Justice Now

Solutions in Sight: Social Justice

Transforming Communities

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A Conversation with Poorva Pandy,
Carly Davidson, Laurel Kellner, and Carmel Adkisson
October 1997

Transforming Communities is an action project aimed at reducing violence against women and girls. It has been operating throughout Marin County, California for three years. Poorva Pandey, Carly Davidson and Laurel Kellner, all high school sophomores, have volunteered with the group for a year. Carmel Adkisson is an adult, on staff with Transforming Communities. In addition to reaching out to other girls and transforming them by teaching about the warning signs of abuse in teen relationships and raising awareness around this important issue, Poorva, Carly and Laurel have, through the Transforming Communities training, transformed themselves.

Take Back The Day MarchThe InSite: What does Transforming Communities mean to you?

Poorva: It means creating safety and justice for girls.

It means creating safety and justice for girls.

TI: How did you first hear about this group?

Poorva: One of my friends had gotten involved with Transforming Communities. It just really appealed to me that there was a group out there willing to listen to teens.

Carly: Transforming Communities came to San Marin High School doing a bunch of "box" presentations. [They actually used a person wearing a cardboard box to get people to think about the characteristics of a "perfect" woman.] Like: "She's got to be sexy but not sexual." "She's got to be prim." "She doesn't burp or fart." It was this whole stereotypic thing that we didn't even notice that we put on ourselves. Then we did a list of all these names we get called when we step "out of the box." Like: "slut" "bitch" "whore" or "dyke." Just because you might be interested in certain things that are considered "not normal" by certain people.

Laurel: I really liked it [the presentation] because it was true about all these things they were saying .... what you get called if you try to be different. Society has to label you. I'm called a "freak" because I dress different. The way I act around other people. The way I treat people. Like... stereotypical dress for girls at our high school is jeans, tight striped shirts or whatever is "in fashion" at Macy's or Nordstrom's. I like Goodwill things and Army thrift shops. And I'm outspoken. I talk a lot and that's not "normal." So I liked the presentation because I could relate to that.

TI: Was there a box for boys?

Carly: Yeah... that they have to be macho. And they've got to be "take charge" kinda guys. No chess club. All football player jocks.

Laurel: And guys can't be too intellectual or too sentimental. And like the worst thing they can be called [if they step out of the box] is "homosexual." But the number of names for guys outside the box was so much less than for girls!

TI: It sounds like this was a very cool presentation that really got you thinking about a lot of things. So what happened next?

Laurel: They asked us if we wanted to come join their group. No other people coming in and talking about sex or drugs had ever asked us if we wanted to get involved. They were like "Don't do this... blah blah blah." And they [Transforming Communities] said: "Come help us. You can start something. You can be part of something." And I thought: "That's great! That's such a good idea."

Poorva: A group of us went through a 36 hour training process, learning all about domestic violence.

TI: Had you ever done anything like this before?

Poorva: No! But I've always been interested in wanting to change something.

A group of us went through a 36 hour training process, learning all about domestic violence.

TI: Why do you think this work, around issues of domestic violence, is important?

Laurel: Because this is a major problem that needs to be addressed and society is hiding it! They are hiding the fact that domestic violence happens in all classes and all different races. It's a really sensitive issue and it happens to all sorts of "perfect" people that [the rest of us] would never see this "dark" side... you know... perfect athlete, businessman, rich, upper-class people and they're not supposed to have these flaws. [Part of the solution] is starting with little boys. First you need to teach them about equality.

TI: Is this whole issue about equality between the sexes and domestic violence something that you ever thought about before that presentation?

Laurel: Well, I've thought about equality for women and feminism and stuff like that. But I never thought about the domestic violence part of it because I never had any education about domestic violence. It was great that they [Transforming Communities] came in [to our school] because you don't hear about it, so people assume that is "normal" behavior. It's not okay for women to be oppressed like this throughout society and we need to make sure that people know it's not all right!

Carly: It never really occurred to me to be doing things like this because I had no idea it was so widespread. Battering and things like that are taboo in our society, but we don't talk about it. It's not something that's accepted. People want to just ignore it and pretend it doesn't happen. It was a wake up call to figure out that 1 in 3 teenage girls are abused! [That includes any  kind of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional and/or psychological.] That is a huge amount of people! And we're looking around the classroom at each other and there were 27 people in the classroom and that's 9 of us! That's amazing!!

It was a wake up call to figure out that 1 in 3 teenage girls are abused!

TI: Since you've had this training, what have you seen in your school that you would call "abusive" behavior between girls and guys?

Laurel: It's like the guy always hanging out with his girlfriend. And I had one friend who felt like, her boyfriend was just too overbearing. That he always wanted to be with her, always wanted them to do things together on the weekend. And she just needed some space.

Carly: You think of "abuse" as him smacking her around. But we learned that there are so many different kinds of abuse. I mean guys at this age are all hormonal and so they're like touchy-feely. So a guy comes up and he pinches a girl's butt! That's totally unacceptable! And that's sexual harassment right there. You see it way more after you get this kind of training. And you say, "That's sexual abuse." And other people say, "No it's not." But it is. If it's an unwanted advance, it is sexual abuse.

Poorva: There's this whole "Cycle of Violence" where in the beginning both people are in love and everything is really great. Then they get into a little fight, nothing really big... and slowly it escalates, because maybe he sees her talking to some other guy and gets really mad. And then maybe he yells at her or pushes her or hits her. Then afterwards he apologizes and promises that it won't ever happen again and he acts all sweet for a while. Then the whole thing starts up all over again.

TI: So what if the guy says that he really loves the girl and it absolutely won't happen again?

Poorva: A lot of guys say that... I mean if I wasn't in the training and I was in a situation like that I would probably say "Okay. Here's another chance." But the training taught me that if I was in a relationship with a boyfriend who had been abusive to me, that I would just get out!

If it's an unwanted advance, it is sexual abuse.

TI: In these kinds of situations, where there's a cycle that keeps going around and around, why do girls stay?

Poorva: These girls think "If he didn't love me then he wouldn't get so upset."

TI: Which of course is crazy!

Poorva: Yeah!! If a girl doesn't feel comfortable in the relationship... she could talk to him, but I'm pretty sure that the guy would be like, "What are you talking about?!" She should just tell him, "This relationship is not going to work for me." And she should get out!

TI: Is that news to some girls, that they have this kind of power to make their own choice?

Poorva: Yeah, to a lot of girls! They're thinking "Well, I didn't know I could say that."

TI: Have you had a chance to try these techniques in real life?

Poorva: Yes! Once I was walking in this neighborhood, and I heard yelling coming from a house across the street. So I crossed over and I started singing this song really loud... it was "Hail, Mary! Run with me! Hail, Mary! Run quickly!" And I just sang it really loud! It was the most embarrassing thing for me, but they stopped and they looked [out the window] at me like, "This girl is crazy!" And then I just kept walking, and I didn't hear anymore yelling. Just this loud noise. Like a door slamming. So I think one of them left.

She should just tell him,
"This relationship is not going to work for me."
And she should get out!!

TI: It was really brave of you to do that! I mean, the guy could have come out and started yelling at you!

Poorva: I know! [laughing]

TI: Have you gotten to try this out in a relationship of your own? I don't necessarily mean an abusive relationship, but I would imagine that a young woman who knows she has this power, even if she doesn't have to use it to defend herself in anyway, could set up a very exciting and equal, relationship with anybody!

Poorva: Well, I'm not going out with anyone now, but while we were in the group [during the training] I was going out with someone. But at the time I didn't know how to try any of it out, like you're saying. But that relationship was very equal. And he always listened to me.

Carly: I was seeing this guy for a little while and I started noticing little signs that came from this training! He seemed like a really cool guy and we started talking on the phone. There was this mutual thing going on then all of a sudden he got really weird about me hanging out with people. He said, "I don't like you hanging out with him because he does this and this. And don't hang out with her because she's a slut." And he started talking down to my friends. It was totally unfounded because I was hanging out with those people before I was hanging out with him! I told him "If you're going to keep on acting like this I don't want to see you any more." And he asked "Why?!" And I told him it was because he was really rude to my friends. He once said to my friend, who is blond, "Oh, you're blond. You must be dumb. You must be a slut." And this girl is very, very intelligent and she said "Take me home!" And my other friend told me that I should stay away from this guy. I got so weirded out that I stopped calling him and stopped talking to him.

TI:But you finally had to tell him that you didn't appreciate his attitude or his behavior?

Carly: Yeah. He got very upset about it and he talked really bad about me to everyone and called me a slut and a whore. It sure taught me to stay away from boys like that! And it struck me as weird because all last school year I was totally preaching about all this [abusive relationship] stuff to all my girlfriends. So I still had to struggle with it even though I've been through all this training and I know all the signs. And I was still thinking "Yeah. But I really like this guy!"

"Yeah. But I really like this guy!"

TI: So if someone as strong and as educated as you could have an experience like that, it shows how strong the denial thing is. I mean, the guy likes you and you think he's cool, so you might pretend that all those warning signs of abuse really weren't there. It sounds like you need to educate the girls as well as the guys!

Laurel: Definitely. Everyone needs to be educated. Black-eye stuff is the stereotype of abuse.

Carly: There are so many different kinds of abuse. Like a boyfriend yelling at a girlfriend. And she says, "Oh, he was just mad at me." And we say, "No! He's verbally abusing you!" If he's calling you names. Or speaking to you in a raised voice where you're scared, that's abuse.

TI: What is the ongoing work for Transforming Communities?

Carly: We're working on a video. And we want to go into classes more. Last May and June we went into Novato High and talked to freshmen and sophomores. I feel we [teens] got a better response [than the adults] because with adults some people automatically switched it off. Like "They don't know what it's like right now." But we were going in as teens to Novato High and telling them. We want to start going into junior highs because it's important to start educating younger, so they don't grow up with this mentality.

Laurel: By the time you're in high school you have a formulated opinion. What your beliefs are, and it takes a lot to change you then. But if you start younger and start telling kids that this is how society should be, these are the problems that have arisen because we have not done this or this.

If he's ... speaking to you in a raised voice where you're scared, that's abuse.

Poorva: In fifth grade I was a fast runner. And one day in P.E. our teacher wanted me to race against the fastest boy in the class. And he didn't want to do it. He said, "I'm not going to race against a girl!"

TI: And how did that make you feel to hear him say that?

Poorva: Bad. That I was lower than him. That I didn't fit certain standards to run against him.

TI: So who won the race?

Poorva: I did.

TI: I'm glad it ended that way! I wonder if his mind was changed. Did you continue to go to school with him?

Poorva: I've gone to school with him ever since elementary. I mean, we never talk that much but I see him around. And he never said any comments like that to me again.

GraduationTI: How has your involvement in Transforming Communities transformed your life?

Poorva: I used to be much quieter than I am now. And now I speak up. At home my parents listen to what I have to say more. They take my opinion more seriously and treat me more like an adult. I've also learned that if I'm a witness to domestic violence what to do. Like if we didn't know the people, how we could distract what the guy was doing. For example, if we were to walk by the hallway [in school] and two guys and girl were totally fighting, and you can tell the girl was, like, cornered. What could we do? We could go up to her and say, "Oh, did you forget? We have to go meet our friend." Then we could say to the guys. "She'll have to talk to you later." You know, totally disrupting them and getting the girl out of there.

I used to be much quieter...now I speak up.

Laurel: I didn't realize that domestic violence was such a big problem. It's been downplayed by the media and by the schools. Now I feel like I'm a lot more aware about domestic violence in society. I have more understanding of people and the way they act. If I have a friend, now I can see that her boyfriend is treating her a certain way... I can now relate that to this overall problem and see how their attitudes right now, can lead to an adult married couple with an abusive husband. It's starting now, and some of my friends might end up in those kinds of relationships. I need to help them understand that the way he's treating her is not right and it's not okay.

Carly: I'm so outspoken anyway, that if someone is yelling at me I usually won't take it but now I'm like, "Hey! Stop talking to me in that manner. You have no right to talk to me like that." Tell them what they are doing as they are doing it. I have learned a lot through this.

TI: What would you say to the teen age girls of the world about how they can be safer in their relationships?

Laurel: You need to be strong and know your rights and be self-confident and educated on these issues. That will help you so much. You don't have to take anything from anyone. You should know that you are equal. If you aren't being treated equally by a guy, you should still have that knowledge that you are equal. By you knowing it, that's one person who knows it and you can tell someone else. Then they'll know it. Having confidence and being yourself and not worrying about what other people think of you.

You need to be strong and know your rights...

Carly: Get empowered. Get education. Because it totally opens up a whole new world to you and you feel so much strength. To be able to say "Hey! I know exactly what you are doing and I'm not going to let you do it to me." We [as females] have so much to give and there's so much out there for us, but we're throwing it away by staying in relationships where we are being abused in some way. We're not coming to our full potential because we are being smacked down every time we come up. Everyone has this light inside of them and they are so powerful. No one deserves to be treated like that. And if somebody is treating you like that, they don't love you. Because they wouldn't treat you like that if they loved you. So just be aware. Stay awake!

Get empowered. Get education.

Carmel: It starts with you. Your two pieces of armor, that will protect you out there, are Education and Support. So educate yourself. Read as much as you can about domestic violence and dating violence. Go to the library. Search the Internet. Find out your rights as a human being. You have rights to not be harmed by another person. You have rights to make your own choices and decisions in your life. You are the only one to make those choices. Find good support. That's half the battle right there. Finding people who will support you in what you're saying. This world is not set up for women to "win" and only together are we going to get somewhere. So connect with other girls, other people who believe the same way you do, that you should be treated as an equal by guys and that love is not hurting someone. Love is not controlling someone. Love is letting another person grow and become the person that they want to be.

You have rights to not be harmed by another person. You have rights to make your own choices and decisions in your life. You are the only one to make those choices.

Love is not hurting someone. Love is not controlling someone. Love is letting another person grow and become the person that they want to be.


To find out more about more about how you can transform yourself
and your own community...

call Transforming Communities at (415) 898-3200

or email them at: [email protected]


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