Feb 24, 2017
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. In Be Project we help young people understand that dating or domestic violence is about power and control. When one person wants power and control over another and tries to gain that or when there is an imbalance of power and control, the likelihood of abuse increases. That abuse may be verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, or even technological; regardless of the type, the underlying issues are power and control.
This imbalance of power and control has long been an issue in our society as a whole. Those who have power want to keep that power and those without yearn for power of their own. While there has been progress toward equality for all, there are many examples of how our country has struggled with the concept of what is equal and how that plays out in day to day functioning. The most recent example I can think of is the Women’s Marches that happened across the country on January 21, 2017.
(Women of all ages gathered to hear speakers of all ages including America Ferrera encourage the unifying of women to stand up for equality.)
There were many different takes on why this march was happening, but regardless of the various issues involved, the underlying struggle is a fight for equal power and control – over women’s lives, women’s bodies, and even women’s voices. The march was intended to be a nonviolent gathering to show how many people care about the well-being of women and that will support their struggles for equality. And, as we have seen with past movements, the overall societal atmosphere trickles down into our personal lives and our personal relationships.
If our young people continue to see that women are paid 80 cents to the dollar that men are paid, how are they to think that women are equal in all ways? They see that we’ve never had a woman as president, that we have mostly male doctors, male scientists, male astronauts, etc. How is this not going to affect the way they see their dating relationships? After all, we still live by the old adage that boys are supposed to do the asking, the driving, and the paying. That is a powerful role we give them simply for being boys. There is example after example of how we give the power to males or simply give the impression that the power belongs to the male. I would like to see young people have conversations about what equality in relationships looks like, how they would like it to play out in their personal relationships, and maybe even challenge each other to step out of the box they are told to be in by society. Still, in 2017, I ask high school students all the time why the male is supposed to do the asking. Inevitably the answer is … “Because … they just are.” Then I ask the girls if they sit around and wait, hoping the boy they think is cute will notice them and will ask them out. When I ask them if that feels powerful, they laugh and say “no” and understand that they aren’t grasping the bull by its horns with this decision, yet they still think the boy needs to ask. They think it is “desperate” or “thirsty” for a girl to ask a boy out. This is something they’ve been taught by society, or their parents who were taught by society. It isn’t something they invented. It’s a belief that keeps the power in only one person’s hands as to whether a relationship even begins or not. I would love to see young ladies take control of their own lives, embrace their own power, and make the decisions about relationships independently of whether the cute boy takes notice and asks her out.
When we take control of our own life decisions, we own our power. That’s not to have power over someone else, but power over ourselves not just in personal relationships but in every decision we make. That’s why we have larger actions like the Women’s March happening. Big events that are newsworthy, public movements that fight for equality have effects that trickle down in positive ways to show everyone that women do matter, that many, many people believe that women deserve equal treatment not just in the workplace but also in the home and in relationships. Since 1 in 3 teens experiences violence in a dating relationship according to loveisrespect, I hope they see the march as validation that they do deserve equality, that they deserve equality not only in terms of their societal rights, but also in terms of their dating relationships. I hope also that they see events like the Women’s March as inspiration and motivation to do whatever they can to stand up for equality and to build their own balanced relationships, because until society is more balanced, we will continue to see imbalances in dating and domestic relationships.