Paradigm Shift (Days 4 & 5)

Spent most of the day attending training for a federal grant that my school received from the Office of Violence Against Women. Paradigm shift: I have not heard this term used so much in one training conference! But it is true. We have been so used to doing things a certain way that we have forgotten to reflect and question how it’s working or if it is at all.

The issue of violence against women is a very important one for me. I grew up in a culture where women are told “to lay back and enjoy it if rape is inevitable”. Where men are told it’s okay to “put their women in their place” as long as they “don’t leave any visible marks.” Domestic violence is a thing that happens behind closed doors and it is none of anybody’s business but the family involved.

I myself am a survivor of child molestation, sexual harassment, stalking, and rape at different times in my life. I remember the first time I acknowledged that none of it was my fault. I attended a Violence Against Women conference in Montreal organized by Filipino-Canadian organizations, and a young woman spoke about the sexual abuse she experienced in the hands of a family member she had trusted. A dam broke inside me that day and released all that pent-up guilt and shame. As a teen, they manifested in hash marks on my arms and in self-destructive behavior that continued on to adulthood. That conference woke me. I felt empowered to be an agent of change myself through my writing and by doing advocacy.

At the OVW training today, we talked about the need to find different ways of engaging the community and I totally agree. In the early ‘90s when I attended that conference in Montreal, I was moved to action by the sight and sound of brave women in my community speaking out against violence against women. I think a lot of it has to do with having struggled with the issue myself. However, for many, this issue is not seen as a priority. Just the other day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to the non-apology of Republican rep Ted Yoho for calling her a “fucking bitch”. He denies saying this — he claims he referred to her comments about the rise of crime being the direct result of growing poverty as “freaking bs”. Sounds very similar indeed. He mentioned being a husband and a father to girls as if these things make him “a decent man”. AOC politely berated him by saying it’s “treating people with respect that makes a decent man.” But she also ably lambasted a misogynistic culture that has allowed for this kind of behavior to persist. This is no different from getting harassed as a waitstaff or a commuter on the train, which AOC and a lot of women have experienced.

And so how do we begin to do a paradigm shift to more actively involve our campus community in eliminating gender violence? Well, we need to be more proactive than reactive. We need to move from simply raising awareness to providing skills to students, faculty, and staff to recognize and immediately address it when it’s happening. To be honest, I am getting compassion fatigued at the numbers being thrown at me. Yes, I know, 1 out of 3 women have experienced gender violence in some shape or form, some more violent than others, but let’s do something about it already! Let’s stop being and feeling like helpless bystanders.

What should we do when we see someone being harassed for being a woman or a girl? Or what if it’s a more subtle form of abuse — like a micro-aggression in the workplace? How do we make sure our guests feel and are safe in our homes when we have crazy parties? In our classrooms, what do we do when students write about their experiences of sexual assault or domestic violence? And so on and so forth.

I also learned about the idea of intrinsic motivation and why it’s important to activate this among our community members. We don’t get buy-ins from mandating things, but if we are able to tap into their sense of justice and humanity, then we would be more successful. We do this by including their voices in creating a culture that will counter the rape culture we are living in.

Well, day has turned to night and then day again. I’ve not stopped writing and, in between, I’ve walked the dogs, taken loved-ones to get their covid shots (my school has made it possible for us and two members of our families to get the vaccine—yay), gone to Seafood City, had Luis’s delicious mostaciolli, watched 90-Day Fiancé with my daughter (some of these people need serious therapy and I hope they’re getting it), and oh, my daughter told me her class got bombed by someone with porn while they were watching a serious play about slavery! WTF!!!! Fortunately, she was in the bathroom at the time. I slept at midnight, but now it’s day again and I’m still not done with my homework.

And by the way, I got this email and it made my heart sing. Thank you.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2015 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2008 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. (filinthegap.com.) She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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