I had been invited to participate in a morning school assembly program for 500 students. The program addressed a variety of violence issues. My presentation on sexual harassment prevention was first. It was followed by a police officer and a District Attorney discussing legal aspects of domestic violence/sexual assault, and the cycle of violence (honeymoon, tension, violence, honeymoon...) in relationships. After that presentation a young woman in her 30's spoke about surviving a violent relationship and her sister being killed by her abusive husband (who then committed suicide). Finally, a young woman who survived an abusive relationship sang songs about her experience of abuse. It was an amazing program and I was quite moved by all the stories.
At the end of the program all of the presenters came back on stage and answered questions from the students. As the event was coming to a close, I requested some time to end with a few comments. I told the students I wanted to share something very personal with them, and waited until they were quiet.
I told them I sat in the back of the auditorium and cried when I listened to the woman talk about losing her sister to domestic violence. I told them how incredibly sad/broken-hearted and angry I am that there is so much violence in our society. I said I feel it’s tragic that as a country, we imprison more people than any other country. I explained I was angry our country spends more money on our military and wars than the next 8-10 similarly sized countries combined. I said it embarrasses me to live in one of the most violent, gun-toting countries in the world, and that we are surrounded by so much violence of all kinds we almost take it for granted.
"No Fear" and "Never Surrender."
I told them that I had never met Amy's brother-in-law (who killed her sister and committed suicide), but in a way, I knew him well. Like so many boys and men who have been taught to be tough and never express feelings or appear vulnerable, beneath his anger and violence was a scared little boy who feared losing his wife (she had filed for divorce), and was scared about how to live without her, yet had no way to communicate what he felt. I told them that all of us, boys and girls, women and men, are victims of these gender stereotypes. I invited them to examine the impact of these stereotypes on their lives and perhaps reconsider what kind of woman and man they wanted to become.
In that assembly, I hope I was able to give permission to boys and girls to express the full range of who they are as people. The challenge of combating the powerful influences of gender stereotypes has to be everyone's work. We’ve lost enough young people to violence in all forms.
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