Why I Do What I Do

I find it incredibly important for me to take some time now and then to reflect on why I do the work that I do.  I love my job, but there are definitely times where I lose focus of why I spend my time working in the ways that I do for social justice.  A few months ago, I talked about the incredible hope and inspiration that the students from HOBY give me, so I figure that Thanksgiving week is a great time to stop and reflect on what keeps me going, what inspires me in my work.

This is what inspires me:

Leaders of Othello High School, Othello, WA

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Highlighting a Hero – Graeme Taylor

I’ve had an amazing week!  On Monday, I was in Othello, WA, speaking to the student body of Othello High School, and on Tuesday, I was able to speak to the students of Warden High School in Warden, WA.  I was facilitating my signature workshop, The Wall, and, as I always am when I get to work with incredible young people, I left Washington feeling inspired.  Thus, I plan to write a blog post in the next few days about the inspiration I draw from incredible young people like the ones I worked with in the last few days, but I have been swamped since getting home, so in the mean time, I am going to post a quick little something highlighting a mind-blowingly-awesome young person I’ve read about this week.

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Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence

It was amazing to see the dialogue created by last week’s post, “Halloween, A Study in Unhealthy Gender Norms.”  All of the thoughtful comments have really had me thinking.  I hope that they have provided wonderful conversation and thought material for you as they have for me.  I usually try not to write about things that are too closely related two weeks in a row, but in this case, there has been something on my mind all week that relates to last week’s topic.  I was particularly struck by the words of my friend Lauren,

“There has never been a woman in the history of our society that has PROVOKED a man to stare at her, objectify her, touch her, sexually assault her or beat her. Those are CHOICES that men make. Those are LEARNED behaviors that men need to UN-learn.”

Her words could not ring more true, and undoubtedly, one of my greater struggles in life is to unlearn the socialization we men experience with regards to our interactions with women.  After all, in my thoughts that Halloween night, I crossed that line of blaming women for the way men were acting toward them.  Even while trying to hold the men accountable, I couldn’t help but think, “But she chose to wear that absurd outfit!”

It’s hard!  It frustrates the hell out of me!  This is why I get so excited about playing a role in the socialization of the young men in my life . . . cousins, nephew, friends’ kids, maybe even a son of mine one day (though the jury’s still out on this one).  My mind always comes back to Andrea Gibson’s question of “What will I teach my son?”  I love a story my friend Zach has told me many times of his mentor Novian talking to his son after the boy hit his sister.  Novian asked his son something to the effect of, “What did we learn is the most important part of being a man?”  The boy responds, “Being gentle.”

The truth is, though, that we cannot simply wait for a generation of young men to rise up and make the change in how we treat women because in the time we wait, every two minutes, another woman in the U.S. is a victim of sexual violence.  We as men must constantly work to hold each other accountable – something that is hard and scary and can feel alienating but is incredibly important.  We must examine our own relationships  and ensure that they are sex-positive and healthy.

One thing that we as men and women in our society can work to do better, though, is support survivors of sexual violence.  In the past week, I have been thinking a lot about how we treat women who have the courage to come forward to prosecute their aggressor or seek help for the trauma in a sexual assault.  Fortunately there are many wonderful shelters, organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals who are doing the work to help women understand that, in the words of Lauren, “there has never been a woman in the history of our society that has PROVOKED a man” to assault her.  In no way could sexual violence ever be the fault of the survivor.

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Halloween, A Study in Unhealthy Gender Norms

I love Halloween!  It is, by far, my favorite Holiday.  It is a chance to dress up and act like a kid again, casting off the silly structures that grownups are expected to live within.  I don’t want to wear a suit.  I don’t even want to wear slacks!  I wish there were more opportunities for me to dress as a life-sized Care Bear and go out and have fun with friends!  Here’s a perfect example of what I love about Halloween: I am driving my friends and I (who are dressed as the cast from Toy Story) down to meet up with Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, a baby doll, and Ken Doll.  We pull up to a light, and I look over to see a pirate, grimacing at me.  AWESOME!

The Cast of Toy Story!

We had a grand old time running around as giant toys and taking pictures with people in other awesome costumes.  We saw some really creative stuff!  We saw the characters from Candy Land.  We saw Quail Man and Patty Mayonnaise.  We saw some super creepy creepersons.  Altogether, lots of fun and lots of creativity.

Then my crew and I went down into the area of Denver known as “LoDo.”  This is where a lot of the trendy clubs are and where the trendy folks tend to spend their time.  As far as I am concerned (and it seemed as far as those in my group seemed to think), this was a mistake.  As we fought through the dense crowds, I became increasingly uncomfortable with two things: The dress of many (perhaps the majority?) of the women and the way the men were acting in response to this dress.

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