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The Uncomfortable Silence

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

"I couldn’t tell my daughter’s class about my struggles as a man in a traditionally woman’s movement, because I barely understand them myself."

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.

As I trudged up the stairs to my daughter’s classroom, I could hear the barely controlled chaos beyond the door. I opened it quickly and bounded across the room. Once the giggles, finger pointing, and poking subsided under the teacher’s laser-like stare, I cleared my throat and walked to the front of the room, finally leaning my back against the chalkboard. My daughter was sitting near the middle of the class, unsmiling and propped forward—unable to contain her anticipation. I took a deep breath. All I could do was speak to them as I would any other group and hope they understood.

I told my daughter’s class the truth: I began my work as a journalist but will be ending it as an activist. I told them about traveling around the world to speak to kids very much like them, who are fighting and hurting each other, or who are being treated badly by the adults around them, especially girls. I told them that I didn’t like the stories I heard when I was writing articles or books, and about how I’m trying to get other people to help me give those stories happier endings. I told them that since the summer of 2008, I’ve been flying back and forth across the world to build a new kind of effort to end violence against women and girls. It’s the vision of a worldwide campaign called “Man Up.” As I spoke, I saw my daughter lean back and smile.

But I couldn’t tell my daughter’s class about all the suffering I’ve seen in places like Afghanistan, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve held people as they have died in my arms, and I’ve sat with women who have been raped to the point of paralysis.

I also couldn’t tell my daughter’s class about my struggles as a man in a traditionally woman’s movement, because I barely understand them myself. I frequently meet with people to talk about my ideas for confronting violence against women, and I run into a lot of suspicion—as if I have an ulterior motive for doing this work. At one cocktail reception, a woman asked me, half-jokingly, if I was exploring this issue as a way to meet women. The stare behind her smile told me she was being more serious than not. My guy friends assume the same.

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.

About Jimmie Briggs

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 manupcampaign.org

Comments

Nusrat Ara's picture

Great work Jimmie. Keep

Great work Jimmie. Keep going. The world needs more people like you.

Nusrat

BRNYC's picture

Beautiful & inspiring story

Keep the vision, Jimmie. You are an inspiration. Thank you.

isaac's picture

A way to go Jimmie!

I feel I have a twin brother in the house. Alas, it comfirms I'm not alone in this fight. You are a true inspiration Jimmie and well done for this. Some people will never understand the work you do and I share the same sentiments with you. The best part is the passion that drives you each and everyday to spread the light. We have so much in common.

I learnt you will be South Africa, please brief me more so I can connect you to more women there.

Looking forward to meeting you one day.

Best.

Isaac

zoneziwoh's picture

Education for All

Thanks Jimmie for sharing this experience with us here, I wish I had read this article some 12 days back.
A very similar incident which I faced on April 18th 2010. How did it all happened? The organization which I run "WFAC Buea" had scheduled a solidarity Visit to an orphanage around the neighborhood.well! our visit was granted and unfortunately for me, I never asked what were the age group of the orphans. I was all taken with my thoughts since I knew it was all about visit and nothing more, Behold! on the 18th April, that day, I will never forget. what a challenge!

At the Orphanage, a hall was prepared for us and the kids were all sited waiting for us. guess what? I entered and to be honest I can say that the oldest was 8 years old. My gosh! I was to address kids below 8 years old about Violence on Women, Women as Role Model. What! Yes, our organization advocates against VAW. so who are we? the kids had never known us~so, who are we? I stood up, looked at the classroom with over 30 kids below 8 years, attentively waiting to hear what I have to say. (smile). You know what, I asked them just 2 question:
1) Who is a Women?
2) Who wants to take last in their class examination (how many people wants to always take first in class?)?

That was it. It was interactive, between me and the kids, I did more of listening to see if they understood me and at the end, these kids gave excellent idea.
I was so happy because I tried to transmit my talk on VAW & Women as role model.

Best regard; Zoneziwoh

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

Facebook:Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo Wondieh

Twitter | Instagram: @ZoFem

Hi Jimmie,

This is a great experience and beautifully witten article. I like so much the experience of highlighting kids of global issues such as violence against women and see how they react. An inkling scenario that I enjoyed so much.

Salam,

Halima

abigail's picture

Inspiring

Hi Jimmie,

Your work is inspiring. Loved reading your story. The world needs more men and fathers like you.

Cheers,
Abigail

Toyin's picture

Brilliant

You are doing a great thing here. Women & Girls have lived with the threat of violence in their own homes for too long, and for a man to stand up and say no more is truly amazing. What I think is wonderful is that your daughter will grow with a unique sense of worth, self esteem and confidence, as she has been taught by you that no woman should less of a person. This is your legacy.

Umme Mahbuba's picture

You are Amazing!

Hi Jimmie,
I don't know how to say you how amazing you are. I am not finding any word in my mind to say you how great you are. Love your writing and you are an amazing person with a great mind.

Best regards
Umme.

As I read your story, I was near tears. My organization, Rising International, uses home parties to tell the stories and sell the crafts of poor and endangered women around the world. We are often asked if we are anti-men. Of course we are not! We are anti-slavery, anti-kidnapping,anti-rape, anti-murder and anti-disfigurement. Unfortunately, the victims or these crimes are most often women. Putting money into the hands of women is a powerful way to end violence against women.

However, without men, our road is more difficult, our solutions untenable. Hearing about your movement, raises my hope that we will achieve the goal -- a world where being born female is not automatically a sentence to poverty, violence, slavery and death. And where the contributions of all are equally valued.

The twentieth century saw the horror of ethnic and racial slavery become unacceptable in civilized society.Though it has not ended, at least it is now a crime against humanity. In the twenty-first century, we will see the same for women because people like you and all the members of this web community are dedicated to make it happen.

We salute you. You have a very lucky daughter.

janet
risinginternational.org

malayapinas's picture

It's inspiring

Hi Jimm,

I'm so inspired reading your article. I wish many more men with join you and support your campaign ending violence against women and girls.

I have a grade one daughter too and I can help but smile and admire your passion and advocacy for women.

Thank you so much for being one with us!

best wishes,
Malaya

lolatsai's picture

Thank you.

Jimmie, THANK YOU so much, for this.

Together, we will create that space for that light for all of our girls.

Love & blessings,
Lola

Love & blessings,
Lola

www.oneglowinglife.com

kgeorges's picture

Thank you.

Hi Jimmie,
Thank you for being willing to take a stand. It brings me great hope to see men standing in solidarity with women. I, for one, do not believe that you have an alterior motive.

Peace,
Katy

Purity's picture

Great work!

I am greatly impressed by the change you are trying to bring to the society at large. I hope it is OK if i share your story with our readers in our CISA agency. It is very inspiring.
Keep up the good work and God Bless!
Purity

niccimarie's picture

Man Up!

As previous readers have already stated, I was almost in tears reading this story. I am inspired by your passion. As a woman activist it makes me feel reaffirmed knowing that there are men out there making this a priority in their lives. Thank you for that.

dbunton's picture

The Man Up Campaign

Jimmie,

Your story is both encouraging and inspiring. Encouraging in that it serves as an index for men like myself. Hearing your story is inspiring because it instills hope. Kind of like passing the baton in a relay, but not in a race against time. It's more like a co-ed marathon in which we are all winners with each milestone. My oldest daughter leaves for college soon, and I hope that she is willingly participatory in activities that compound her awareness of human rights for men and women. She has already read her first few WP articles :) Be re-affirmed that your great journalism is appreciated. Your testimonial serves as inspiration to other men like me who can relate both as a dad, and as an activist.

Count me in on the Man Up Campaign!

Darren Bunton

Rita Raj's picture

Inspiring!

Thank you for sharing a male perspective. You are doing much needed work. Your struggle and its expression makes what you are doing meaningful.Thank you

brendak's picture

Noble

Its a noble cause, great work.

goddess30's picture

Keep going Jimmie

I was weeping as I read your story. It was beautiful and you are doing such an important work. I am glad that more men worldwide are starting to wake up and I did not think for a moment you are doing any of this to get women or get something. There are others like you (I know about 5 or 6 personally) who are ready to stand up and say no.

Your work will mean a huge deal for not only to your daughter- who, I agree with previous comments is a lucky girl to have such father- but for all the other little girls and boys who will see an example of how a man can be. Not to mention the support you are giving to all of the women in the world who are working to claim their rightful place.

Thank you for your willingness to do this, to speak up, to lead by example

Annika

katina maria's picture

dumps up

Jimmy thank you very much.

Y's picture

The name of your organization

The name of your organization says it all. I recently gave the same imperative to my husband who had been allowing my ex-husband to dishonor me in his presence. Until good men stand up to abusive men, women and other vulnerable populations don't stand a chance of change.

Yvette

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