This week has been white ribbon week. The week where the domestic violence against women issue is brought to the forefront of our consciousness and a perfect opportunity for me to share with you a real life experience that I feel compelled to relay.
I was first exposed to the concept of white ribbon and what it truly represented 3 years ago. I work part-time in a very male dominated work place. I was proud that our leaders, including my immediate supervisor, now a white ribbon ambassador, subscribed to this cause. Nobly they readily discussed and spoke out about how it is up to the men to affect cultural change throughout the organisation. They implemented programs and training to make sure the message was loud and clear. The message being that the men have a big responsibilty to model respect to women in our workplaces and community and if one of our brothers does something wrong then we need to step in and let them know that “It’s NOT OK”.
As a mother of one daughter and three sons, the principles of white ribbon resonated with me. I openly discussed the white ribbon progams in my workplace over dinner with my family. I want my sons to be respectful to women, I also want my daughter to be confident in herself to demand the respect she deserves.
I am grateful that my husband is completely on-board with the philosophies of white ribbon and is a perfect role model to our sons and daughter.
In May this year, we were all exposed to what I refer to as a ”white ribbon moment’. At my youngest son’s birthday we ran an ‘amazing race’ birthday. We put the kids in teams (randomly) and conducted a series of games. During the awards ceremony, we recognised the efforts of the losing team, which happened to be a boy/girl team and the following conversation ensued. (note names have not been used and team members are referred to as Boy and Girl)
Boy: Well we would have won if I wasn’t in a team with a dumb girl
Me: That is not a nice way to talk about your team mate (I purposefully used the word team mate to divert attention from the gender difference and to reinforce an equal footing with Boy)
Boy: Well she is really stupid girl and not as good as a boy
Me: (with look of disbelief) Why do you say that? How would you feel if Girl said that about you?
Girl: It’s OK he always talks about me like that
Boy: Yeah, she is used to it.. and anyway, I only call her dumb and stupid. My other friend hits her
Girl: But its OK, I probably deserve it
My husband: Boy, how you talked about your team member is not very nice and Girl, no one should talk to you or about you like that or call you names like dumb and stupid. Also, its not Ok for your friend to hit Girl. Boy if your friend is hitting Girl then you should help the Girl ask him to stop or tell a teacher. Girl, you are an intelligent girl and you don’t deserve to be treated like this, you can ask for help if these boys are treating you like this. What they are doing is wrong. It’s NOT OK!
And there you have it…. A white ribbon moment right there in my back yard!
After an internal fist pump in the air for the way my husband talked to Boy, I realised that the programs at work that had permeated our dinner conversations had created the presence of mind for some constructive conversation that completely aligns with where I think our community needs to head on this issue.
What stuck in my mind is there is probably a need to have more of these conversations with our children, for parents to be able to recognise inappropriate attitudes of boys towards girls and to help some girls have healthier self respect.
I believe we all have a responsiblity to help shape the attitudes towards domestic violence of our future men and women starting today. When we put our heads in the sand and choose to ignore or accept behaviour around us that we know is wrong or could be better, well …. It’s NOT OK!