Out of the way
I facilitated a Domestic Violence 101 training for 18 of our social service staff yesterday and the day before. Overall, a beautiful experience – amazing to see the power of creating a space and asking questions, and then getting. out. of. the. way.
There was one participant who really pushed me. He was not a member of our local staff – he was actually another volunteer. I wondered why he joined the workshop – did he actually see value in discussing issues of domestic violence, or did he come to serve as a counter to The Radical Feminist Takeover Agenda? He asked questions about why we do not have NGOs and programs to help men who are being abused, why the law was designed specifically to protect women, and suggested that a husband threatening his wife and keeping her from leaving the home did not constitute violence. At first, I got pissed. I pushed back, tried to explain imbalanced gendered power structures and emotional abuse, cited statistics and studies. I was so upset that we were wasting time talking about these issues, since they were not being raised by the local participants. But I did not want to leave them unanswered, suggesting that our focus on women was misguided or discriminatory.
When I finally shut up, here is what some of the other women said – calmly and much more clearly than I ever could in my muddled Khmer:
“We work with 50 women in the jail. Many of them are there because they were violent against their husbands or children. There are 1000 men in the jail. Most of them are there because they were violent against their wives. So I think we should focus on violence against women first.”
“How would you feel if we were married, and I told you to stay in the house because I didn’t want you to look at other women? You’d go out anyway? What if you were dependent on me for money, a house, and your social status? What if I threatened you with a knife or a gun? You don’t have to call it abuse if you don’t want to, but for me and for most of us women, that is abuse.”
“Men leave their wives here every day. They go find new wives, and make new families, and no one cares. When a woman tries to leave, her family won’t take her in. They tell her she’s a bad wife, that she should go back to her husband, that she is nothing without him. So no, women and men are not equal in our country yet.”
I was so ashamed; ashamed that I had thought I could do a better job answering him than the women around me. There were still times throughout the workshop that I stepped in – when discussions were circular and unproductive, when a tone of respect was quickly slipping away, when specific knowledge I have about domestic violence counseling was relevant to the conversation. But it was a joy (a challenging one, but a joy nonetheless) to get to step back, out of the way, and let the women in the workshop fill their rightful roles as leaders and teachers.