Earlier today, PBJ had the opportunity to join Miriam Schiff on KGNU’s program, A Public Affair. For about an hour, we had a fruitful discussion on the topic of teen dating violence and how it manifests itself within our local context. Towards the end of the program we received calls from listeners. The last caller threw us all for a loop with a rather long-winded mansplaination.
After an almost inaudible preamble, our caller presented the observation that the earlier part of our show had been full of tangential rhetoric that had not accurately addressed the topic of teen dating violence. Although his call was hard to hear, it surfaced that he was under the impression that teen dating violence was a problem found within a vacuum. A problem within a vacuum, needing to be addressed individually without regard to the multiple forms of oppression and violence that we had been discussing. A problem within a vacuum, that we were obviously addressing incorrectly.
Whether or not this call was well-intentioned, it does provide us with yet another opportunity to further discuss some of the root causes of teen dating violence and its connectedness to all forms of oppression.
Although teen dating violence is often portrayed as an interpersonal conflict between two people, there is much more at play. When we discuss teen dating violence within our workshops we incorporate discussions of power and oppression; before discussing the dynamics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. Although violence is inexcusable and it is ultimately one’s choice whether to use violence or not, the norms found throughout our society send conflicting messages in regards to violence and when its use is appropriate.
Understanding the influence of these mixed messages allows us to see the problem of teen dating violence as much larger than an interpersonal conflict. It is a societal problem that needs to be addressed as such. Since teen relationships do not occur within a vacuum, the power imbalances found within society find their way into intimate relationships of young and older folks. These power imbalances then become tools of oppression within unhealthy relationships.
The violence found within teen relationships is also intricately connected to all other forms of violence, because at its root lies power and control. A deconstruction of varying forms of oppression shows that power and control are the foundation of all -isms. The -isms discussed last week are tools used by those with more power over those with less. The same is true for unhealthy teen dating relationships. Within unhealthy relationships, the person with more power uses violence (physical, emotional, verbal, sexual) to gain power and control over their partner. One person’s world gets smaller as the other’s gets bigger. Looking at teen dating violence as a microcosm of the violence found at more systemic levels, allows us to see just how closely related they are.
As we look closer, we realize the relatedness of teen dating violence to the Islamophobic killings in North Carolina, the racist policing throughout the United States, the sexist policing of uteri by government, the transphobic murder of trans* people of color, the sexist/classist/racist skeleton of the prison industrial complex, and many more forms of oppression. As we deconstruct the problem of violence, we realize that violence against anyone is violence against everyone. It is our job as anti-oppression educators and activists to call it out whenever and wherever.
So yes, while a large portion of the education that we do within Peers building Justice (PBJ) revolves around the dynamics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, it is equally integral to our work that we continue the dismantling of various forms of oppression within our society. As Shiri Eisner reminds us in Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, “It means understanding that different kinds of oppression are interlinked, and that one can’t liberate only one group without the others. It means acknowledging kyriarchy and intersectionality – the fact that along different axes, we’re all both oppressed and oppressors, privileged and disprivileged.” With this reminder, PBJ continues to raise awareness about teen dating violence while working to dismantle all forms of oppression whenever and wherever they appear.
So, save your mansplainations. We’re on the right track.