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digging up the roots of gender-based violence

Category Archives: from Kole

End Stalking Before it Begins

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Crosspost from Give Hope a Voice

This month is Stalking Awareness Month. In its most fundamental form stalking is defined as any unwanted obsessive attention or contact between individuals or groups of people. The contact may be physical or through technology and directly or indirectly communicates an explicit or implied threat, leaving the victim feeling fearful or intimidated.

Education around legal definitions, signs of stalking, and resources for victims is necessary and important. As a Prevention Education Specialist I understand the importance of also talking about primary prevention, or ending stalking behaviors before they ever begin. In order to do that we would need to take a closer look at entitlement, respect, and consent.

Primary prevention best practices would have the message of consent and respect come at an early age. Teaching children to respect bodily autonomy and consent should be delivered through mixed methods, from multiple sources, and at several stages of child development. Accountable communities would teach children the ethics of consent in such a way that encourages children to want to be respectful of each other’s boundaries and to know that their own bodies and personal space should also be respected – even by parents, relatives, teachers or other figures of authority. We would teach them that violating bodily autonomy would never be socially acceptable or tolerated.

I recently met with a group of teachers and counselors to discuss alarming behavioral issues that have swept their 5th grade classes. I was told stories of children leaving repeated love notes and death threats in lockers and desks, stories of kids following other kids around the playground even after having been asked to stop, going through belongings without consent, and harassing and intimidating behaviors and threats being delivered through text message, social media and other technology mediums. Their request was that I add a section within our Gender Respect curriculum related to bodily autonomy, consent and age appropriate bystander intervention.

At first glance, and out of context, these children’s behaviors sound strikingly similar to stalking behaviors. These behaviors are often dismissed as typical child development or even as “cute” or expected between children. This normalization of disregard for consent is absorbed by kids at extremely young ages and may lead to harmful behaviors when children mature into adulthood.

Many parents, teachers and media outlets unknowingly teach children harmful ideas about consent.

Talking to children and teaching them consent and respectful behavior at early ages isn’t difficult and here is a basic guide to start:

  1. Ask for consent before doing anything to a child’s body. Ask before picking them up, hugging, tickling, cuddling, or kissing their cheek. Respect their answer if they say no or ask you to stop and teach them to do the same.
  2. Respect a child’s request to be put down if you’re holding them. Never require them to hug or kiss a relative unless they say it’s okay. Children communicate lack of consent through both verbal and non-verbal cues and it’s important to recognize signs and teach them to do the same.
  3. Teach children that their body belongs to them and its okay to tell a grown up or another child not to touch them, hug them, or kiss them.
  4. In instances where a child’s consent to touch their body is overridden in a need to protect from harm (A speeding train is about to hit them and you need to pull them to safety), apologize for surprising them and grabbing them without asking first, then explain why it was necessary to do so in that moment.
  5. Teach children that when they violate personal space, boundaries and/or consent of other children, it may be scary and hurtful to the other child. Talk about the feelings that may come up when someone doesn’t respect personal space and how to avoid hurting others in that way.

HAVEN is Oakland County Michigan’s center for the treatment and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. For additional information or to learn more about Prevention Education options in your school system contact HAVEN’s Prevention Education Department at 248-334-1284, ext. 360.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

The Profound Failures of Universities: The Winston Case and Beyond

Crosspost from HuffPost

I’ve written and spoken about how universities have an ethical responsibility to institutionalize sexual assault trainings for all students and athletes. Since writing this piece, there has been an escalation of political interest in the topic and the White House weighed in with an effort to get men involved.

By now you should be familiar with the case of Florida State University’s prized quarterback, Jameis Winston. During his recent student conduct code hearing, it is clear that Winston’s statement is in remarkable contrast to the statement of the who woman reported he raped her in late 2012. One is a story of sex and consent and the other is a traumatizing account of rape and intentional violation.

I’m not here to argue the complex details of the case, or about the statistics of false rape claims. Debating the validity of the victim’s claims isn’t useful and leans toward secondary victimization. I wasn’t there and neither were you. I’m using this incident as an opportunity to remind all universities of the critical need to require violence prevention training for student leaders and athletes.

The prevalence of assaults within sports and college culture reflects the dire need to discuss ethical consent. University coaches, leaders, policy makers and legislators should require multi-session, leadership training for students. When educated, student leaders can confront attitudes and behaviors that some students employ to disregard the need for consent during sexual encounters.

My work as a Prevention Educator centers on working with young men and discussing the details of consent. During a recent training session a young man revealed a story that weighed on him the entire eight weeks of our training. He explained a scene where he was at a party and wanted my opinion on how he’d acted. Heavy drinking was involved and although he chose not to indulge, his date was quite intoxicated. He helped her to a room where she laid down and then pulled him close. He confided that there was sexual contact but no sexual intercourse. Then he asked me, “Was that wrong?” What was striking to me was that he waited nearly two months to ask this question. It takes time to build the trust and rapport needed to fully understand ethical consent and have real conversations.

I shared this story to demonstrate the need to discuss consent and sex with young women and men in such a way that offers an environment of trust, rapport and authenticity. On more than one occasion, students should be given a platform to share their experiences, attitudes and beliefs. Once educators are permitted access to these beliefs we have the opportunity to reframe them, which may influence actual behaviors, and students are able to model responsible behaviors while engaging in effective bystander strategies and interventions.

This is a place where we can come together and have discussions and dialogue about ethical consent. Ethical consent is defined as consent that is:

  • Enthusiastically engaged
  • Participatory
  • Sober
  • Verbal and nonverbal
  • Yes means yes

By providing this to students as a guide, we can help reduce sexual assault and therefore the life-long repercussions rape survivors face in the aftermath. It will continue to be a profound failure on the part of university leadership and athletic departments until it is standard practice to mandate multi-session trainings with student leaders.

We will likely never know the events that transpired that night in Tallahassee between Winston and his accuser, however, by starting the conversation now, we can become a part of changing the culture of rape. We encourage all universities to partner with local domestic violence agencies to design comprehensive prevention strategies that produce an environment that never accepts or tolerates sexual violence.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

#NoMRA: An Open Letter to VFW Post 1146

(This letter was physically transported on June 17th 2014 by FedEx delivery and posted here on June 19th 2014 in response to A Voice for Men moving their first Men’s Rights conference to the VFW hall in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan. We fully support our veterans and veteran affairs and do not condone or endorse harassment, abuse, threats or violence of any kind. We do encourage everyone to immediately write letters to the address below (a letter is better than emailing), email the VFW scheduling at this email and tweet your discontent with their decision.)

Cpl. Walter F. Bruce VFW Post 1146
28404 Jefferson Ave
Saint Clair Shores, MI 48081

To Commander Litz, Post Officers, and Executive Board:

I’m writing as a concerned citizen and representative of HAVEN, Oakland County’s Center for the treatment and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m drafting this letter to you with the support of local organizations such as Equality Michigan, Unite Here, The National Lawyers Guild, The Meta Peace Team and the Graduate Employees Organizing Committee of Wayne State.

It is disconcerting to learn that VFW Bruce Post of Saint Clair Shores will host rental space for the 1st conference on Men’s Rights hosted by a Voice for Men (AVfM), which was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2012) (Misogyny: The Sites). I’m disheartened to discover the VFW would house a hate group.

It should be mentioned that the SPLC did not label MRAs as members of a hate movement; nor did our article claim that the grievances they air on their websites – false rape accusations, ruinous divorce settlements and the like – are all without merit. But we did call out specific examples of misogyny and the threat, overt or implicit, of violence. -Arthur Goldwag

As a prior service ARMY sergeant and veteran, having served in Iraq as a Mental Health Specialist (91X), it is extremely unsettling to learn that Post 1146 is willing to support an organization known to operate under the guise of equitable intentions while promoting hate filled rhetoric and misinformation. At HAVEN, and in other areas of anti-violence movement, we understand the legitimacy of many of the issues that AVfM discusses. AVfM strategically twists these concerns into a political movement while claiming the systemic oppression of men which is an embarrassment to all of us and an affront to military standards and ethics.

The Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (2012) offers the sobering reality that is the high prevalence of sexual assault in our armed services. Research also suggests that male veterans who spent time on combat tours are more than four times as likely to engage in domestic violence. The National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence concluded that combat veterans were more than four times as likely to have abused a partner and more than six times as likely to experience PTSD, and two to three times as likely to suffer from depression, substance abuse, unemployment and separation. I offer this statistical reality to illustrate the seriousness of the VFW partnering with an organization that is known to advocate violence.

These quotes are directly from the founder of A Voice for Men, Paul Elam, which can easily be found in context on his own website:

* In the name of equality and fairness, I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month

* And all the outraged PC demands to get huffy and point out how nothing justifies or excuses rape won’t change the fact that there are a lot of women who get pummeled and pumped because they are stupid (and often arrogant) enough to walk though [sic] life with the equivalent of a I’M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH – PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.

* And the answer is, of course, no, I am not going to stop. You see, I find you, as a feminist, to be a loathsome, vile piece of human garbage. I find you so pernicious and repugnant that the idea of fucking your shit up gives me an erection.

* Progress for men will not be gained by debate, reason or typical channels of grievance available to segments of the population that the world actually gives a damn about. The progress we need will only be realized by inflicting enough pain on the agents of hate, in public view, that it literally shocks society out of its current coma.

Original quotes can be found in context on their website.

The VFW is an organization holding a distinct honor and prestigious history that was founded on principled intentions and character. I’m concerned for the future of the VFW’s reputation that will surely suffer from supporting an organization that actively promotes violence. Your decision will not only negatively affect the perception of the VFW and Veteran Affairs, but will also be detrimental to the perception of the Armed Services, bringing great discredit to VFW initiatives, leadership and outstanding performance of exemplifying the highest traditions of military service. Frankly, supporting this organization is outrageous and unethical. Rumors have already begun spreading online that Post 1146 supports the same type of hateful speech that A Voice for Men disseminates.

It is for these reasons that I urge you to reconsider your support of this conference. HAVEN and Equality Michigan are anti-violence organizations in our state that consider gender-based violence to be of tremendous significance. As anti-violence organizations we understand the importance of analytical debate and conflicting viewpoints; however, we can never support the promotion of violence and misogynistic language. It is imperative that Post 1146 make a public statement denouncing the antics used by this organization and withdraw support.

In Trust and Service,

 

Kristopher Kole Wyckhuys, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

Beth Morrison, CEO, HAVEN
Bryan Victor, Victim Advocate, Equality Michigan
Emily Dievendorf, Executive Director, Equality Michigan

#NoMRA: flipping the script on men’s issues

MRA22A sunny beautiful Detroit Saturday morning in Grand Circus Park became a staging area as we once again discovered brilliant commonality through peaceful protest. Hundreds of supporters converged in demonstration while collectively voicing discontent and recognizing that hate isn’t welcome.

A Voice for Men (VfM) intended to host their first Men’s Rights Conference in Detroit and was passionately denounced as a hate group. One doesn’t have to search far for evidence of VfM’s violent language and misogynic undertone while operating under the guise of equitable intentions. (CN: violence, misogyny)

(Controversial men’s rights conference canceled at DoubleTree in downtown Detroit)

*update: conference has since been moved to a VFW hall in a Detroit suburb

I spoke as a representative of HAVEN along with a number of local organizations and the terrifying reality is that I could’ve easily become an MRA in my early social justice exploration. A VfM brings up legitamate concerns that men face in our country while strategically reinforcing a very harmful ideology and I could have easily been drawn in.

During my early pro/feminist exploration I was able to recognize cultural narratives that dictate an extremely toxic American masculinity. I realized that the journey into manhood would prove to marginalize women but would also construct a deeply profound emptiness. This loss of connection and stoic darkness is where I feel many men and masculine people eventually find no escape. Hyper-masculine expression is sometimes survival (especially for men of color) and power. It is often dark and lonely and men are starving for the type of connection that also panics us. When something threatens our sense of survival and says that our learned methods must be examined and that power must be shared – we instinctively revolt.

But MRA1we don’t have to revolt. We need other men to step up and show us that things can be done differently.

This dark emptiness sometimes leads down the path of men’s rights activism and I was once faced with a fork in the road. A life altering decision to either breathe in equity and the breadth of life through feminist social action or choose to steep in hate filled rhetoric and misinformation through the path of men’s rights.

We have to ask ourselves if men’s deeply sensed pain is caused by feminism or by a cultural narrative that calls on men to behave ways that stifle human growth. It’s easy to go down the path of MRA’s because that path does not ask us to work. We don’t have to examine male privilege and we don’t have to turn over the myth of male superiority. We never have to own up to sexist language we’ve used or look at the ways we’ve unknowingly supported sexism.

Are there instances where men face unfair treatment? Abosolutely. Are there folks who hate men? Probably. Is the disposability of men a problem in our culture? I don’t know. Yet, turning these problems into a political movement and naming it misandry while claiming systemic oppression is embarrassing and I think that most men are smarter.

MRAs would have us believe that there aren’t services within feminist movement for men or for male-survivors of assault. This is a lie. MRA’s don’t want our services because they refuse to engage in anything that is going to challenge them or make them work to transform their world view. They would have us believe that feminism is the downfall of men and that we have lost our way and are confused about how to navigate the world. This is insulting. They strategically play on the humanistic quality of men that is yearning for something more deeply profound in the expression of his complexity and then flipping the script into a hateful play for power and continued domination.

There is legitimacy to the emergence of men’s issues and we certainly need to talk about them; however, our deeply felt pain has nothing to do with feminism and has everything to do with the socially sanctioned narratives our culture tells us about what it means to be a man.

At HAVEN, and in other areas of feminist movement, we service victims and survivors of IPV and sexual assault of all genders. We work with men to identify and develop strategies for personal development and social change. We do this to create a more fulfilling life for men and boys, and more importantly, we do this to involve men in ending men’s violence against women.

It’s not simply questioning manhood that will address men’s concerns; however, once we bring women and men together collaboratively and concede our shared humanity, we then begin to heal the crisis in connection that we mutually endure.

Resources for Men Ending Violence

redefine.,  a project of the prevention education team at HAVEN, Oakland County Michigan’s center for the treatment and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault as part of our on-going efforts to engage men in ending gender-based

The Brown Boi Project, a community of people working across race and gender to eradicate sexism, homophobia and transphobia and create healthy frameworks of masculinity and change.

Men Can Stop Rape, to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.

MenEngage, advocating around a number of key issues where gender directly affects the lives of women and men.

Masculinity

American Men’s Studies Association, Advancing the critical study of men and masculinities.

The Men’s Stories Project, Resources for creating public dialogue about masculinity through storytelling

*For a comprehensive list of Men’s Resources link here. You can also link to this list on Voice Male, for information related to masculinity, fathers, men’s health, men of color, LGBTQ+, and more…

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

A Call to Campus Leadership: End Sexual Violence!

Cross Post from Give Hope a Voice

When sifting through the news, these headlines have become all too common.

Statistical evaluation reveals that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men experience attempted or actual rape throughout lifetime and a staggering 1 in 3 women over the course of her college career. Since fewer than 5% of assaults are reported, these statistics simply don’t reflect the astounding reality. Nearly 25% of women who reported rape were under the age of 25 when assaulted, 85% of the victims know their attacker, while nearly 99% of people convicted are men.

Universities have an ethical and legal responsibility to provide safe educational environments and confronting sexual violence must be part of that. Campuses should not only be responsible for working to prevent these incidents, but in the event an assault occurs the administration needs to investigate and work to ensure justice is sought. As seen by the headlines above, there are a good number of campuses not responding well or even at all to assaults. So how do you create a culture of consent?

Sexual assault prevention involves interventions at various levels. We can stop crimes before they are committed, while reducing the damaging consequences after the fact and while also holding offenders accountable. The implementation of prevention strategies often hinges on understanding that if we can inspire women and men to work collaboratively – we can shift the paradigm that supports sexual violence. We can educate students about ethical consent while teaching bystander strategies to safely confront potentially violent situations, while also transforming culture. Jackson Katz, a frontrunner in the effort of engaging men in ending violence said it well in this TED talk.

The prevalence of assaults within sports culture reflects a critical need for every institution to mandate sexual violence training for all student athletes. We’re not suggesting single session sensitivity trainings; however, we’re advocating for multi-session trainings founded in empirically researched strategies demonstrating long-term culture change and accountability.

That this is not standard practice within every athletic department reflects a profound failure on the part of leadership within higher education institutions.

RAAIN Statistics
In a recent report, The Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAAIN) issued a statement denouncing the feminist theoretical concept that we live within what’s defined as Rape Culture. They concede that it’s helpful to recognize systemic barriers, while not losing sight that rape is not the result of cultural implications, but is the result of deliberate choices of a small number of rapists, to rape.

Rape is absolutely a choice that one individual makes in order to gain power and control over another individual. ConsentThis choice is influenced by culture and is hidden in plain sight by a society that allows rapists to exploit cultural narratives and escape accountability. Holding rapists accountable necessitates uncovering the campus climate through which they’re able to conceal themselves. This climate allows for personal beliefs that they’re not rapists at all. Accountability requires pulling back the curtain and uncovering common rape myths, flipping the script on victim blaming, and engaging in a cultural shift that calls for universal unified understandings of a very specific definition of consent. This is an ethical consent that is conversational, engaging, participatory, sober, and only yes means yes.

To effectively prevent rape on campuses, and alter the attitudes and behaviors that lead rapists to believe they can get away with rape, we must also drastically alter the environment within which they live and thrive.

At HAVEN we seek to develop partnerships with institutions to implement best practices in prevention solutions. Prevention work includes education for students, professors and administration at levels of engagement ranging from awareness-raising, to comprehensive education, to building healthy relationship skills and ends in legislation and policy design. We create programs adequately addressing these levels of engagement while also addressing underlying causes. We encourage institutions to partner with local domestic violence agencies to bring together components of expertise while designing comprehensive prevention strategies that produces a paradigm shift that never accepts or tolerates sexual violence, ever.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.

How I Became Pro-Choice at 8 Years Old

[Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author.  HAVEN, as an organization, does not support or condemn abortion, but believes that all people are experts on their own experiences and should be trusted to make their own decisions.]

If you will bear with me for a few sentences, I will eventually come to the point of how I personally came to a pro-choice position at 8 years old. My life is often influenced by the experiences of my past and this memory was recently brought to the surface. I personally enjoy the intricate set up of a story, my personal creative process and the moment of opportunity to contemplate the speculative. I hope that the way it which it is framed is able to create an illustration within your mind.

Gas Station Revelations

The day I essentially became pro-choice (without having those words of course) was a remarkable summer day sometime between 1985 and 86 and I remember it was one of those humid and thick Michigan summer days. It was the kind of day that was difficult to breathe deeply and fully all the way to theBirthControl-e bottom of your diaphragm. It felt heavy. I was sharing a rare and exciting weekend with my father who I expectantly and eagerly waited to spend time with whenever he would unexpectedly make an appearance. I recall a striking desire to emulate everything that I perceived him to be and also desiring to become him when I grew up. He was not a big man; however, in my eyes he was huge. He was seemingly handsome, tall, with a medium build, slicked back dark hair with a thin face that was scattered with pock mark scars that gave him a weathered and tough facade. He smelled like machine oil most of the time that lingered over shower soap. He spoke with a typical white guy, tough guy, from the city accent that I presume was meant to make him seem cooler than he probably was. (I think he still talks that way) His hands were large and calloused from assembly factory work. I remember examining his hands closely, taking them into my own and carefully tracing the lines with my fingertips while noticing that the shape of our hands were identical as I compared them, except that mine were small and smooth like silk, like a child’s, and I detested that reality.

*The nature of my adoration for my father really does have relevance to this story.

My father and I stopped at a gas station to fill his old beater car and I remember racing around the vehicle in order to be allowed the opportunity to pump gas. I remember the thickness of the air so well because I could also taste the gas fumes on my tongue, filling my mouth and it almost hurt my little lunges to breathe. I don’t remember at all how we came to the discussion that we were having; however, it was in this moment, at a Detroit city gas station, that my father revealed to me that I had nearly been aborted. He spoke a narrative that I recollect vividly constructing in my mind in an effort to recreate what I thought it must have looked like. My parents were young when my mother became pregnant and she was still a senior in high school. They were unmarried, not college bound and within families that were at the higher end of low income. When she told my father that she was pregnant neither of them was willing to say out loud what they desired to have happen as an outcome. I can’t conceive their fear or frustration because this is not something that I have ever had to confront. Instead of talking about it they wrote their thoughts on paper, folded it up and handed it to each other to read. My father opted to have their potential child come to full term while my mother opted for bodily autonomy and wanted to wait to have a child. The obvious outcome, as I sit here typing this script, is that my father prevailed in the decision. While I’ve never asked her, I am quite sure that my mother’s version would tell a completely different narrative.

Getting Past Feelings of Rejection

Looking back in retrospect I can see how disturbing this scene may appear. Aside from the fact that I now understand that it’s totally fucked up for a dad to tell this to his kid, I will tell you that I was wholly unaffected emotionally by this revelation. I was not hurt or distressed by his disclosure and only found myself increasingly interested and curious for more information. I knew what abortion was and what it would have meant had my mother pursued one. I had an acute awareness that my mother’s life would have been drastically different had she been given the opportunity to follow through with her initial inclination. I knew that something had been taken away from her, her autonomy and independence stolen through a moment of time and inadequate communication on a section of folded paper. I remember a profound frustration with the fact that they were unable to communicate about something so incredibly important. This is not to say that my mother would have come to the conclusion to terminate her pregnancy indefinitely; however, she did deserve to have had the opportunity to come to this decision with more education and support from her family and community. Instead she was forced through her family, community and partner into a violent marriage and to eventually care for, support and raise a child completely and totally on her own.

I remember the rising of a peculiar frustration from the pit of my stomach and up into my throat on that thick summer day. I did not allow the words that rose up to come out of my mouth though. My veneration for my father was too strong to effectively challenge him in my little 8 year old body and come to the defense of my mother. I wondered why he thought it was so important to tell me this, but more importantly, I found myself noticeably angry that he took so much pride in his perceived ownership of a woman’s body, my mother. He owned her and he owned me. This is a concept that I certainly couldn’t put into words at the time but I do now understand.

Complete Bodily Autonomy is an Expectation not a Luxury

When I share this story with folks that I argue with in favor of autonomy I am inevitably asked, “Well, aren’t you glad your dad did that? Are you saying that you would prefer to not exist?” I am so tired of that question I wish I could simply sigh audibly and somehow convey everything that races through my head in that fraction of a second.

I’ve actually gotten into yelling matches over the issue with other men (which is really rare form for a soft temperament guy). I was having this discussion with a couple of dudes, one of whom balanced on the edge of indecision on his personal stance. Then suddenly he fell on the side of becoming pro-life. “You know Kole, I just decided that she shouldn’t be able to have an abortion”. ((insert screeching halt sound)) My lips literally went numb and my ears went silent. Seriously? “Well, I’m glad you can so easily come to a decision, for someone else, without having any other education on the topic and in reference to something that you will never have to face as a gay cis*man.” Don’t get me wrong, I love these men and I think they are good people. I also think that too many of us lean on the side of making choices for people, without any real education and we often do this when those choices in no way affect our own lives. It is not our choice to make.

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Of course. Of course I’m grateful to be in existence and appreciative of the opportunity to experience the dichotomies that this life has to offer between the good and bad and love and hate. Yet, I do not like knowing that it may have come at the expense of my mother’s autonomy, life or happiness. I will never know how her life may have been different because there is no way to know. I’m well aware that women choose to have unexpected children and find complete and total joy in the choice that they made. This is not always the case and undeniably it’s not our choice to make for any woman that walks this planet. Her body and her future are her own and she deserves the right to come to that conclusion fully educated and supported. For more on personhood and violations of autonomy you can check this guest blog.

It’s an expectation that we may choose to have any form of surgery, medical care, chemo treatment for cancer, to remove a mole or to have a hysterectomy or vasectomy, it is also an expectation that anyone should be able to choose whether or not to use their body as a vessel to bring about life to the full term of personhood. This choice is not a luxury, it is an expectation. At 8 years old I knew that this was not up for debate.

The Punishment for Sex is Not Forced Pregnancy

Just as the punishment for drinking is NOT rape, the punishment for sex is NOT forced pregnancy. This has a long historical context that is rooted in the idea that “irresponsible” sexual activity leads to the assumed “consequences” of pregnancy. I’m acutely aware that women have sex for a multitude of reasons, love, romance, pleasure, fun, perhaps procreation. Sex is not an irresponsible act. It can be an act of passion or love or pure pleasure but it is never irresponsible when enacted between two consenting people. I imagine that my mother felt guilt and shame wrapped around her accidental pregnancy. This is evident in the fact that there was a quick and forced marriage before I became too noticeable (Ya know, like born) to the public’s condemning eye. While we may not be as likely to force young folks into marriage after getting pregnant anymore, we still shame young girls which adds absolutely nothing to the solution. There are examples abounding undeniably. Sex Education reduces the risk for unwanted pregnancy, not shame tactics.

Until Women have Complete Bodily Autonomy there will Never be Total Gender Equity

Photo Credit: The Pro-Choice Mom

Photo Credit: The Pro-Choice Mom

I’m not an expert on abortion and there are plenty of resources out that lean in support and opposition of the cause. (I won’t cite them because they are easy enough to find) I’m also not here to argue the intricacies of the subject. I am not the first or last to talk about abortion and there are many folks out there that are the experts. Yet, at 8 years old I had awareness that my mother was entitled to do whatever she pleased with her own body before I had developed fully. She was the expert on her own body and life. Her bodily autonomy was about her fundamental right to choose. I imagine that abortion is something that many folks don’t think about too in depth until they are faced with a situation where they must contemplate having one. It shouldn’t matter why my mother wanted an abortion – she should’ve had the choice no matter her age, her location, her education, her economic status, her community’s opinions, her boyfriend’s opinions or any other qualifying circumstance, because it was her own damn body and her own damn life that she was offering up.

Without bodily autonomy women become a possession that our community owns. Specifically, the men who are making the vast majority of these decisions. When we make decisions for women about their own lives she then becomes property. When we own women as property we rob her of her fundemental right to autonomy and independence and make it easier to devalue and dehumanize her. When we dehumanize and devalue her we make it easier for ourselves, and others, to oppress and violate her. As a collective consciousness and community it is our ethical responsibility to trust women to make choices for their own bodies, even if they are not decisions that we would personally reach and even if we think that those choices are harmful choices. Perhaps I didn’t have the words but I could see that at 8 years old.

Kristopher (Kole) Wyckhuys is one hopeful and optimistic voice within an intersectional social justice movement. As a Prevention Education Specialist at HAVEN, his focus is redefining healthy masculinity and works to engage men in ending gender-based violence. After graduating college he served in the military where he trained as a Combat Medic and Mental Health Specialist. Kole is an Iraq war veteran, NPTI certified personal trainer, and a trained massage therapist in addition to his work as a prevention educator. He envisions a collective consciousness that embraces individual and social responsibility, accountability, and equanimity. He shares his home with a 3 year old pup named Peanut the Pitbull.