BOPM is working to cultivate empathy for the daily grind of living in a patriarchal society and to create a supportive community by providing a platform where people can share their daily experiences with gender-based violence. Our ultimate goal is to put an end to the normalization of gender-based violence.
We recognize that not all people who experience GBV share the same experiences. Some of us are cis, some of us are trans, and some of us are nonbinary. Some of us benefit from white privilege and some of us are systemically dehumanized and oppressed because of our race. Some of us benefit from class privilege and some of us do not. Some of us are disabled. Some of us are queer, bisexual, and/or gay. Some of us are married, some of us reject the institution of marriage, and some of us are legally denied access to marriage. Some of us have children. Some of us live in East Africa, and some of us live in Western countries. Some of us are living in our hometowns or in places with familiar cultures, and some of us are living thousands of miles away from our homes in cultures where we are outsiders. We are all of different ages and perceived ages. We are all of different nationalities. And we are so many other things as well.
All of these aspects of our identities and many more impact how we experience the realities of living in a patriarchal world. Thus, the purpose of The Burden of Proof Movement is not to tell a single story about this experience. Rather, we exist as a platform where people around the world can share their own stories, and all of our participants are encouraged to explore through their daily observations how their multiple and sometimes even conflicting identifies impact their experiences with patriarchy, gender-based violence, and rape culture.
Sources of Inspiration
We owe so much to the generations of feminist and womanist activists and thinkers who came before us who have made great advances not only in policy and law but also in public perception and philosophy (here’s looking at you bell hooks). We are so grateful that today there is a rich feminist community online that provides critical commentary of our patriarchal society at every turn.
We love projects like Everyday Sexism and Surviving in Numbers because they allow people to share their personal stories about singular incidents of GBV that have happened to them. This “Academic Men Explain Things To Me” Tublr allows users to describe an instance in which they've experienced mansplaining in academia and very effectively portrays how pervasive patriarchy is within academia. Hollaback! is another great platform designed to track street harassment. The sheer number of people who share their stories on these and other similar websites indicates just how pervasive GBV is in our society and also that there is a demand for people to share their stories about their experiences with GBV. We share the same goal as these and other similar projects: to put an end to the normalization of gender-based violence (and ultimately stop the violence itself) through sharing our personal stories and helping others share theirs.
Describing the Daily Grind
The reason why we decided to go ahead and start the Burden of Proof Movement even though amazing similar projects already exist is because we wanted to create a story-sharing platform that communicates the daily relentlessness of gender-based violence. We love that there are outlets for people from all over the globe to write about one-off instances of GBV that have happened to them. However, we wanted to create an outlet that would allow people to share what happens to them every single day, to demonstrate how the relentless of GBV can build up stress and wear you down over time. So, we ask our participants to record their experiences with GBV every single day for an entire month, and then we will publish those observations on our website. We also ask people who do not experience GBV on a daily basis to write reflection pieces on what they learn from reading through the daily observations that we publish.
We find that it’s usually easy to explain why one-off instances of GBV such as rape and sexual assault are egregious violations, but it’s more difficult to explain the daily relentlessness of GBV. It’s difficult to communicate that a stare is never just a look, a “Smile, baby!” is never just a catcall, and a brush against the thigh is never just a simple touch. Rather, the stare, the catcall, and the touch are the most recent violation in a long, long list of previous violations and a reminder that this is our position in life: we are dehumanized and our bodies are treated as public property day in and day out. It is only by recording our experiences with GBV on a daily basis that we can begin to communicate how the accumulation of these incidents (no matter how big or small) over time affects our sense of security, our mental state, and the way we live in society and relate to other people.
Our intention is not for BOPM to in any way divert attention from the other GBV story sharing projects. Rather, we created BOPM to be a tool to be used by the groups and individuals that are already doing the hard work of fighting the normalization of GBV. We’re providing what we hope is a healing activity for people to engage in together and a platform where people can share their perspectives, deepen their analysis, and join with a global community of others who are doing the same. We truly believe that the only way we’re going to be able to create a world in which women, nonbinary, and feminine-perceived people are treated as people and our bodies are no longer used as public property is by joining forces with the other people around the globe who share our goals.
Empathy is one of the strongest agents for social change. If we can truly understand and feel the experiences of another person, then it is natural for us also to want to help that person. Due to the insidious nature of oppression, however, empathy can be really difficult to cultivate across privilege gaps. Institutions of privilege and oppression such as racism and patriarchy are so ingrained in our societies that it can be difficult for those with privilege to recognize when oppression is happening or when they are benefitting from privilege. Thus, even for the people who want to empathize with others, it can be difficult for them to do so.
Thankfully, storytelling is empathy’s closest friend and ally. By employing personal story telling, we can cultivate empathy even when it is difficult to do so. We hope that by communicating the daily relentlessness of GBV, we can help people who do not share this experience understand the psychological weight of it. In doing so, we will be cultivating empathy and thus inspiring others to take action and to take one step closer to ending to the normalization of gender-based violence.