By Whitney Akers, See the Triumph Contributor
When I interviewed for a previous job, I was asked if I saw myself to be an activist or an advocate. I answered that, in my identity, I found it impossible to separate the two. Through working to facilitate empowerment or access for people whose voices may be silenced, I am an advocate. Through taking a stand, heightening my voice, and increasing my visibility, I am an activist. These lines often intersect. Due to my social location composed of intersecting marginalized identities, I feel compelled to take action through consciousness in behavior and speech, embodying the identity of an advocate and activist in my daily life.
As a woman, I know that I have a role in eradicating the shame and stigma that surrounds sexual and intimate partner violence. I have a role in supporting survivors and helping to deconstruct and de-story the myths our society propagates surrounding intimate partner violence. I believe that violence against women grows from sexist oppression inherent in the inner workings of our society’s foundation. One way I advocate for the respect and safety of women, including myself, is through speaking out against sexual violence I may encounter in a typical day. Sexual violence can consist of overt acts like rape, intimate partner violence, verbal abuse, assault, or groping. It can also manifest in more covert ways or microaggressions, such as instances of sexist interaction that has been normalized as “flirting”, “boys being boys”, or “flattery”.
The other day, I was standing at a taco truck, waiting to get a delicious meal, and a man walked up to me. I immediately sensed him standing very close to me and feeling much too comfortable in my personal space. He began to make small talk about how large my “book bag” was and let his eyes linger on my “book bag” and then move lower. He continued to glance at my backside while poorly attempting to carry on a conversation. I did not feel threatened, instead, I felt infuriated. I squared my body to him, being conscious to take up more space and stare him directly in the eye and told him I had nothing to say to him. As he turned to walk away, he slid behind me, grossly gazing again at my backside as he left. In that moment, I felt gross. I felt like an object. I decided not to sensor my emotions, but to use them to create visibility of this type of quiet violence. I called him out in front of everyone in line. As he was walking off, I raised my voice and told him that he needed to be sure to keep his eyes focused on my eyes and no other part of my body, as my body was not present for his viewing pleasure.
He immediately cast his gaze to the ground and scurried away, but the oddest thing happened around me. I was surrounded by all men, some of them close friends, and they became very still and silent. There was an awkward energy of no one really knowing how to be in that type of charged space. I see this as another part of violence against women. We so often shroud it in silence and secrecy or write women off as “crazy” or “a bitch”, that we are stunned when sexualized violence is exposed. Through my choice to speak, making myself visible and heard, I chose to risk looking like that “crazy bitch”, but I also chose to voice not only that man, but every person in line that sexual violence in any form would not be tolerated.
I believe that everyday activism against sexual violence directly fights against intimate partner violence. Deconstructing sexist interactions and illuminating everyday instances of violence against women can translate to empowerment of the self. Knowing one’s worth and being fearless in claiming it can inspire others to follow suit. Like a domino effect, each act which destroys the silence contributes to building the roar of the collective voice for antiviolence, respect, and honoring of the self and others. Through choosing to speak out when someone attempts to victimize us, through choosing to take a stance of support, empathy, and nonjudgment when a survivor shares their story, we are choosing nonviolence. We are choosing to honor ourselves, all women, all people. We are choosing to not only survive, but to thrive.
After this experience, I was fired up about standing up for antiviolence. That evening, I found an incredible video of one woman who uses art as a medium of advocacy and activism. She addresses a common form of sexualized violence women encounter daily. This is another example of the power and influence of everyday advocacy and activism. You can find the video here: http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/361036/stop-telling-women-not-to-smile/