This was among the entries for a “forgiveness post card” contest. I thought it was incredibly powerful and could mean so much for so many. We are all silenced at times… intentional or not… what silences you? Do you now fly? Is there anything I can do?
As of today I am beginning my vacation. I will probably show up again later in the week, but I wanted to clear my head and get in the right frame of mind. I’m really fortunate to love my job… I mean I LOVE my job! And right now there are a plethera of exciting opportunities ahead for my programs. We’ve completed our strategic plan and are now about the business of implementing it. The excitement means that my head is spinning with ideas and details and the “To Do” list is causing my notepad to run dangerously low on space. I’m really excited about the break, but I will also be excited to get moving when I return. Rest assured, I am clear that I am in a unique position – I really do love my job, even the bad days.
In order to really clear my head I need to share (and then purge from my vacation mind) some information I came across yesterday while wrapping up at work. It has left me perplexed. Actually, it pissed me off. Now, I can hate the war and love the warriors, so please don’t take this as an affront to those who are doing all that we have asked them to in crazy times of unrest. That’s not my point. Here’s what got me. I received a fax that addressed sexual assault in the military. It said enough to actually make me go to the website right after seeing it. www.ablackrose.org Did you know that 1 in 3 women in the military will experience sexual assault or harrassment (as opposed to 1 in 6 in civilian life)? That is CRAZY! But what is more crazy are the stats (videos included on the home page, scroll down) and response of the military leaders and systems to this craziness! I was quickly reminded of a bumper sticker I have seen many times: “If you are not outraged, you aren’t paying attention”. Every time I think about it I just get pissed off all over again… I am aware that the military has published new protocols for victims that are designed to make the reporting, and subsequent healing process, more sensitive and intentional. And the direct service personnel that I have worked with are exceptional, but to say that the military’s response, as it relates to perpetrators, lacks luster appears to be a grossly overstated. When does that stop? Who’s accountable?
This was the first I had heard of the Black Rose initiative. I am very familiar with the Red Flag Campaign that was created by Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (http://www.vsdvalliance.org) and is now being replicated on college campuses across the country. Both of these initiatives are designed to increase awareness but use of the Red Flag Campaign is a prevention strategy. The domestic violence counterpart to Black Rose is the Silent Witness initiative. In both cases, the experiences of victims are memorialized by providing a visual reference to demonstrate prevalence. VSDVAA also has a display known as “The Art of Surviving.” This amazingly powerful display includes the artwork of sexual assault survivors. Using various and sundry media, survivors tell their own stories.
… and justice for all… where is it?
I don’t always get so heady in my thoughts, but this one struck me with a “hmmm…” Of course it could have been the sound of the vacuum cleaner I was using at the time but I was thinking about my mother, my partner’s mother, a great aunt, and several others who had passed away. I caught myself chuckling at the one thing they all had in common – If they heard it in their heads then it was perfectly alright for it to also come out of their mouths – whenever, wherever. I know a number of women who live with dread anticipating each passing birthday. I am NOT one of those. I am looking at birthdays as though they are marks on the volume button of my stereo. With each turn my voice gets stronger and stronger. Gotta love getting older, but it has been a long road of learning. It was this that made me consider the bell curve. The bell curve is described as a visualization of “norming” trends. I considered how my mother, my partner’s mother, great aunt, and the others seemed to have found their voices with age. This led me to the inverted bell curve. Now I’m going to generalize a little here and speak in terms of the evolution of female voices, specifically. It is an interesting perspective to ponder (in my opinion)…
The birth of a baby is joyful but the proof of life is actually baby’s first scream which triggers an eruption of elation and energy all around. Uncontrolled outpouring of baby’s first expressions. It is a sign of health and strong lungs, as well as an entrance filled with no restrictive norms. It’s all about baby! The early years are spent helping them find their voice, anticipating every new sound, and encouraging them to use their words. We remind the little ones that if they don’t use their words nobody will know what they want or need. But at some point, we change the message to “children should be seen and not heard.” We stop living for every new utterance and start giving cues as to what their words should sound like (and let’s not forget… how often they should use them and how loud they shouldn’t be). The mixed messages just keep on coming. As they grow toward womanhood we we let them know how proud we are when they are recognized for their strength and courage… as long as it isn’t in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or in front of the wrong people (in our opinion). And while their psyche is incorporating all of this wisdom, we start introducing them to the concept of mediocre. Not intentionally, of course, but the message is still there. We teach the meaning of life as it relates to our success in relationships, friendships, marriage, motherhood, a “good” employee, etc… We push them to be smart (but not too smart), strong (but not too strong), ambitious (but, well, you get the picture), proud… “Be yourself!” How do they know which one?
Let’s be honest. I am not about blaming or crediting any one particular group or gender with how our paths have brought us to where we are. Societal and cultural norms, familial history, “the times,” etc. have contributed to where we are today. And although we like to credit our mothers with our challenges, all those who went before us were the products of those who went before them. I am just asking us to look at the future and change the norms we have learned to cling to. I am not suggesting that we should try to emulate the “normal” bell curve, but rather try to give our little girls a progressively rising line that extends far beyond the passing on of those wise and wonderful women who have gone before. If we can do this, they, too, will rise!