Dance and Death Shine Spotlight on Domestic Abuse

This past weekend was a moving one for Donna and me.

On the one hand, Donna’s daughter Jordan, performed with a group of dedicated young dancers to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities faced by women around the world. We’re really proud of her.

That experience was juxtaposed against our learning of the recent suicide of a former client and friend of ours, Earl Silverman – a man equally dedicated to raising awareness about domestic abuse perpetrated against men.

Jordan’s performance was part of a production by MPact Dance called “Invisible”. Invisible was

“a dance show revealing the vulnerabilities of women and what culture can do to see these vulnerabilities brought down.  To educate and expose what makes women vulnerable such as trafficking, eating disorders, poverty, divorce/widow, addictions, immigration, sex, self objectification, domestic violence, isolation and loneliness.”

Men's rights advocate Earl Silverman sits in the kitchen of his shelter/home before it closed.

Earl Silverman at his home / shelter in Calgary. Photo by Greg Fulmes for National Post

Earl was equally dedicated to his cause. After leaving a marriage in which he was the victim of domestic violence by his wife, he spent the next 20-plus years supporting other male-victims of domestic violence and advocating on their behalf both locally and nationally. Three years ago, he transformed his Calgary home into the Men’s Alternative Safe House (MASH), Canada’s only privately-funded shelter for male victims of domestic violence. In March of this year, Earl closed and sold the shelter as he could no longer afford to keep it operating. According to a National Post article written after Earl’s death,

“He long sought funding from provincial and federal governments to help run his hybrid shelter and home, but believed he was always refused because the space was dedicated to helping male victims and their children. He said he was unable to pay for heat and grocery bills.”

The juxtaposition of these events is two-fold. First, the MPact show demonstrated the life-affirming dedication of youth to their cause versus the premature death of a man whose dream was pulled out from under him.

Second, the MPact performance advocated on behalf  of women, while occasionally suggesting that men are directly or indirectly responsible for their plight. For his part, Earl staunchly supported men’s rights, while blaming feminism for its contribution to a system that seemed to turn a blind eye to the abuse of men by women.

Why Does it Have to Be Either – Or?

When it comes to opposing abuse and supporting equality of opportunity, it seems men and women are pitted against one another. Women claim to be under-privileged because of men. Men resent being held as the enemy in the eyes of not only women but in the eyes of the law as well.

Let’s be clear…No one questions the existence and the dramatic impact of domestic violence against women; of the injustice of unequal access to professional and other opportunities; of the horrors of genital mutilation, poor access to education, and the rape and murder of women and young girls in so many parts of the world.

By the same token, men are also abused. I believe they are. If you find yourself doubting this consider Earl’s commitment. It speaks volumes. He was a good and gentle man. He experienced abuse first-hand, and believed that its existence was widespread enough that he dedicated his life to raising awareness about it and then took his own life when it was clear to him that not enough people cared. That has to say something.

With the understanding that both men and women are abused, is it really necessary that we bicker about which gender is more deserving of funding, more deserving of media attention, more deserving of attention from law enforcement and the justice system?

We know women are being hurt. We know men are being hurt. Maybe its time to stop talking about domestic violence against women and domestic violence against men, and to start abhorring domestic violence period. Maybe women should stop blaming men for all their problems, and instead take a look in the mirror and start owning their own power and how they wield it for both good and ill. For their part, men have to stand up and tell other men that the physical and other abuse perpetrated against women is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated at home or in any other part of the world. We have to open up opportunity to everyone. In short, if a solution is what we seek, taking personal responsibility has far more power than blaming others.

We’re Better, More Powerful Together

This isn’t a gender problem, its a human problem. Its a human condition, the ultimate solution to which will require men and women to come together and despise violence, injustice and intolerance no matter whom it is directed toward or where it happens.

Men and women are better together. We can solve any problem together.

We acknowledge MPact Dance, its organizers, Jordan and all the other amazing dancers for the awareness they generated this weekend. We acknowledge Earl for dedicating his life to a cause he believed in no matter what anyone else said.  Let’s work together to make sure both of their equally laudable goals are realised.

Stand up against violence everywhere. Support equal opportunity for everyone. Jordan, keep dancing. Earl, rest in peace at last.

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