; the alleged victim has been fired from her job.  Supervisors claim that her negative publicity has affected their business.  She’s also had to vacate her apartment, as the swarms of reporters have made it impossible to secure her privacy or safety. 

Pardon me one second ladies and gentlemen…

 I’ve just been informed that angry mobs are on stand by to send hate mail and plaster the Internet with the alleged victim’s personal information.  One website, www.shewantedit.com, has received several thousand hits after being up and running for only two days. The website uses the alleged victim’s photograph with the caption, “you know she wanted it” in large flashing letters.   The website also includes pornographic images of women in submissive positions and links to a variety of other adult websites.

 The general public, with the exception of a few lesbians a hand full of feminists and some dead Latina’s grandmother, have sided with Mr. So and So.  Popular opinion is that Mr. So and So, quote “seems innocent” and “looks sorry.”  In response to recent events, one particularly concerned citizen states “why Mr. So and So need to take some pussy from somebody? He got so much money, bitches is trippin over theyselves to get in his face.  Hell push come to shove he can buy the pussy before he gotta rape somebody.” 

 Rest easy tonight America, our paternalistic oppressive systems are indeed intact. 

Maleness still equals power.

Sexism continues to be internalized.

Goodnight and God Bless.


 Cynthia C Harris