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

I realize that growing up in a family comprised majorly of women, does not equate to a safe environment for women and girls.  Families and circles of women can easily act out internalized oppressive beliefs on each other, even in the absence of a batterer.  We can “crack the whip” in our quiet spaces, acting out these deep mistruths about how Black women are lazy, and don’t deserve rest or unearned leisure.

In creating safe spaces for women and girls we might search for examples of women who created woman-centered spaces for themselves and other family members.  There might be, as Audre Lorde* mentions  “the unmarried aunt, childless or otherwise, whose home and resources were often a welcome haven for different members of the family…”  In whose home was/is it safe to speak freely, to rest, to dream, to express yourself creatively?  In whose home were you free to be present in your body, free from the feeling that you were being sized up up for having too much or too little, free to eat what you wanted without commentary, free of invasive notions of modesty?

If you can’t think of a person, try to remember who seemed the happiest, the juiciest, or was described as wild.  Since we aren’t always able to remember the truth about each other, these free women might have been looked at with suspicion or contempt.  You might have been warned against being that kind of woman, or the source of her joy may have always been connected to some sinful behavior.

We get to make the rules in our space.   We get to expect that those rules will be respected.  We  also get to make choices about how to proceed, when our wishes are not respected.

In the past, whenever I tolerated non-woman-centered conversations or allowed the creepy guest to explain why their action was misinterpreted, I have regretted it.  The tolerance came from the knowledge that 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.  Over time I became comfortable escorting offenders out of my home or gathering without feeling like I needed to justify my choice to the offender or the other guests.  And addressing the violence is absolutely necessary for everyone’s comfort.  Women don’t have to become hyper-vigilant as potential victims and men don’t have to be hyper-vigilant as potential defenders.

One of the statements I use to recover my voice when I feel threatened by the presence of violence is “I wish a (word for oppressive person) would say/would come up in my house and/would try to etc…”  Whether I say it out loud or to myself, I am reminded that I have choice and power in my space.  I can do something to make my family, my home, my life safer for women and girls.

*Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving.  First Published in The Black Scholar, vol. 9, no. 7 (1978).


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.