#MeToo in Ward 8: Triggered Documentary Screening & Community Discussion

 

Earlier this month, our policy team co-hosted a community event in Ward 8 with Grassroots DC to talk about street harassment, gendered violence, and ways we can make change in our community: starting with the Street Harassment Prevention Act (affectionately called SHPA).

The event included a screening of Triggered: Street Harassment and Rape Culture in DC’s Ward 8, which was produced by Liane Scott, president of Grassroots DC. Scott’s film documents the events that took place at the Reclaiming Our Bodies speakout last year. The speakout was prompted by the harassment of a teenage girl and her mother when they were in line for a free meal at a community food table. Instead of getting a meal, they got an earful about how the girl’s attire—a t-shirt, tied at the waist, and leggings—justified harassment and threats of violence by men in the community, including the men serving the food. (SO not ok.)

After the screening, community leaders, including our own Rethink Masculinity co-director Stephen Hicks, took part in a panel discussion on street harassment in the District—and how it’s not about what people are wearing, it’s about a harasser exerting power and control. Stephen Hicks also shared that people, especially men, learn toxic scripts about how to treat themselves and women. He reiterated that people need to un-learn these scripts about masculinity–something CASS’s program on Rethink Masculinity is proud to do.

As panelist Dr. Pamela Brewer, a clinical social worker and therapist said, “None of this is about what you are wearing. All of this is about power.”

Panelists also discussed how race and racism are inextricably linked to street harassment, and how men need to be part of the movement to end gendered violence. Aja Taylor, affordable housing advocate director at Bread for the City and an anti-harassment activist with Reclaiming Our Bodies DC, called attention to the double burden that black women face each day, experiencing harassment due to both patriarchy and white supremacy. Her words were affirmed by an audience member, who added that “Black women have not had an outlet to talk about the violence [they] have faced.”

Hicks also described how our Rethink Masculinity program pushes for societal change: participants are pushed to see the women in their lives as whole beings. Men are too often socialized to see women and queer folks as less than whole beings, as only conduits for pleasure. Panelist Schyla Pondexter-Moore, the mother of the girl who was harassed in the original incident, lifted up the importance of listening to victims of sexual harassment. “If you want to solve the problem, you have to go to the girl and ask her, what would you like to have done as a victim?”

Tony Lewis, Jr., a DC native and author of the book Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration, added, “As men, we may be violating women and we may not even be aware. This [harassment at the community food table] is not an isolated issue of trauma and pain.” Panelist Aja Taylor affirmed the prevalence of trauma in black communities and its role in perpetuating violence: “Trauma [from harassment, from racism] is unnatural. It happens to everyone, but it’s unnatural, and people expect you to have a natural response to something unnatural.”

This event was just the beginning of the very necessary yet often-painful conversation about gendered street harassment.

We need you to help build a campaign for DC to invest in community-based solutions to street harassment. Volunteers help mobilize supporters, engage with DC Council, and bridge arts and activism. Email leah@collectiveactiondc.org to join.

“Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.”

The following is a first-hand account of one Rethink Masculinity student’s experience recognizing and unlearning toxic masculinity. The author has chosen to remain anonymous. Sign up for the next Rethink Masculinity class here.

I don’t have the highest opinion of myself, which has developed into an almost chronic sense of insecurity.  I find myself constantly wondering what others are thinking about me.

Whether denial or ignorance, for years I wrote off my insecurity as simply overthinking things. Regardless, my inability or unwillingness to address my low self-esteem and corresponding insecurity often had negative effect on many of my relationships, usually with those that I was closest with.

Because I questioned the degree to which people liked me, I would often take unreasonable offense to remarks or actions that were meant in jest or were otherwise harmless. I would go out of my way to take offense with the subconscious intent of saddling someone else with my emotions. I was charging my friends and family with responsibility of my emotions.  

It was toxic. It was manipulative. It often forced people to distance themselves from me, having quite the opposite effect that I obliviously expected.  

My toxicity hit a boiling point at the end of a romantic relationship that lasted far too long.  

We were in a long distance relationship and I began developing trust issues. One time she visited me and I couldn’t shake a baseless suspicion of infidelity and proceeded to go through her phone and discovered that she’d cheated on me. In the past my manipulative behavior usually emerged in response to imagined slights. But infidelity seemed to be an unforgivable transgression for which my ire was justified. Warranted even!

And I now had a tangible weapon with which to manipulate her.

Over the next few months of our relationship, I compulsively used her guilt against her, reminding her of how badly she’d hurt me, refusing to accept her heartfelt apologies and threatening to break up with her.

She was my emotional hostage.  

Eventually the abuse became too much for her to handle and she ended the relationship, which sent me down a yearlong bout with depression. I became a shell of myself, losing all forms of confidence and living in a perpetual state of self-pity.  

I moved back home to Michigan, where I was able to gradually regain confidence in myself. I (not so deliberately) remained single, which, in an environment conducive for recovery, allowed for much needed introspection and personal freedom.

Being responsible for nobody’s emotions but my own was almost a relief. In retrospect, my catharsis was not due to the lack of responsibility for someone else’s emotions. Rather, it was relief from my abuse of others. I was still oblivious about this though.

When I moved to DC in 2017, I became fast friends with someone with whom I developed a strong emotional connection. We became very close, but she was often put off by my toxicity. Luckily for me, she was able to recognize my abusive tendencies were likely borne of my own toxic masculinity.  

She mentioned that a friend of hers had been a part of Rethink Masculinity, a supportive safe space coordinated by men for men to learn about, discuss, and confront toxic masculinity professionally, socially, and personally.  

I was pretty apprehensive about it all when she told me that women weren’t involved in the facilitation. I pictured a group of 20-something white guys man/white/straightsplaining feminism, which was not something I was interested in. The whole thing reeked of out-of-touch pretension, not to mention an added time commitment to an already loaded schedule. I was wrong.  

I attended a stand-alone reading group associated with the group and was blown away. I found the reading compelling and personally illuminating.  

Not only was I excited to discuss the reading with group, I was excited to meet the people who I’d imagined were more than familiar with the intricacies of masculinity – far more so than I, anyway.

And then insecurity started to set in and I started doubting my place in the group.  Surely the men involved were far more enlightened than I, and surely I’d come across as an ignorant, crass jerk who had been put up to this.

Those presumptions couldn’t have been further from the truth. The racially diverse and sexually ambiguous group of men were not only inviting toward me as a newcomer, but were inquisitive. They were genuinely interested in my experiences and viewpoints.  

Together, we weren’t learning about masculinity as much as we were learning about ourselves. Masculinity may have been the topic, but our experiences were the driving force behind what was meant to be learned, and, ultimately, from which to grow. 

This was an environment consisting of smart and inclusive individuals with a genuine thirst for knowledge as a means for improvement.

One of the men in the group suggested applying to the full Rethink Masculinity class and I did just that. The class itself was similar to the reading group in terms of subject matter, but far more structured.  

We’d dissect the readings through a variety of exercises, usually discussing the “macro” as a large group, then discussing our more subjective, “micro” thoughts in smaller groups. We’d then regroup and discuss the different “micro” thoughts together.  

It was a veritable think-tank of progressive thought, anchored by specific topics, but approached from wildly different perspectives. It was not uncommon to see people frantically take notes during someone’s reflection, eager to record someone else’s profoundly unique analysis.  

And though it was safe to say we were like-minded individuals, people regularly voiced dissent, challenging concepts in the readings that they did not feel were consistent with their own line of thinking.  

Regardless of how I felt going into a class – whether I was exhausted from work, upset about something in my family, or excited for a football game – I always left feeling better. And that’s not to say that I was happier or filled with some sense of relief from existential dread; it was more a feeling of revitalization. It was like my brain went to the gym and exercised for three hours.  

I can safely say that I learned something from each person in my cohort.  

I didn’t tell you about my struggle with insecurity or my proclivity toward toxic behavior as a frame of reference for a journey from the darkness to the light.  

I’m still insecure. I still fall into my toxic tendencies. I’m still me.  

Rethink Masculinity did not cure me. Because I’m not broken.  

I’m flawed. We all are.  

Rethink Masculinity provided me with a safe space to recognize, conceptualize, and address the inherent toxicity of masculinity that pervades our culture — and cultures around the world. And, in doing so, I am better equipped to recognize, conceptualize, and address accordingly toxic masculinity within myself and within others.  

And along with those provisions, it has created a rapidly expanding community of respect, trust and, above all else, love. I hope you’ll join me.

For Every #MeToo, There’s an #IDidIt

Are you a man or masculine-identifying person who wants to build a world where no one ever has to say #MeToo?

Then we want you.

Starting January 14th, we are accepting applications for our Spring 2018 Rethink Masculinity cohort.

Rethink Masculinity offers you the opportunity to join a supportive space where you can process and express emotions around the impact of masculinity, identify harmful behaviors and their alternatives, and build strategies and skills to address gendered violence. Participants meet for three hours a week for two months.

Don’t take our word for it! Here’s what one participant from our last cohort had to say about the program:

“Rethink Masculinity was a rare space to dive into our relationship to masculinity, violence, accountability, vulnerability, and so much more. It was healing to learn and grow with men who brought different histories, communities, and emotions into the room. I am deeply grateful for all that I learned!” – Josh Eisenstat

Are you ready to join the movement to end gendered violence? Apply by February 14th!

Please contact stephen@collectiveactiondc.org  or daniel@collectiveactiondc.org with any questions!

2017: This F*$?%#! Year

posted in: CASS Updates | 0

We don’t know about you, but we’re extremely ready to say goodbye to 2017.

This year, we’ve seen our community’s resilience and strength put to the test, and together we rose to the challenge.

Here’s a look back at what we accomplished through collective action in 2017:

20 new bars joined the Safe Bar Collective — a rebrand of our program that trains nightlife staff to respond to sexual harassment and prevent sexual assault! Now, staff is using the same strategies to interrupt racist, transphobic, and hateful microaggressions, inside the bar and in hiring.


4 trans people of color became trained in restaurant job skills — and within 3 months of being trained, 2 people were hired in our partner bars!


24 people grappled with their masculinity and 6 men became facilitators for the ReThinking Masculinity program in partnership with DC Rape Crisis Center and ReThink — running two cohorts where masculine people learn and practice skills for building healthy relationships and interrupting everyday microaggressions.

 


1200+ people were equipped with strategies to respond directly to harassment and violence, using community-based alternatives to police to make DC safer for everyone.


Hundreds of survivors and advocates spoke out at rallies, speakouts, and a hearing that we organized where people were able to share their stories, access healing and support from community, and build public support for the Street Harassment Prevention Act — a public health approach to making public spaces safer from harassment.

On top of all that, we’ve built infrastructure that better positions us to take on the year ahead: a new office, new staff, and innovative new plans.

Thank you for all of the ways you’ve helped us build — connecting us to bars, bringing us to train your staff and volunteers, speaking out at rallies, giving your time to help out with annoying admin stuff, and sharing your stories at the hearing to pass the Street Harassment Prevention Act.

We’re grateful to be in this struggle with you. To 2018 & beyond!

BIG NEWS: We hired a deputy director!

We hired a deputy director! Meet Chantal Coudoux.

Chantal is a community organizer who is passionate about fighting state violence in all its forms and making sure our communities have safe ways to heal from trauma. She began collaborating with CASS in the spring of 2017 to build the Safe Bar Collective in her role at the Restaurant Opportunities Center DC, providing restaurant and bartending job skills training to our pilot cohort of new restaurant workers.

Chantal was born and raised in D.C. and ventured to the (sometimes best) West Coast for school. In LA, she was introduced to the Labor/Community Strategy Center, one of the oldest base-building civil rights organizations in the country, and trained in transformative organizing. She has worked as an organizer, policy advocate, development associate and programs manager, and spent many years working in the restaurant industry.

“CASS’ work is really powerful to me because it centers survivors and those directly impacted in leading the fight against the harassment and violence happening at the intersection of our identities that are collectively under attack,” said Chantal. “As someone who deeply loves her city and the souls that make up its fabric, I am excited by CASS’ commitment to community-based tools to address trauma and build the safer spaces that we all deserve.”

Chantal graduated from Scripps College with a B.A. in politics and a concentration in critical race theory. She is the proud cat mom to three stubborn little ones. She loves food, French wine (really all wine), and watching futbol.

As deputy director, Chantal will support CASS’s future growth and strategic response to an ever-increasing demand for the organization’s services, and will manage the organization’s grant-writing, operations, and administration while helping to sustain and grow programs.

We’re excited to welcome her to the team — we know her expertise will help CASS continue to flourish and thrive.

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