Raising My Daughters In An Unmuted Society (or Somebody’s Always Got Somethin’ To Say)

As the mother of two daughters I sometimes struggle with the way things are versus the way things should be when encouraging them to become brave, bold, and confident women. I think about things that could have been most helpful for me as I was navigating the path towards adulthood and want to make this path a little easier for them. One thing that would have been helpful is if I felt I was allowed to express who I was and to be comfortable, loving and accepting of all the aspects of me.

Being raised by a strict, Christian mother, I was taught to believe that my body was something to be kept hidden and at times to even be ashamed of. If I dared to push the boundaries and show any skin, wearing a tank top or shorts too high above the knees, I would be ridiculed or referred to by other unflattering terms where I was accused of seeking attention. It was always confusing for me though because regardless of the clothes I had on, I would still receive that unsolicited attention.  It was not until my college years that I realized I liked the way I looked in certain clothing choices and that was okay.

So now, I am raising my own daughters, who are eleven years apart in age, and let me just say, that especially for my oldest, some of her clothing choices would make the little old church ladies I grew up around turn over in their graves! While she is very mindful and respectful of the thoughts of her elders when she is in their presence at church or other functions, she makes certain to never lose her identity in what she chooses to wear. And I embrace that. Do I sometimes hear the gasps from others who would question me as a mother by “allowing her to walk out the house dressed like that”? Certainly. And if I am given the opportunity, I take the time to do a little educating.

By being in this work, but more importantly, by knowing who my daughter is, I know that the thoughts that enter the mind of anyone who might use the way one chooses to dress as justification to pass judgement, harass or excuse sexual violence, are not the thoughts that can put an end to it. Sometimes, I have to put my own thoughts in check because of the societal noise that exists; those thoughts do not empower women and girls to be true to their authentic selves.

mountain bridge

credit: indulgy.com

In my primary prevention work, I often refer to the metaphor of traveling upstream to do some major bridge repair work. But as I talk about repairing this bridge, I had not given much consideration to the tools one must carry in their backpack. Imagine that the bridge that is encountered is located atop this mountain with a heavy stream of water flowing down. In order for me to even reach this bridge, I have to first climb this mountain, and move past all those voices that tell me who I am supposed to be as a Christian woman. I have to put on my noise canceling headphones.

I have to consider this as I raise my own daughters. I am optimistic that the tools my youngest daughter will have to carry in her backpack will look much different than the ones I have had to carry. I am optimistic that her backpack will be light and the only thing she hears coming from her headphones is the harmony that comes when women and girls are loved, respected and treated as equal. The harmony that comes when the noise that attempts to diminish who they were created to be, cannot and will not prosper.

Leslie Conway is the Prevention Coordinator for the Action Alliance and is proud to be a mother, daughter, and sister, working to prevent violence against women and girls.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Healthy Teen Relationships: A Youth’s Perspective

As president of feminist club one of my responsibilities is to arrange meetings and guest speakers. Last year I brought in a battered women’s counselor to talk to us about healthy teen relationships. I knew the red flags, I had heard them before, but I like most people did not want something bad to apply to me. My friends told me that I was in a bad relationship, but as I heard the counselor list off the red flags, it became reality.

Her talk about unhealthy teen dating felt like a description of my relationship. At the time, I was not spending time with friends or traveling for fear of making my then boyfriend mad, he kept trying to pressure me into things I made clear that I was not ready for, yelling, blaming, threatening, endless fighting over nothing. I had many wonderful, supportive friends during this time, but I had others that did not deal with what I was going through as well. Being on the receiving end of the advice and support taught me exactly what works and what does not work. It has been said many times before, but it is so incredibly important that I want to say it again: the most important thing in these situations is to be there for the victim of an unhealthy/abusive relationship. Some of my friends dropped me or got mad at me for not spending enough time with them. It was not  that I did not care, it was that I knew he would be mad.

Other friends tried to pressure me to leave him. I understand how this would make sense, but for someone in a controlling relationship, the last thing I needed was to be controlled by someone else. The other thing is, however simple it may seem to an outsider, leaving an unhealthy relationship is incredibly hard. This can be because one believes their partner can change, they truly love them, or the partner threatens that something bad will happen if they do break it off.

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Picture courtesy of Diana Kabbani

Once I finally did leave my ex-boyfriend I finally felt free. My friends were there for me after I broke it off. One of the best ways I was able to get over it was blocking his number and social media. People with controlling personalities like that are manipulative and will try to get their partner back with lies and empty promises, that is why cutting off communication is essential. Everyone deserves respect and happiness in their relationship. We all have a duty to do what we can to help victims of unhealthy relationships and I hope this blog post is helpful in doing so.

Diana Kabbani is a student and President of her school Feminist Club. 

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Want to learn more about building teen resiliency? Check out The DO YOU program. DO YOU addresses youth violence, dating and sexual violence, sexual harassment, and bullying by confronting its root causes and enhancing protective factors (also referred to as building resilience) to promote positive development and healthy relationships for age 13-16 years old. The UnCurriculum (the facilitator’s guide for DO YOU uses primary prevention principles and creative expression in a strategy intended to prevent violence before it starts.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

“No one does that”: Teens and the challenge of teaching consent

 

“That’s not realistic. No one does that,” assessed my (then) 14 year old daughter when she previewed the rough cut of Ask. Listen. Respect., the Action Alliance’s new video to teach teens about consent.

Her comment stung, but she had it exactly right.

We had developed the 1-minute video to be the centerpiece of a new statewide sexual violence prevention messaging campaign. The object: illustrate to young teens a set of concrete examples for how to ask for consent, what enthusiastic verbal consent looks like, and how to respond to “no” respectfully.

The Action Alliance prevention team had decided to focus on consent and negotiation after collaborating with the brilliant minds at Force: Upsetting Rape Culture, who assisted us in conducting a field scan. While the consultants at Force conducted online listening experiments and analyzed the data, we reviewed best practices, consulted with other prevention experts, and held discussion groups with young teens to learn about their lives. The void became clear. Negotiation and consent, two essential building blocks of healthy relationships and (in later, more mature relationships) joyous sexuality, were concepts unfamiliar to young teens.

During the middle and high school years, teens experiment with new identities and new relationships. Every relationship, no matter now short or casual, is a rich learning opportunity that lays the groundwork for future adult relationships. And yet, teaching and talking about the skills necessary to engage in negotiation and ask for consent rarely happens. In my daughter’s words: no one does that.

When we asked middle school boys what consent means, here’s what they said:

  • “I’ve never heard that word, like, in a relationship.”
  • “It’s like, you have to have parent’s consent to order that movie, so like permission?”
  • “Talk about it?”
  • “I don’t know I’m as confused as you!”

Perhaps even more concerning: teen boys explained that their friend/partner saying “no” to them was something they took personally. A rejection.

The Ask. Listen. Respect. video speaks simply and directly to young teens. It shows two teens (about 14 years old) practicing consent. They negotiate how they spend time together (“Want to watch a movie”? “Shoot hoops?”), each hearing a “yes” or a “no” respectfully. In the final scene, one teen asks if the other would like to kiss, and the teen responds with an enthusiastic “yes”. As they lean toward one another, the camera pans behind a tree, the scene ends, and the teens voice over: “Don’t worry about it being awkward, just say what you want…and ask first”.

Parent discussion guide COVER

photo from DO YOU discussion guide

We developed two discussion guides to accompany the video and promote conversations about respect, boundaries, and consent: one for parents, the other for facilitators of teen groups. All materials now live on our brand new Teach Consent microsite to make the materials most accessible to parents and facilitators.

The practices of consent and negotiation are essential to equitable, fulfilling relationships, regardless of a person’s age, regardless whether the relationship is romantic or platonic. Where physical intimacy is involved, these skills provide healthy counterweights to our culture’s pervasive narratives that intimacy “just happens”, and that coercion is sexy, while clear communication is not.

Teaching consent debunks the notion that we all magically just know what our partner wants, what feels good, what turns them on.

Where teens are involved, teaching consent and negotiation gives them tools to build empathy, deepen connection and trust, and helps prepare them to be responsible, respectful partners in future relationships.

To be clear: changing individual knowledge and behavior is one piece in the complex and layered puzzle of preventing sexual violence. Larger oppressive cultural forces related to power and agency, for example, shape individual experiences and choices. And while communication and negotiation are everyone’s responsibility, if a person chooses to move forward without getting clear consent from their partner, what follows may veer quickly into coercion and/or assault. The responsibility then lies solely with the person who advances. No one else’s.

Consent is the non-negotiable, bare minimum we should expect from our partners when it comes to physical intimacy. As such, it is one of the first and most essential concepts that should be taught. Precisely because it seems so foreign to teens at an age when they are experimenting with how to relate to their peers, precisely because many teens are entering into their first romantic relationships which set the tones for future relationships. Precisely because, at least at this point in our cultural evolution, “no one does that”.

 

Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance prevention team, and a proud, grateful (and sometimes harried) mama of two truly incredible kids.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org