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?