I’ve been told I’m quite shy. I talk only when comfortable, amongst loved ones, or in familiar spaces. I’m also passionate. I love learning new things, and often invest time in the things that I love, like music and writing.
However, in recent years, I’ve become a lot more outspoken and seemingly, I’ve come out of my shell. I’m more vocal about the things that bother me, which ultimately led to the Gender Based Violence (GBV) talk my friend, Lexi Price, and I initiated on Zoom at the beginning of July.
I’d heard about a similar initiative from my mother, and was inspired, so much so that I immediately messaged Lexi, and together, we put together a programme for our own school. We spent hours reading through articles, watching videos, organising a speaker, and test-running certain aspects with boys in our grade to make sure that everything would run smoothly and sensitively.
We were passionate about what we were doing, but simultaneously riddled with anxiety that we would be mocked and belittled for speaking out.
We soon realised that this anxiety was part of the broader issue of sexism and patriarchal ideas, one of the main subjects of our discussion, and we comforted each other throughout the process. It was difficult for two 17-year-old girls trying to make their mark, and we wondered whether we should be doing it at all.
But when that Friday morning came and we logged onto Zoom with more than 80 other people, it all came together. We watched a video about toxic masculinity and patriarchy, and how that perpetuates GBV. We had Josh Winer, Bnei Akiva’s rosh machaneh in 2020, speak about what he believes men and women can do to fight GBV.
We facilitated a discussion in which we addressed the phrase “toxic masculinity”, consent, and how this affects relationships. We watched as people nodded, frowned, laughed, and scratched their heads in thought. Overall, we had an honest and open discussion about GBV and all its vices.
It was a reality check to hear boys say that they, too, had been victims of “ratings” and derogatory comments from girls, and how it affected them. We also explored how difficult it is for us to raise the issue with our friends of making demeaning comments about the opposite gender or anyone considered different. We explored how to do this in a way that doesn’t imply social suicide, but rather changes the narrative, and becomes the norm.
Participants were encouraged to have these conversations around the supper table with their families. We spoke about how we, as the youth in our community, can address the often ingrained prejudices and ways of thinking in our parents and grandparents. We were happy with the outcome, and logged off an hour later with a sense of accomplishment.
We also realised that it would take many more of these conversations to bring about any meaningful change, but what did come out is a need for us all to be part of the solution. It was admittedly very hard when, a few hours later, there was criticism in spite of our best efforts at sensitivity.
Our main criticism was that we had attacked the boys and overlooked their stories of abuse and maltreatment. So we took everything into consideration, admitted our faults, and committed ourselves to doing better.
In spite of all the anxiety surrounding our discussion, three weeks down the line, we have definitely seen results. It has sparked dialogue about the issues that really bother us – girls and boys – and about what we, as the youth, can do about GBV, how we can combat the division between genders and the sexism we are still suffering from years after the suffragettes and women’s movement.
The whole experience has left me feeling empowered as a woman. As someone who has only recently found her voice, I’m honoured that other women felt that they could trust Lexi and me to relay their stories. I’m also grateful to my school for giving us the platform to engage our peers and have this important conversation.
With Women’s Day coming up, this discussion becomes even more critical as the number of femicide cases in our country continues to rise, horrific story after horrific story. Regardless of your gender, GBV should bother you, and it most definitely should anger you. Whether you think it affects you or not, you should educate yourself about the many issues that perpetuate GBV, and try to make a difference in your own way.
We need to tackle this issue as a collective. It’s not just a women’s or a men’s issue, it’s a human issue. In the words of our great sage, Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
- Dani Sack is a Grade 12 pupil at Yeshiva College.