Recently reproductive rights and justice activists gathered in Northern Virginia for “Let’s Talk about Love!” a conversation about safe and healthy relationships. The discussion, hosted by the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and Reproaction was held in February for Domestic Violence Awareness month.
Organizers from the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network guided the group of 17 activists through a variety of interactive activities. To introduce the topic, the group started with an activity where everyone was given a piece of paper with a relationship trait on it. Activists were asked to identify whether it was a trait of a healthy or unhealthy relationship. Many people drew upon their own life experiences when identifying where the strip of paper belonged on the whiteboard.
After, organizers spoke about some of the emotions associated with a healthy relationship, like happiness as opposed stress and pressure, which may be felt in an unhealthy relationship. The group also spoke about the role patriarchy plays in traditional relationships, and how to identify and combat toxic masculinity, a term which refers to society’s expectations of how a traditional man should behave, and can manifest in our everyday interactions with phrases like, ‘Man up!’ or ‘Only girls cry.’ The conversation also touched on intervention for friends and family who may be in harmful relationships.
Next, we discussed how we can decolonize love, a term coined by author and activist Junot Diaz to describe relationships that are liberated from a legacy of colonial violence. Diaz further explains that decolonizing love is important because, “We’re never gonna get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble more or less the economies of attraction of white supremacy.” We also discussed how harmful heteronormative relationships, where the roles of caretaker and breadwinner must be fulfilled according to traditional gender roles, can be. We also spoke about how traditional relationships often put a heavy an emphasis on having children and creating a family, which isn’t something everyone wants.
As the night came to a close, we spoke about self-love and self-care as a way to preserve and better ourselves. Self-care, which is the act of taking care of oneself, can feel like a radical act, especially for women, who are often expected to fulfill the caretaker role in a relationship. Activists shared how they take care of themselves, which included suggestions like taking time for yourself, finding a hobby or personal project, and staying away from people who cause harm.
Before leaving, activists were invited to write a letter to themselves. They were asked to think about how they were going to love themselves, and how they wanted to be loved by others in the coming year. The letters, which were collected at the end, will be mailed back to participants in a year.
As activists, forming healthy relationships and practicing self-care is essential for us to be able continue to grow our movement and fight for justice. Reproaction was proud to stand with local reproductive rights and justice allies on this work.
If you’re interested in learning more about self-care, check out the Big List of Self-Care Activities that we used during the discussion.