A conversation about intimate violence. A giftwrapped book on violence against women. These may not seem like the best holiday ideas, but just hear me out before you decide.
For generations, talking about intimate violence has been taboo. That pattern started to shift with the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 70s, and kept changing as the modern #MeToo movement unfolded. Even so, much of our talk continues to treat violence as if it’s a women’s issue. Or a problem for someone else to solve, such as non-profits or police. Or a topic we’ve talked about enough already.
So this holiday season, as people gather with family and friends, we have a chance to normalize talking about violence against women, regardless of our genders, professions, or life histories. In doing so, we can show a path to building a better world together.
I know. It sounds trite, especially at time when disconnection and cynicism abound. So let me give just three examples (from many) for why you should start up conversations about violence against women this holiday season.
First, violence against women is a problem that affects each of us. This means the people you visit with over the holidays share an interest in this issue, regardless of their genders, professions, or life histories. Of course, they may not know their interest yet — but it’s there. After all, violence against women is tangled up with the pressing problems of our time — education and health inequities, racial and other forms of social injustice, economic insecurity, gun violence, and more. So each of us, including the people you’re spending time with this holiday season, can make progress on the issues that stoke their passions by also doing something about violence against women. (More on our shared interests here.)
Second, we could all use a bit of radical hope. And believe it or not, talking about violence against women is necessary for hope. That’s because building a better future together requires radically acknowledge the world as it is, even when that’s hard or awkward or scary. With a radical acknowledgment of the situation we find ourselves in –- one in which a woman is victimized every 90 seconds by a current or former intimate partner and another is sexually assaulted –- we can better identify the steps necessary to build a path to a future none of us has known: one without intimate violence and its interconnected problems. (More on radical hope here.)
Third, talking about violence against women can counter alienation. One of the things that my research team has seen time and again, in studies from adolescence to older adulthood, is that intimate violence leaves many people feeling alienated. In a room full of people, in a network of friends, part of the harm of trauma is to leave people feeling set apart, disconnected. So talking about violence against women has the potential to counter that disconnection. Of course, how we talk about the issue matters. We can add to the harm of trauma with victim-blaming, taking control, being egocentric. So it’s not any old talk that is needed. Rather, we can talk to each other in ways that are about building connections, advocating for social change, and sharing resources. (More on alienation here, and responding to disclosures here.)
In writing Every 90 Seconds, I aspired to create something that would help use each have holiday — and everyday conversations — about violence against women that show people that this is their issue too, regardless of their genders, professions, or life histories. The sorts of discussions that invite others in, to join an ever-expanding network of folks who will build a better world together by addressing violence against women and its interconnected issues.
Traveling around the country this fall, I got to see that aspiration begin to come to life as people arrived to events with colorful post-it notes clinging to dog-eared pages, ready to share observations and connections. As strangers told me stories about how the themes in Every 90 Seconds resonated with their life or work. And as a couple asked me to write a note for someone in their life who was struggling with the harm caused by intimate violence.
I found myself writing, simply: You matter.
Because you do. We each do.
We each matter for building a better world, one without intimate violence. And that starts by inviting people to our common cause ending violence against women this holiday season. I hope Every 90 Seconds helps you make that invitation.
Every 90 Seconds is available from Oxford University Press or: