Empathy can change the world!

What could I possible have to say about domestic violence? It’s never been perpetrated against me and but for the grace of God go I, I’ve never been in a situation in which I’ve perpetrated it against another. And to my general knowledge, none of my family or friends have been touched by it. I’m a man, which doesn’t preclude me from being a victim (a friend of mine has opened my eyes to domestic violence in the gay community) but does prohibit me from ever knowing firsthand what it’s like to be a woman abused. All I can do is empathize, which it turns out is quite powerful and effective, and so I’ll say something about empathy.

In July, I released online a film I created with my friend Siobhan O’Loughlin called This Is My Body. The film was born out of frustration about the attacks on female bodily autonomy that have occurred throughout this year. On my mother’s behalf, my grandmother’s, my girlfriend’s, my little sister’s, and all women I care for and respect (and really for all women everywhere) I felt like I needed to do something, to act, to assist them in their ongoing fight for equality. As a filmmaker with a passion for storytelling, I know making a film was what I could do. I recruited Siobhan to make the voice of the film honest, accurate, and more legitimate. We worked together to create something we felt could be empowering, inspiring, and respectful. And though Siobhan helped to keep me on the right path, I worked purely from a place of empathy, not experience. It’s a personal project, but it doesn’t tell my story.

 The result? This Is My Body has been viewed over 180,000 times in 133 countries, been shown on The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC, been written about on The Huffington Post, and been promoted by MoveOn.org, Ms. Magazine, Boing Boing and many other sites. It’s inspired a student-made sign language version of the project as well as versions in Canada and Europe and many viewers have created videos of themselves performing the monologue from the video and have posted those videos online (you can see them here: www.Facebook.com/ThisIsMyBody.) Most incredibly, the film’s greatest achievement is embodied in a single email I received from a woman who was drugged by one man and sexually abused by another. Looking for help online she came across the film, which she said made her feel “more empowered and stronger.” After a close male friend abandoned her after finding out what happened to her, she was relieved to find “there are men out there who believe in women and believe we have the only right to our bodies.”

The lesson for me? Empathy can change the world. The women in my life have shown me how to treat others with respect, to put myself in others’ shoes, and to never judge. I bring that empathy to every story I tell, to every relationship I have, to every experience I have with pain, mine or others’, in the world. I brought that empathy to This Is My Body and the film moved people to action. Many women took the time to tell me how much it resonated with them, that it voiced their thoughts, and they thanked me for my understanding. Beyond the film, they appreciated the messenger. They felt it mattered that I was a man speaking out on women’s issues.

We all have the capacity for understanding. And we all yearn to be understood. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s a time to affirm the right all people have to their bodies, to their good health and safety, to making all decisions that affect those bodies. It’s a time to stand with one another to help end the violence. You don’t need to be a victim or even know someone who is to care, to do something to stop the violence. You just need to empathize and act, and of course you’re capable of that, you’re human.

This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence blog carnival on issues of violence in all forms. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story on your blog or website, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV

Jason Stefaniak is an Emmy-award winning writer and director who uses the art of storytelling to help others make sense of the complicated world in which we live.  His short film This Is My Body was featured on MSNBC’s The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and has been viewed online over 183,000 times in 133 countries.  Jason is currently pursuing a MFA in Film and Television Production at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.  Follow him on Twitter @JasonStefaniak.


Photo Credit This Is My Body.

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