Honoring Victims: What did you do?

July 3rd, 2013 by Cathy Plourde

So far I’ve been detailing a lot about the primary target audience for the play You the Man. Initially, I was imagining the young man in the locker room, hearing peers laugh and brag about sex, sexual conquests (real, imagined or exaggerated), and objectification of women in general and violence and abuse of women in particular.

I imagine that for this young man, this is a difficult setting in which to interrupt the status quo.  And I imagine this setting to be not so unlike dozens of other settings in which sexist, homophobic, violent attitude and behavior is not only condoned but encouraged: work place, sports teams, street, dinner tables, classrooms, buses, trains, movies, parties, … well, anywhere and everywhere. Pick a country. 

I had asked Amanda Cost, an advocate and friend from Spruce Run in Bangor Maine to review of curriculum being developed to accompany the program before we launched it.  It was written with National and Maine State learning standards, and while I don’t know how much use teachers have made of the curriculum its mere existence is one of the things that makes it easier for administrators to give You the Man the green light for a performance.  Amanda, like all of the other advocates from Maine and across the US who have given feedback on the materials, offered some nuance and insights I found really useful.

1. Regarding handout or educational one-sheets, the use of the Myths and Facts sheets may actually serve to reinforce myths. (Good point!  We don’t use that handout anymore!)

2. That communicating to audiences that saying nothing is actually saying something–it says that you have taken a stand with the person who is abusive or violent.  That your silence serves to condone the behavior. (Well said.  Repeat, often.)

So, yes, the target audience is the bystander, and specifically, the male bystander. We know that most of the violence committed against women is done so by men.  But we also know that most men are not abusive or violent.  And it’s those guys we need to show up, in numbers.

But what about the victim? Where is the victim’s voice in the play?

In the play, Mitch (a friend of Jana, a young woman in an abusive and increasingly dangerous relationship) is trying to figure out what to do to help his friend.  He feels that if he just stands there and doesn’t do anything, then he’s a part of the problem.  And the violence has gotten worse.  At a party, Jana’s boyfriend punched a hole in the wall, just a few inches from her head.  In the play Mitchell asks the audience for help with his options.  So far he has five:

  1. Mitch Talk To John.
  2. Beat Up John.
  3. Talk To Jana’s Friends, etc.
  4. Call Help Line.
  5. Rescue Jana.

Mitch quickly rules out #1, #2 and #5.

Mitch Talk to John Why?  Well, he tried that and John doesn’t want to hear it, and last time John took it out on Jana and threatened violence against Mitch.  Moving on.

Beat Up John Why?  Some people have said that this is the only language some people understand and you know, after roughing someone up (or slashing their tires, or whatever), well, the behaviors stopped.  But Mitch thinks this through a bit more, and most importantly, thinks it through with  Jana’s safety in mind: this is only going to make John more angry, and put Jana in more danger (and, it doesn’t have to be a hole in the wall to underline how important this is).

Rescue Jana On one hand, you might think “rescue” is sweet, chivalrous. Look closer and you will notice patriarchal in that hand as well. Mitch says it best:  Sure.  Chivalry.  Just get a white horse, ride on in.  And then what??? This isn’t a fairy tale.  She may not want to be rescued.  And John’s not going to sit back.  She wanted to leave a party and he punched a hole in the wall.  What’s he going to do whan she wants to leave him?

One of the reasons I love Mitch is that he gets it.  He catches himself before he succumbs to a socially manufactured pressure we put on men:  To rescue. To have the answers. To fix it.  He realizes he can’t do this alone–he needs to check in with Jana’s friends and family.  He needs to check in with trained advocates on a support line who can give him some solid feedback.

And, most importantly, he realizes he doesn’t know what Jana thinks or needs.

He realizes he has to talk to Jana.

So, where is the victim voice in You the Man? We don’t hear the gritty details and inner monologues of the victims in this production.  That’s not because it’s not important.  It’s because the larger “we” in the room, “we” have to do something, and we have to do something that does not put our surviving friends and family and co-workers in more danger.  We need to approach the issue and the situation in a way that does not put further shame or pressure on them.  We need to listen.  Listen and learn. And that might be all that is required of us.

Honor the survivors, as they are doing a great job at surviving and probably know more than “we” do about what it takes to stay safe.

We’ve all had those moments in the locker room.  What did we do?



Contributing to change: it’s under the heading of ‘WITH’

July 3rd, 2013 by Cathy Plourde

I’ve had lots of what I think are good ideas.  And, even if other agree with me, well, that, and 3 to 6 bucks will get you a cappuccino.

What I’ve appreciated about working with Prof. Ann Taket from the Burwood Campus of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia is that she has a highly keen sense of what it means to be working with community.  That it requires the community itself to be willing to come to the table, and that requires their trust and belief they will be heard, respected, and a valued member at that table.  But it’s a two way street: it also means that they have a respect for you.

With Ann’s leadership, conversations have been happening all over the state of Victoria about You the Man. She’s presented the idea of the program being a tool for the efforts of Victorians in engaging men in violence prevention–not as a replacement, but as a means of highlighting their own programs and services, an opportunity for community members and constituents to be introduced to the ideas of violence prevention and the responsibility and accountability of all of us in this work.  The tour of the state was an act of vulnerability and humility:  This is what we are thinking, this is what it looks like, and what do you think?  How would this serve your work and efforts? Does this fill a need for you?

And as a friend of mine once said, be careful of the questions you as, if you really don’t want to hear the answer. In this case, we did want to hear the answer, and the feedback, concerns, and overwhelming enthusiasm is making the project work.  The next step in laying groundwork for statewide participation was in vetting the new translation of the script from American to Australian. And here is an eloquent and thorough response from Mr. Peter Crowley who works for the City of Moonee Valley

My favorite parts I’ve made bold!

Hi Ann

I enjoyed today’s script reading and I believe this ‘rewrite’ is well on track to its end goal.

I have been both enthusiastic and positive about “You the Man” and, I have to say, those feelings have only intensified after today.

It’s revealing to listen to the sort of post-event discussion that occurred today.  Sure there are differing views about what might be changed but, notwithstanding that today’s group had a mission, today showed me that…

1.       There was a range of comments and suggestions and that positively confirms that the script works with a range of ages and genders

2.       We should make the script as ‘efficient’ as possible but also accept that people will hear and interpret it in their own way and through the lens of their own experiences… so there’s no ‘perfect version’

3.       The fact that people respond and discuss the script with such enthusiasm shows that it really does connect and engage

At the end of the day, this is a clever play and the author clearly worked it out with great thought.  Sure we need to ‘acclimatise’ the play, but we don’t need to fix it.  It works (and the evidence has been collected to prove that)!

 Like others who have been in touch with you, I too am keen to see the benefits of You the Man in my patch.  If you need an audience for a pilot, or a dress rehearsal… look to me.  But my enthusiasm and involvement is driven by more than that.  Male voices and male presence is still far too inconspicuous in this issue.  Time after time I attend PVAW networks and meetings as the lone representative of my gender.  Perhaps it’s my interpretation, but that imbalance, that female focus, makes it too simple for some men to dismiss the issue… to consider it ‘women’s business’.   I have a strong hope (and now a solid belief) that You the Man can contribute to a change in that situation and, more importantly, to a change in the underlying and outrageous issue of the prevalence of violence, by men, to women.


Peter Crowley

Community Safety Officer

Community Development, Citizens Services & Information Management

Safe by choice, not by chance 


You the [ONE] Man?

June 12th, 2013 by Cathy Plourde

On why one actor, and why professional:

Having written and directed plays for several years for activism with youth audiences, I know how challenging it is to pull together a cast. My plan was to follow the model I had work out with The Thin Line (a one woman 30 minute production on coping with eating disorders, 1999).  One actor to pay, one actor to schedule.

Nearly every production, I recognized, would be presented to captive (not incarcerated, however) audiences for assemblies, orientations, awareness weeks.  They would have been told the topic of the presentation, and they would be certain before they arrived in the auditorium (if they were lucky) or the gymnasium (very likely) that it would suck. In every audience there are victims and survivors, and I did not want to set them up for an hour of humiliation in which the topic could be ridiculed, diminished, or trivialized.   The actor has a tall order—teens are not known for polite theatre behaviors, especially when sitting on bleachers or in the back of large auditoriums—and he has to “win” in 10 seconds or less.  A task, I felt, best suited to a professional!

How do you say “Yo” in Australian?

May 29th, 2013 by Cathy Plourde

In November 2012, I met Ann Taket, a professor and researcher from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.  She was taken by the early findings being presented at the American Public Health Assn’s conference in San Francisco on the longer term effects of “You the Man”.  Subsequently–and with what seems like lightening speed, Ann found funding to explore what it would take to have an Australian version of the program and the centerpiece performance.

It’s in the beginning stages, but I’m working with her to present the idea to various constituents in the state of Victoria, meet with creative teams that might help get the play translated, and folks who could inform what ever adaptations or opportunities can be found for implementation… that, with the promise of seeing kangaroos, well, how could I say no?