There’s been quite a positive movement over the past few years to engage men and boys in preventing violence against women. Unfortunately I’ve begun to hear some whisperings that work with women and girls does NOT constitute primary prevention. Here is why I absolutely think that primary prevention work DOES and MUST include work with women and girls (as well as others on the gender spectrum):
I had a great exchange with a male colleague the other day (thanks Grant) that reminded me of why it is so important that I take responsibility for my own empowerment and why it is imperative that primary prevention of violence against women efforts target everyone on the gender spectrum.
While it can be hard for me to stand up for myself, and risk possible (inevitable?) criticism and backlash, I realize that unless I do so I am, by default, waiting for someone else (most likely a man) to do all the messy work and ‘come to my rescue’, which only perpetuates gender stereotypes of the ‘helpless woman’ and the ‘knight in shining armor’. This is not to say that there are not many strong, self-confident women out there who stand up for themselves everyday (and that I am not on occasion one of these), but that in a society that teaches girls/women to base their value on what others think of them, and especially what men think of them, it can be hard for the best of us to overcome that inner voice that tells us if we speak up we will be ignored/ridiculed/squashed because we don’t have a right to have a voice.
It’s not enough to talk to men about privilege and teach them to value women, if we don’t teach women to value themselves and use their voices and power. If we want men to stop taking, and being given (and women to stop giving away), unearned privilege and power then we need to teach women the skills and nurture their self-confidence so that they can take up and use responsibly the power that is rightfully theirs. This is not an either/or deal.
This is about accountability as well. If the majority of our resources are going to men (and I don’t know that this is happening but we’d better take the time to ask the question before it happens by default), then how is that changing what’s already happening? Let’s make sure that *at least* 50% (and really, for equity’s sake, more than that) of our time, energy, resources, and efforts are going towards primary prevention (not just response) efforts that represent women, give women a voice, and work to empower women.
At the same time, on an individual level I have to be responsible for my own empowerment in the ways that I feel safe and I have to be accountable for making sure I am empowering other women – and other individuals and groups – who have less privilege and power than I do.