#BringTheFire: Calling out Toxic Masculinity for a DC Free from Domestic Violence

It was an honor to speak at the DC Coalition against Domestic Violence Rally on the eve of International Women’s Day 2019 alongside kickass leaders like Alicia Sanchez Gill and Karma Cottman. This was a true bucket list moment! Here is my speech.

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Hello, beautiful people!! How’s everybody doing? I don’t think Mayor Bowser and the DC Council can hear you. Let’s make some noise!

Thank you, to the DC Coalition for bringing us here today, and thanks to all of you for stepping up on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. You had a choice about where to be today and you chose to be here.

Let’s show our appreciation for each other, shall we? Would you please turn to someone you don’t know, right now, shake their hand, and say, “Thank you for being here.”  

It’s such an honor for me to represent DV LEAP and join this remarkable group of women leaders, to speak at Freedom Plaza, a space dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. So many historic marches and protests have kicked off from this location.  

We all stand here on the shoulders of the social justice giants who came to this plaza before us, always speaking truth to power. Now we carry that torch. We must bring the fire.What are we gonna do?Bring the fire! Mayor Bowser, we are turning up the heat!  

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, in the 21st century. The 21st century. Yet, violence against women around the world remains a major public health problem – and a violation of basic human rights.

I have witnessed these atrocities first-hand in the US and in my own research on sexualized violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of my work with Dr. Denis Mukwege, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Together we co-founded Panzi Foundation USA in support of Panzi hospital, where Dr. Mukwege and his staff treat thousands of women for their injuries due to rape. Please remember them on this International Women’s Day and keep them on your conscience and in your heart.

Global estimates indicate that 1 in 3 or 35% of women worldwide, have experienced either physical and/or sexualized violence in their lifetime. In DC, that statistic is 39%. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

When we bring the fire, we shine a much needed light on the source of this violence: toxic masculinity. This destructive construction of manhood is characterized by oppressive, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic beliefs and actions.

As Amanda Marcotte wrote for Salon, “It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act of domination, and valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world. Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly.”

In this town, there is certainly no shortage of examples of toxic masculinity. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

At DV LEAP, we aren’t just up against perpetrators when we represent survivors in court on legal appeals. We are also up against this same toxic masculinity internalized by judges, lawyers, mental health professionals, even guardians ad litem and other supposed advocates in the judicial system.

Too often survivors are denied protection by the courts for themselves and their children, jeopardizing their safety and well-being.

I want you to think about the number 58,000. This is the size of some sports arenas and towns. 58,000. This is also the estimated number of children court-ordered into the unsupervised cared of an abusive father every year.

The implicit bias of judges against survivors is pervasive throughout the judicial system. Two words: Brock Turner. Consider the sentencing of this rapist, a white male, convicted of multiple felonies for assaulting an unconscious woman, who only received a six-month sentence in a county jail. Why?

As the judge said, because “a prison sentence would have severe impact on him.” What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

Men are almost NEVER taught to NOT rape. If we are going to de-toxify toxic masculinity, we must fully fund domestic violence prevention education and policy in our schools. In DC, this is now possible through the recently passed School Safety Omnibus Act.

Mayor Bowser, the key to ending dating and domestic violence is investment in primary prevention and early intervention. We must fund programs that focus on healthy relationships and consent education so that all DC youth have the tools they need to thrive. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire! Thank you!

About Lee Ann De Reus

Executive Director, DV LEAP; Co-founder, Panzi Foundation USA
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