Animal abuse and dating violence

Power & Control Wheel

Over the weekend, Gainesville had yet another incident of dating violence make the news. Early Sunday, Tamarcus Lamont Harper was arrested on several changes including animal cruelty causing death, kidnapping, obstructing justice, resisting arrest, and three counts of battery. The incident began after Harper and his on-again/off-again girlfriend got into an argument. The violence escalated after she asked him to leave resulting in his violence towards her, her roommates and her kitten. While this may seem like an isolated incident, it surely isn’t the first time violence or abuse has occurred in the relationship. We know that abusive relationships are the result of a pattern of unhealthy and controlling behaviors. These behaviors are the result of one person’s need to have power and control over their dating partner. In this particular case, we have several tactics to exert control being used. The largest being intimidation and threats.

This case definitely highlights the variety of power and control tactics abusers can/do use. The typical things we think about are the physical forms of violence, such as punching, kicking, hitting, biting, swinging around the room by your ankles, etc. But there are also many instances of intimidation and threats going on in this case. Harper threatened both the ex-girlfriend and her roommates with additional violence if the left the apartment or called the police. He intimidated them by killing the kitten. The message he was sending, whether he realizes it or not, was “Look at my strength. Look at what I can do to this tiny creature. Imagine what I could do to you.” Abuse to animals is one way perpetrators make their victims afraid. Animal abuse can often be a warning sign of unhealthy behaviors. Such as a pet mysteriously ‘dies’ or ‘disappears’. If there are children in the family, the loss of a pet can be particularly traumatizing and challenging. Especially if it is done in front of them.

While Harper may not realize how text book his targeting the kitten is, those of us well versed in intimate partner violence see it as yet another intimidation tactic.

More Thoughts on the ‘Man Box’

Check out this article about impossible standards of masculinity and the illusion of our culture’s “real man”. It’s discussing how there’s an emerging trend of unhealthy and unrealistic ideas about what real men should look like (unrealistic ‘fitness’ standards and body types), how they should act, etc. It’s refreshing to see such an article. Often the topic is dominated by discussion about the terrible and unrealistic expectations for girls and women. Don’t get me wrong, that still needs attention! I just don’t think we should overlook the pressures boys and men face in fulfilling society’s stereotypes and scripts, too! I felt the article was disturbingly accurate. A lot of the ideas/concepts discussed in the article are also the same ones we hear when exploring gender stereotypes with youth. Be sure to read all the way through. It’s kind of feel good at the end and made me smile.

Here’s a snippet:  “So guys? Listen up. The world is telling you to turn yourself into a unicorn and start shitting diamonds. The world is giving you an impossible task. It’s not just a stupid task; it’s not just a pointless task; it’s not just a needlessly confining task; it’s not just a task that will make you miserable. It is, quite literally, unattainable. You will never, ever be man enough. So stop giving a damn. And be whoever you are.”

Walmart Case

Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that 1.5 million women could not act as a class in filing a lawsuit against Walmart for discriminatory practices in filling management positions. You can read more on the ruling here, here, and here. This is a huge set back for not only women’s rights and worker’s rights, but for the greater movement for equality and social justice. The saddest part is this sets a precedent that creates excuses and fails to hold companies and powerful individuals responsible for wrong doing. It sends the clear message only the rich and powerful get ‘justice’ and further reinforces intersections of oppression. From another perspective, perhaps we’re missing something. Often advocates and activists aren’t as savvy on the intricacies of law and the judicial process. Perhaps it’s a bit cynical to think that the Supreme Court doesn’t have the peoples’ interest and the law at the core of their decision.

Regardless, I can’t help but think about what kind of effects this type of decision will have on youth. What messages does this send to youth who are going for that first job? What does it say about equality? Can we use this as an example of the collective voice and using your individual power?

What happens when you step out of the Man Box?

One of the main topics we discuss with youth is gender stereotypes. We talk about where these ideas come from and what happens when someone doesn’t follow the script society gives a particular gender. This is crucial to cover when discussing abuse and intimate partner violence. Many times rigid gender roles are used to justify abuse or used as a tactic to control how someone acts or thinks. The main issue is when one person attempts to force another into a role they don’t want to fill. Or alternatively, punishes someone for being different and outside the “norm”. Society at large, places men and women in very constraining, predetermined boxes. These dictate how men and women should act, what jobs they should do, what roles they should fill in relationships, and what are appropriate expressions of strength.

In Washington, we’re given a perfect example of what happens when someone steps outside of their prescribed ‘box’. After making fun of his mom’s complaining about her high heals, Sam Saurs was challenged to try it for a day. Saurs took the challenge and donned not only a pair of heals, but also a dress and make up. He was subsequently sent home for the day “for being a distraction” and, after telling the principal the comment was sexist, he was later expelled from school.

There is SO much to discuss here. The biggest being, what happens when we don’t follow the path of the stereotypical man or woman? What happens when we step out of our predetermined box? In this case, the result was punishment and negative feedback. The comment that really got me was Saurs told reporters he felt “pretty” that day. How awesome for a youth to express themselves in way that is comfortable and completely them! Not only was Saurs ok with this expression of himself, but his mother was also supportive. Isn’t that way we want from our youth? Isn’t this what we’re asking from parents?

This piece is an example of the ways in which systems of oppression are maintained. We’re told that the only socially acceptable way of being a man is to be tough, ultra masculine, even violent. In order to maintain this form of masculinity, adults, peers, and communities, reinforce the gender stereotype and penalize anyone doing something different. We reinforce the ideas by marginalizing those that don’t fit the ‘man’ bill or ‘woman’ bill. Saurs’s expulsion from school is a shining example. I, personally, find Saurs to be quite the strong man. He was being himself and proud of it. He was trying a new version of him. It takes  a lot of courage to step outside of the man box. It takes courage to be yourself.

This leaves us with a great opportunity to start a meaningful discussion. What can we learn from this example? In what ways can we support individuals being themselves without trying to dictate who they are? In expelling Saurs for wearing a dress, heals, and calling the principal on his discrimination, we’re sending a very clear message to all other youth. Toe the line. What’s being missed is an incredible learning opportunity for both the adults and youth in the school. But we wouldn’t want to actually learn something in school, now would we?

Inspiration station!

Sometimes I get a bit down just reading the news and learning about all the hate, violence and discrimination around us. Every now and then we all need a ‘pick me up’. A coworker here at our office found this super adorable site with free downloads and inspiration. I’ve placed several up around my office. They’re wonderful little reminders to stay positive and look on the bright side. But don’t take my word for it, check out Kind Over Matter for yourself!

What do you do when you’re feeling a little downtrodden? Have you ever gone out of your way to show another person a random act of kindness? How did it make you feel?

Share This: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

Social networking has become the way our world mobilizes, communicates, and interacts. Many revolutions, protests and uprising across the globe are able to blast activists, volunteers and protesters via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc (seriously, I don’t even know what else is out there and available any more). The task of staying current is overwhelming. Trying to figure out how to best use these outlets for creating change and reaching youth is even more confusing and tricky. Luckily for us, there’s a new book out called “Share This: How You Will Change the World with Social Networking”, but Deanna Zandt.

Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

“All this activity leaves us little time to contemplate any forest for all these trees, let alone think about the bigger picture of how this technology will change the future. But here’s the secret: How we share information, find community, and both connect and disconnect will give us unprecedented influence over our place in the world. Social media technology holds some of the biggest potential for creating tectonic shifts in how we operate, and the overall open-ended promise of technology gives us a great shot at creating the systems for change. Technology isn’t a magic bullet to solving the world’s problems, but it’s certainly a spark to the fuse of one of the biggest shifts in power that the world has seen in a thousand years. In this book, I hope to show you how.”

Another book I’ve recently ordered and am looking forward to getting through. Seems my social change reading list is growing and growing! More thoughts on this books soon to follow.

Update: Gabrielle Union responds to Rihanna’s ‘Man Down’

Gabrielle Union (star of “Bring it On”, “Something the Lord Made”, “Bad Boys II” and “10 Things I Hate About You”) has been an active advocate and voice for rape crisis centers for some time. The actress has been open and vocal about her own rape experience the age of 19. After all the controversy surrounding Rihanna’s new single, she offered some support and commented on how violence is not the answer. You can view coverage of her response here and here.

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