Sunday, November 25, 2007

Choosing Mr. Right: Activism Against Gender Violence

Did you know that today is The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women?

And that today is the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence?

Me neither, but after a quick trip over to Feministe I know now! And you know what? I'm a woman. And I don't like violence against women, so I thought I'd say a little something about it. Maybe it will have a positive effect on someone out there or maybe not, but it's better than doing nothing which is guaranteed to have no effect. Hey...just like voting! Yes, I do harp on that issue a lot. Like I said before, I can make any conversation political because the personal is political.

So do you go about choosing Mr. Right? Clearly it's no easy task when half of all marriages end in divorce and women around the globe are abused on a daily basis. So how do you choose wisely?

Personally, I think it goes back to the relationship your parents had while you were growing up and how you internalized those messages. I believe it's about self-respect issues and boundary issues. The choices you make and the friends you keep all have an impact on you. From watching my parents I learned what I didn't want as well as some things that I did want in my relationships.

While my mom was out taking care of me, we had some very interesting and surprising conversations. She surprised me when she said that she had told her own mother that she had decided she would never get married. She had her list: no gambling, no drinking, no abusing and no jealousy. However, in Jamaica, there are very few men that didn't gamble, drink, abuse, cheat and/or harbor intense jealousies. Some time after, my dad came along and everything changed luckily for all four of us kids. Growing up, from time to time, we'd have little conversations where she made it very clear to me that she'd never put up with hitting and neither should us girls. She also made it very clear to me that I shouldn't hit my boyfriends, even if we were kidding around since once you open that door it's hard to close. If it's OK for you to hit them, why shouldn't they be able to hit you in return? Especially if they're "just kidding". It's a short trip from playful hitting to serious hitting.

Later, as I went through my series of boyfriends, I found that I just wasn't attracted to certain types. When I had a boyfriend that hovered over me and followed me from room to room, I actually asked my mother to ask him to stop since he wasn't listening to me. The relationship ended soon after. Needy? Creepy? Misunderstood? I don't know, but I didn't need to date it.

I had a list as well: tall, dark hair, green eyes, smart, funny, witty, and with common sense. It never occurred to me that I should include the items on her list. As it turned out, tall, dark hair and green eyes got kicked to the curb when I met Eric, but smart, funny, witty and common sense he had in spades!

Things I had never verbalized became more important to me as we got serious: respect, partnership, communication, reliability, commitment and similar life values became very important. Deal breakers, even. The way we argued and handled our disagreements was a big issue for me. These were all very important and remain that way today. I needed an equal partner, not a little boy in a grown man's body that expected me to mother him.

I know that Caitlin is watching us and how we interact. I hope that she remembers it and chooses wisely. I hope that we're setting a good example for her and the twins and hope that it's possible to inoculate them against abusive relationships. I don't know if it is possible, but we're trying. We have those conversations where we talk about self-defense, self-respect and respect for others. We model the behaviors and attitudes we want them to internalize.

And we hope.

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