Tuesday, March 19, 2013

You're Taking it Personally: The Godwin's Law of Sexism

A guest post by Jenn Gorham

I work at the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (FSACC). I love my job, but one of the weird by-products of working at FSACC is the awkwardness of telling people where I work. It manifests in different ways, but one of the most challenging for me is when the discussion of what I do turns into a debate on sexism or sexual violence. Typically something is being discussed that I comment on, my comment then makes someone uncomfortable, we have a back and forth, and then my position is dismissed because, “you are taking this too personally, you are being sensitive because of where you work.” End of discussion. The Godwin’s Law of sexism.

I understand what has happened. My contribution to the discussion has made the person uncomfortable. And when we are uncomfortable, we can react defensively. Often people confuse pointing out a sexist comment (song, movie, comedy etc) with an accusation of being sexist. Jay Smooth at Ill Doctrine had a great vlog similar to this around racism.

For example perhaps I have criticized Eminem for being misogynist. The other person points to the song he performed with Rihanna (trigger warning!). We debate the merits of whether this song/video was actually empowering to women in domestic abuse situations. I point out that this seems hypocritical coming from the man who not only wrote but still performs the song Kim (lyrics here - HUGE trigger warning). Because the person is a fan of Eminem they see my criticism as an attack on them personally and at some point, the person feels the need to point out my sensitivity due to where I work.

Still, I am always floored by this statement. I am on the phone with someone who has survived childhood sexual abuse and is struggling to get through their day. I am sitting across from your teenage daughter who is telling me her boyfriend is pressuring her to text him a nude picture and she is crying. I work every day with people who have been impacted by sexual violence. Don’t you want me to take that personally? Don’t you want me to be upset by this and say, “This is wrong! And we are going to do something about this? We are going to try to stop this from happening to others!” Don’t you want that? I do. If my sons went to someone because they were in pain, looking for support, I want that person to take it personally and be caring and empathetic.

I also want that person to know what they are talking about. The volunteers at FSACC go through an intensive screening process that includes two interviews, a reference check and 60 hours of training. 60 hours. They cannot miss one session or they do not make it. I coordinate and run this training. In New Brunswick no public service group requires this level of training around the issue of sexual violence – not doctors, nurses, Fredericton police, RCMP, guidance counselors, social workers, or addictions counselors. No one. In fact it was such a gap in services that FSACC was asked to create a training program for these groups. My co-worker Jenn R. and I then developed and deliver Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Training (SACIT), a 40 hour training course which we have delivered province-wide to police, nurses, counselors, and social workers.

All of this training and education is based on volumes of academic research spanning a spectrum of the human and social sciences to neurobiology. It is meticulously researched, updated and monitored by committees of experts on a consistent basis in order to ensure that it is ethical and includes the most current research and best practices.

I am really good at my job. Really good at it. So yes, I do take it personally, and I also know what I am talking about.


The above was a status update on Facebook, posted here with Jenn's permission. To learn more about the Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Centre (including how to get involved as a volunteer or donor), please contact them.

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