Friday, January 23, 2015

Using music to stop violence against women and girls

In 2015 I pledge to make a difference in stopping violence against women and girls.  After a long period of contemplation over the new year period, it dawned on me that this was the next natural step to take in making my unique contribution to the world.  I have been grappling with issues of power and control for a long time – who has it and who wants it and what they do with it.  When I took a moment to look over my previous blogs, the steps leading to this place were pretty clear.   Power and love was an exploration of the ways that music therapists frequently deny their own power in professional relationships.  Reconsidering resilience was the beginning of my awakening to the power of societal responsibility and how resilience is not just located inside an individual.  Are you my client challenged the words that music therapists accept as normal, without acknowledging the power that language has. Thinking about servant leadership followed this through into thinking about collaboration and sharing power when you get it, which I then considered in relation to the possibility that mutually empowering conditions is what music therapists create.  And slowly, I have started to release a little bit of rage about the abuse of power that occurs in the world, regularly posting horrendous accounts of violence against women and girls on my facebook page and that led me to return to Feminism.

So it is, and so it shall be.  I’ve finally connected the dots and connected with my anger and examined by beliefs.  I’m writing a position paper on Music, Violence and Young People in Schools that will be out soon.  But in the meantime, I find it absolutely unacceptable that we continue to tolerate the systematic and persistent abuse of power in relation to women and girls - as well as anyone else who isn’t from the dominant form of a white, Anglo-Saxon man. As I read through Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things’, I was blown away by the clarity of this young British Feminist.  She could name the ways that the dominant view on how men need to behave is systematically abusing all of us.  The gender norms she powerfully describes are destroying all of us, including the men who don’t fit the mould, as well as those that do. I am choosing to focus on how these accepted beliefs are impacting women and girls, and I trust that others will also join in the mutiny and bring all the other, equally important perspectives, to the table.

So the question becomes, how can I make my contribution?  Over the past few years, I have been working with a wonderful group of people on the MusicMatters project.  We tried to expand our vision for what music therapists could contribute to mainstream schools by sharing what we know about how to use music to achieve wellbeing and connectedness.  It’s been a beautiful project and we learned a lot from it.  And now I’m ready to take a bigger step, and to stop playing nice.  By focusing on building school’s musical resources, I had fallen into my usual pattern of being strengths-oriented, and deficiency blind.  Schools reflect social norms, and the dominant social norm in my country is an unequal distribution of power.  White men are usually the principals, white women are often taking a lot of responsibility and getting some power in return, other adults from different cultural groups and younger ages are given a little bit of power, and this is used to manage the young ones so that they can learn.   These students then re-enact the same power hierarchies. Yes, I’m generalising, but as Laurie Penny argues, just because a generalisation doesn’t apply to everyone, it doesn’t mean it’s not true.

So instead of going sweetly in to schools to discover how music can build on their strengths, I’m going boldly in to schools to uncover the power imbalances through music.  My plan is to begin the investigation by getting groups of young people to write songs about the balance of power they perceive between boys and girls, women and men.  Since I’m a researcher, I’m going to analyse the main themes that emerge in those songs and see if there’s anything in particular that comes up when we use music to frame the discussion.  I’m guessing that objectification might be a feature (think music videos), and I’m wondering about stereotypical gender based behaviours (think rock stars).  Then, I will go back to schools, better informed, and use music to shape a heavier discussion, about how power imbalances underpin abuse and violence, and to explore exactly where that line is between men feeling that they are meant to be powerful and in control, and women being raped, murdered and disposed of.  Should be some interesting musicking, huh?

The way I see it, it’s all in the name of inspiring more mutually empowering relationships, which has been my personal and professional goal for a long time.  But I’ve had enough of playing it nice.  It’s not working.  Women and girls are dying all around us.  Did you know that intimate partner violence is the most common type of violence against women, affecting 30 per cent of women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.  Or that it is the leading contributor to the death, disability and ill-health of Australian women aged 15-44?  Or that one in four children are exposed to domestic violence? Or that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of somebody they know?  Really, did you know that?????  Think about it. 

It suits the system and it suits the economy to keep this balance of power skewed in one direction, and I’m not buying it.  It’s time to music up, people.  Who’s in?