Winter Storm No Match for Energy at 6th Annual WRD

While a winter storm kept many away, over 250 people participated in Jane Doe Inc.’s sixth annual Massachusetts White Ribbon Day (WRD) on March 7, 2013. The snow didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits as the crowd at the State House raised their voices in support of men’s efforts - and the efforts of everyone - end sexual and domestic violence.

(YouTube: links take you to the video clip of each speaker!)

Welcoming everyone to JDI’s signature men’s engagement event, Debra Robbin, JDI’s Deputy Director, said, “This day gives us a moment to reflect on our connectedness and our shared commitment to both addressing the importance of male allies in being part of the solution in ending violence against women, and celebrating the ways in which this work is changing social norms to embrace visions of healthy masculinities.”

A powerful lineup of speakers reflected on the need and opportunity for action. For Craig Norberg-Bohm, Coordinator of the Men’s Initiative for Jane Doe Inc., a vital part of this solution is to not only having the strength to protect ourselves and our loved ones from violence, but to confront this violence at its source. “Part of that strength is having this conversation about where our violence comes from.”

Representing the Patrick Administration, Commissioner Angelo McClain of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families read the Governor’s Proclamation officially naming March 7, 2013 as White Ribbon Day. “Today represents the change for us to come together, to educate each other, to inspire each other, and to support each other in this initiative,” McClain noted. “Together - those of us in this room, those of us who want to end violence against women - together we can make a difference.”

JDI is so grateful for the leadership of the 2013 WRD Co-Chairs, Jarrett Barrios, CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, and Daniel F. Conley, Suffolk County District Attorney. The Public Service Announcement (PSA) they recorded helped mobilize men to take the pledge and become WRD Ambassadors.

Co-Chair Barrios urged attendants to trace violence to its source. “Because men are the sources of this violence in so many cases, we are asking you as men in particular to take this pledge to end violence,” he said.

Fellow Co-Chair Conley, pointed out that this pattern of violence is not innate - and with initiatives like White Ribbon Day, can be changed. “Let’s face it: violence, and especially violence against women, is a behavior that people learn,” Conley said.

Rob Okun, Editor of VoiceMale Magazine, speaking later in the program, agreed. “When we arrived on the planet, we didn’t have a message inside of us that said big boys don’t cry. We didn’t have a message inside that said boys will be boys,” he said. “What we had was a capacity to want to connect, to want to be nurtured, to want to be part of.”

Many of the men spoke to this desire to connect and shift the paradigm. When men display different behavior and show respect and raise up equality in all relationships, they serve as role models and peer leaders to nurture feelings and behaviors that ultimately will do away with the idea that sexual and domestic violence are acceptable under any circumstances.

Speakers also emphasized that violence against women touches us at both a local and global scale. A representative of JDI Member SAHELI, a group against sexual and domestic violence catering to the South Asian community, Ramesh Advani shared his perspective as an immigrant.

“On December 16th, a young, 23 year old woman had just come out of watching Life of Pi with a boyfriend in New Delhi - a big metropolis, teeming, modern - and this is early evening, they got onto a private bus,” Advani said. This story of the recent, highly-publicized rape in New Delhi - a too-familiar one to members of the audience - reminded everyone that sexual and domestic violence cross lines of identity and state.

Many of the voices of the day were intensely personal, as speakers reflected on why White Ribbon Day was important to them.

“It was my mother’s experience that made me a feminist,” said Tre’Andre Valentine of The Network/La Red, an organization fighting sexual and domestic violence in gender and sexual minority communities.

Valentine reflected on his own experience growing up transgender as he watched his mother struggle against domestic violence. Her story of resilience, he said, shaped the kind of man he wanted to grow up to be. “When I thought of my own transition to live my life as a man, I wanted to live my life honoring, respecting, cherishing women,” he said. “I wanted to be the kind of man that stands up for women’s rights, not on behalf of women but beside them.”

Two students from Books of Hope, a Somerville-based nonprofit that teaches and publishes youth writing, added their own stories.

“Don’t ruin it with your doing wrong, with your so-called swag, disrespect, and with your rude comments,” read one Books of Hope participant, a young man named Jordan. With his book in hand he urged, “I’m going to be a man to tell my daughter, my sister, to be a doctor, to be a football player, to be a president.”

Antonio Arrendel, prevention specialist at Boston University’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention office, spoke to his own experience witnessing violence against women as a child. Reflecting on the event, Arrendel recounted thinking: “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be part of this. And I didn’t know the verbiage to use to say this is not right.”

Ultimately, as community members raised their voices together to recite the pledge it was clear that the purpose of this campaign is not only to reject violence but also to embrace a vision of positive masculinity, a pledge of respect and equality.

This vision requires breaking down restrictive stereotypes about what a man can be in order to create a more just and loving future. “I want to say this to all the young men who are here today,” Conley said. “You can show strength in your relationship without showing violence. You can show commitment to your partner without using control. You can be a man without ever hurting a woman.”

To cap off the event, everyone enjoyed a cupcake celebration sponsored by Macy’s and Verizon in the beautiful Nurse’s Hall. As everyone said goodbye, they took extra pledge cards and ribbons with them to help spread the word and engage more men in building the movement in Massachusetts to end violence against women.

Check out the photo gallery!

Reina Gattuso, JDI Intern