If you’ve ever wondered where courage comes from and you’ve considered all manner of things like stoicism, truth, justice, guts, bravado then I’m afraid you’re wrong.
Yesterday I attended a domestic violence conference which was being held in honour of White Ribbon. On making the decision to attend this conference to support a male colleague and abuse survivor, I had already preempted my need for gaffer tape and sedatives.
I had asked myself how I could possibly go to the place that is so utterly disrespectful of men and masculinity and not scream at them what I desperately wanted to say. Clearly the only only answer was to be prepared to tape my mouth shut. And I was prepared to do that in order to support my friend, because I know what it’s like to be the elephant in the room and the person who speaks the uncomfortable truth.
There was a little part of me that wanted to find an excuse and not go. I wanted to feign sickness, find a crisis to distract me (anyone??), or I would have been happy had armageddon finally come. Anything was going to be better than me having to enter that lions den of gender bigotry. A domestic violence conference in honour of white ribbon! What was I thinking?
As I (intentionally) arrived a little late I entered during the opening talk by a senior police officer right at the time he said “People of all walks of life can be victims. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate on race, socio economic status or gender.” This was an encouraging start.
The first presenter was from the Department of Justice and she gave the regions statistics which were from BOSCAR which showed that 67% of victims were women – thus leaving 33% as men. She showed charts which gave the breakdown of IPV and other family violence and she showed them each for men and women separately. They demonstrated exactly was we know – the men are most frequently the victims of IPV of a female partner, seconded by “other family member”.
So I wondered for a brief moment if it might be OK to talk about men today. Experience told me I would be vilified and so I quickly reverted to the thought of gaffer tape and sedatives. I was thinking of all the nasty comments on line where I am denigrated and name called for talking about men. I was thinking of the time Steve Khouw was brave enough to speak up about male victims at Q&A on domestic violence and the room erupted with disgruntled women shouting “who cares?”. I was thinking I am going to be the most unpopular person in the room and a sense of shame came over me. This conference was predominantly for women. I should respect that, and not ask about men.
It wasn’t until the first session on crisis services and housing when I suddenly felt compelled in what can only be described as a “fuck it” moment and without even thinking about it I spontaneously asked the question about what crisis services there were for men. An Indian woman who I later learned worked within the Punjabi community on domestic violence spoke up loudly at the same time and said “yes, I want to know too.”
There was the expected hushed response and of the three panelists two were having a moment of “shit, we don’t help men” and then the woman from housing took over and told me how they DO help men and she was specific and genuine in her response.
Later in the morning I was in a session about courts and advocacy services, of which three of the 5 panelists were police officers. One was a DVLO and the other two police spokesmen. It’s somewhat annoying to listen to women specific services gloat about all they offer knowing that there are no comparative male services, so after much deliberation, breaking out into a slight sweat, half raising my hand 3 times before the moment of “dammit – someone noticed”, I was handed the microphone to ask my question.
I addressed the two police officers and asked them a two fold question but first in a bid to quell any anticipated dissent from the room, I caveated my question with
I’m sorry, but I will be the woman in the room today who is asking the unpopular and difficult questions”.
I then asked
What are your strategies for referring men who call for assistance when all these services are directed to women? Who do you refer them to?”.
I almost felt a little sorry for the officer as he prepared to delicately answer my question. A well seasoned spokesman he carefully deflected replying that “everyone is treated equally and taken seriously and they assess each case on a merit basis”. With my voice shaking I went on to explain to him that men often report to police and are fobbed off and dismissed. He was acutely uncomfortable and I told him I meant no disrespect, but that while it may be true for him, it is not across the board of police in NSW.
During lunch I was pulled aside by several women working in front line services who thanked me and told me they unofficially wanted to let me know that they KNOW what I am saying and that their hands are often tied but they are truly grateful to hear of my work and welcomed my questions.
What a breakthrough!
It was in these moments that any sense of impropriety I felt left me completely. Being at that conference was absolutely the right place to be. I was welcomed, seen, heard and believed. People connected with not only my message, but they empathised with me and how much courage they knew I had faced by speaking up.
The final session of the day was with Mat Dillon from Parks Community Centre giving a powerful 15 minute presentation on male victims. He was introduced as telling ‘the other side’ of the story. Mat was originally asked to speak about services for men, but knowing there were none, he made his presentation about the highly questionable ethics of referring male victims to a perpetrator program of MRS.
Interestingly in the closing panel discussion there were many questions being put forward about support for men. One woman concerned about how to raise her sons in such a male hostile environment. I managed to sneak in one more question to the women from legal aid but it was a general question to support all people in relation to the system being too slow to respond, files getting misplaced and the stress people were under when this happened. The young lady from the Victims of Crime office did speak up to say they are a gender neutral provider and welcome men and women equally. It’s a pity however in relation to domestic violence that the law doesn’t recognise crimes against men in the same way it recognises crimes against women.
What I really want to get across to you all is that having the courage to show up to these events requires us to be vulnerable. We have to quiet the shame stories in our head that tells us to remain silent, and speak up anyway.
Brene Brown is a researcher I admire greatly. She says about shame
If you put shame into a petrie dish it requires 3 things to grow exponentially. Secrecy, Silence and Judgment.
If you put the same amount of shame into a petrie dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.
All three of us there yesterday allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We spoke about things that are otherwise unspoken about, we lifted the veil of secrecy and removed the silence. And we generated empathy from the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people who were in attendance.
Brene also says
If were going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside that arena and say ‘I’m going to go inside that place and I’m going to kick some ass, when I’m bullet proof and when I’m perfect’….. The truth is that never happens.
And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bullet proof as you could possibly muster, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in, we want to be with you and across from you and we just want for ourselves and the people we care about, to dare greatly.
I know shame is something men live with daily. And I know that vulnerability is something many of you consider to not be a masculine trait, nor one you want to associate with. But I also know that the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. The more you show up, the more you will be heard. And the more we are heard, the sooner things will change.
EMPATHY IS THE ANTIDOTE TO SHAME
So many of you have the ability to do what we did yesterday, you just don’t realise it.
I urge you to watch this video if you want to understand more on this subject. Or you can always reach out to me directly to book in for coaching.