Hi Dr. Katz,
I deeply appreciate your taking the time to respond to my email. I am going to take another opportunity to express my concerns with more detail and clarity, in response to the issues you raised in our personal correspondence.
In terms of not serving queer folk:
I agree that MVP does great work to address harassment that targets sexual minority and gender variant individuals. As I want to emphasize, I think MVP is in a very powerful position to impact violence perpetrated by and through heteronormative masculinity. In contrast, one of my major concerns, as I will explain further in a moment, is about the experiences of transgender and gender variant folks who might actually be in the room during an MVP workshop. Another major concern is that people who have or will have same-sex relationships will not realize in MVP that sexual and relationship violence can happen between two women or between two men, as well. Such work may not be within the goals of MVP as a program, but I do think there are steps that MVP can take to address and support these needs.
In terms of silencing survivors in the room:
This point is tricky. As a sex educator myself, I struggle with the ability to provide a space in which survivors can receive strong support without identifying themselves, and, in addition, to make space in which survivors can choose to identify themselves and use the power of identification to push back against the silencing and shaming cultural norms in our society. It’s about actively structuring my teaching based on the assumption that in any given group, there will be people in the room who are survivors of various forms of violence. Addressing people who are survivors only as potential bystanders can be guilt-inducing and embarrassing. To be a male ally to women who have experienced sexual violence requires a trauma-informed curriculum and approach.
In terms of reinforcing the gender binary:
I completely agree with you that gender neutrality is counter-productive. To talk about sexual violence, we need to analyze gendered power dynamics in history, society, and in our lives. And I appreciate that the MVP policy is to allow people to self-identify, as in, if someone identifies as a man, he can go to the men-only break-out group, and if someone identifies as a woman, she can go to the woman-only breakout group. But I’m wondering, what about someone who doesn’t identify as either a man or a woman? Or someone who identifies as both? Such people exist, and they matter. But I do not see them within the MVP curriculum, and that scares me. I don’t know what to do about it, either. I have a lot of ideas, and I also recognize the complexity. So at this point I am working to name what I’m seeing. To render visible what is now invisible.
In terms of the need for more comprehensive sexual violence prevention:
Here is my question for you: What does MVP do to “set the stage” for an expansion of comprehensive programs? I can see all the fabulous ways in which MVP is a strong program to start the conversation, to address the most resistant leaders and to start building social norms that would facilitate further sexual violence prevention work. However, in reality, I picture schools and colleges saying “well, we do MVP, that’s our sexual violence thing.” Thus, in practice, MVP could very well be the sole source of sexual violence education in many communities. That’s why I’m voicing my concerns. My question is, what can MVP do to be a better ally? When MVP does work with mixed-gender groups, the people in the room who aren’t the hetero/masculine men (who were the original target group of MVP) are not being prioritized in the conversation. Interestingly, these are the very same people (women, queer folk, gender variant folk) who are not being prioritized in society at large. So what is MVP as an organization doing to directly link schools and campuses with programs that will address the needs of women, people who have same-sex relationships, and people who are transgender or gender variant?
The broader question I’m getting at is: What does it take to be an ally? What is the imperative on those of us with power to truly open spaces in which we can directly hand over power to those who need more of it in order to be safe, in order to speak up, and in order to exist? How can I be a better ally to others? How can I ask you to be a better ally to me?