The Uncomfortable Silence

Linked with Man Up Campaign. – Published on World Pulse, by Jimmie Briggs, April 1, 2010.

In his quest to end violence against women, former war journalist Jimmie Briggs faces his toughest audience yet.

Several months ago, my daughter’s teacher invited me to speak to her class about what I do for a living. How was I to tell a room full of squirmy first-graders that I am launching a global campaign to end violence against women and girls, using hip-hop and soccer? That I’ve gone from sometimes war reporter to human rights advocate? My own daughter has only the slightest inkling about my work, and the thought of facing her classmates terrified me … 

… Outside my professional life, I consciously avoid speaking about the work I do, because people expect me to be the embodiment of the “good guy,” the ideal man. I’m quick to cite a mother, ex-wife, daughter, and scores of frustrated ex-girlfriends who would eagerly agree that I’m anything but perfect.

Trying to build a campaign, or a movement, is all-consuming. Most of the time I feel halted in social situations because all I’m really able to talk about is work, leading me to feel like “Debbie Downer” from the TV show Saturday Night Live, guaranteed to bring a festive mood to an abrupt, uncomfortable end.

One night at a regular Sunday evening dinner party with friends and acquaintances, every time I brought up my work, or hot-button words like “rape,” “activism,” or “change,” one guest would change the subject to the texture and taste of the dessert, or to the succulence of the roast chicken. Eventually, I made it a game to see what food item would be introduced next.

As my talk to the first-grade class wound down, I asked them rhetorically, “Why do I care so much about what is happening to women and girls around the world?” The students all turned to look at my daughter as she began to blush and smile nervously. They got that I’m doing this for my daughter.

I hope one day my work over the last 20 years for women and girls will mean something to her and her classmates. At present, my daughter only knows that her dad leaves for days and weeks at a time, returning only to leave again, just when we’ve become reacquainted. But I stay on the path because there is hope; there is affirmation in this movement of women and men. I see it every day when I read about the many men’s conferences on violence against women that are springing up on college campuses across the US; when I see the grassroots efforts that are struggling to be born in the unlikeliest of places on the Web; and when I witness the coalitions that are being formed between organizations across the globe.

Amid the darkness I witnessed as a journalist, there was light as well, resting in the imaginations and faith of countless young people surviving in the worst imaginable situations. My purpose, the end goal of the Man Up Campaign, is to create the space for that light, and for my daughter and her classmates to be in it. (full text).

(Jimmie Briggs is a New York-based writer, teacher, and activist, and is the founder of the Man Up Campaign. His upcoming book, The Wars Women Fight: Dispatches from a Father to His Daughter, will be published in 2011. Learn more about his international campaign to end violence against women at  ManUp.org).

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