We need to start finding common ground and making friends in anti-violence efforts.
One day last summer I was working in my front garden – part of my notion of having vegetable garden domination on my little plot of earth. I was tending the rows of tomatoes, basil, beets and kale, when an older woman, dressed in black, stopped and started to chastise me about my weeding technique.
I didn’t really understand her, as her English was not so good and my Italian is, ahem, non-existent. Still, she showed me, somewhat good naturedly, the proper technique of tilling the earth.
Her walks continued over the summer, and our rapport built every time she walked her dog. One day, she asked if she could have some kale to make minestrone (by that time, the kale was the size of small saplings, and my kids were on a sustained kale strike). “Of course!” I said. “All you want!” I said. And she did, thanking me in her broken English. This repeated a few more times over the course of the summer, with both of us being appreciative of the inherent gains (finding a home for one’s produce is a real gift for a gardener) through this neighborliness.
Then on a late fall weekend, she knocked on my door. Knowing we had some snow, I was unsure why she had come by. When I opened the door, she handed me a bottle of homemade wine and murmured her thanks. I did too.
I have told this story before about what a powerful vegetable kale is – the power to unite two strangers in friendship. Yet, my Kale friend reminds me of the power of friendship and connection in addressing issues of healing the wounded in this world.
It wasn’t too long ago that the discourse over sexual violence focused exclusively on girls and women. Much like the attention that was given to domestic violence, this way of seeing the world reinforced a gender divide in the helping professions – that women were the essential victims in these matters, and men were often identified as the offending population. In essence, today’s victim services have been predicated on this politic. As a founder for a men’s trauma service here in Canada, we realize that the services for guys are about a generation behind the development of services for women. That’s a lot of catching up to do.
It’s not easy making room for others at a table where the (funding) pickings are slim, and the service demands are daunting. While we all seem to want the same outcomes in our communities – the end of violence and victimization – there has been some distrust about us “Johnny come lately’s.” The issues today are rather more complex in their presentation than they were a generation ago, the knowledge base has expanded, and there are more players to be considered in this field. There is lots of room for miscommunication, and if we let it, there may be more factors to reinforce the divides in society, not in healing them.
Take language, for instance. We, both service providers and activists, must have a common language in order we can communicate. Remember the term “wife assault”? Now terms like Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) suggest a more inclusive consideration – inclusive of both married as well as common law, inclusive of women as well as men, inclusive of straight folks as well as gay. These steps of change cannot be lightly considered as we carve out new ways to working together.
No longer are we working in isolation. I am buoyed when I read about initiatives to engage men in ending violence against women. As a man and as a father to girls, I believe this makes profound sense. Men have to part of the solution. While we all may placed bets what is going to be the best intervention for the buck, we cannot go wrong in working cooperatively—men and women working together on issues of violence, possibly now under the same roof. While there is a beginning build of identified men’s service agencies (like this one), many women’s sexual assault centres are now shifting their focus to serving men. The times they are a changing, and this is a good thing.
Another key ingredient in this gender-shift as it pertains to services is the vision we have as to our collective anti-violence work. Just what are we doing all of this for, anyways? Too often, the criticism is that social agencies not only work in silos (i.e., focusing narrowly and exclusively) in isolation from others, but our vision is in silos as well. While I get tired of this solitude between women’s and men’s services, it doesn’t take much to shift one’s viewpoint. I recall one women activist from an Aboriginal community saying that they (Aboriginal women) very much care about what happens to their men in the justice system. The key vision in her statement was the word “their”—inclusion of men and women was essential to her world view.
In establishing a bricks and mortar service for male survivors here in Canada, it has not been without struggle to keep a proper vision in our work. Sometimes we face exclusion of participating in victim service networks and protocols because we are male-serving. Some folks still are determined to define victim issues as women’s issues. While I am sensitive to the perceived threat that men’s services may place as we request a seat at the table (noting that our funding bases are concretely threatened nowadays by matters of both politics and economy), I sense that things are changing for the good.
The sands are indeed shifting. Not any one lens can explain all the problems with the world. Life is more complex than this. Intervention does not and should not look the same for men as it does for women. Indeed, while trauma is a universal quality for victims of violence regardless of gender, our approaches in terms of gender as it relates to trauma recovery cannot be the same. This work at times is a struggle, and our very role in society compels to shed light in all areas of darkness, regardless of the inherent burn.
So where does this lead to? More dialogue, more listening, more attempts at finding the common ground between us all. And it’s happening all around us, everyday. Issues will no doubt continue to pop up between (and within) men’s and women’s services, yet the resultant dialogue will shift us to the better. Just as men’s services need to recognize the women’s movement for their pioneering work which helped get us to where victim services are today, we also need to make room at the anti-violence table to ensure that the next “movement” can also get a seat. And in doing so, with an open heart, we can break bread (and even steamed kale) with our new friends, some of who may come from the most unlikely of places.
Rick Goodwin, MSW RSW is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Men’s Project, a sexual abuse treatment centre in Ottawa, Canada. Along with its trauma recovery program, The Men’s Project also provides treatment and support on issues such as anger management, emotional intelligence and fathering. It is one of four such counselling agencies for male survivors in Canada. Rick also serves as an Advisory Board member to 1in6 Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].
Photo credit: Flickr / rabiem22