It was a memorable group session. The topic for the day was "Sexual Respect". Both Janet, my co-facilitator, and Sarah, in the early stages of training, were there with me. We commonly approach this topic by making a list of all of the ways that people can be sexually disrespectful. We work hard with the group to generate a large list of 35 to 40 behaviors that would be considered sexually disrespectful. Once the list is developed, we have everyone count the number of these behaviors that they have used in the past. We love making lists at the Family Peace Initiative, as it is a simple, yet highly effective way to get participants to acknowledge cruel behavior. This time, however, our making a list took the group in a different direction.
Janet had looked thoughtfully at the list of nearly 40 sexually disrespectful behaviors that we had just created with the group. She then commented in a surprised tone, “I just realized that I have experienced 33 of the behaviors listed here.” The group fell silent. Sarah calmly added that she, too, had experienced over 30 of the behaviors listed and only a few days ago had been sexually harassed at a stoplight with her young son in the backseat of her car. She went on to say, “I would say that most of my female friends have experienced over 30 of these behaviors as well.”
The men were surprised at how common sexually disrespectful experiences can be for women.
The conversation that unfolded in that group after Janet and Sarah self-disclosed was fascinating. The men in the room, while initially surprised, got the chance to converse with these two women in a real way, about the personal impact of sexually disrespectful behavior. The conversation was remarkably calm and matter of fact. Several of the men stated that they had never even thought about the impact on those who experienced this type of disrespect. The men were surprised at how common sexually disrespectful experiences can be for women. Most of the men acknowledged that they had never had this type of conversation about sex with a female. Janet and Sarah were able to discuss their own experiences in a vulnerable manner that invited the men to inquire and understand. It was masterful.
I can talk all day about what women experience regarding domestic violence and sexual disrespect. It will never be as impactful as a woman speaking of her own experience.
I understand that having a man facilitating in a manner that challenges the many beliefs of those who batter is an extremely valuable aspect of group work. However, this particular conversation, and countless others, would have never happened if there had only been men facilitating. Having skilled male and female facilitators working together is extremely valuable. I can talk all day about what women experience regarding domestic violence and sexual disrespect. It will never be as impactful as a woman speaking of her own experience.
There have been many discussions regarding the “best” combination of facilitator teams. While there are some valid points that can be made about each combination, my experience tells me that having a male/female team of skilled facilitators creates the possibility for presenting the broadest spectrum of experiences and perceptions.
Janet and Sarah led an amazing conversation that was critical for men in that group. It obviously had an impact for me as well, as I am writing about it 4 weeks later. I love watching skilled facilitators work their magic. This was one of those magical moments indeed.
Happy August, everyone! Thanks for your dedication to being the best facilitator you can be.