A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to Sir Patrick Stewart. Yes, that Patrick Stewart, who many of you may know as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know, right?! I ventured out to Austin Comic Con (dressed as a slightly femme Tenth Doctor, naturally), intent on buying as many low-priced trade paperback comics and seeing as many Star Trek panels as possible. Well, I did that and more. This is the story of how I started talking domestic violence with Sir Patrick.
As some of you might know (probably courtesy of the gem of a photo on the right), Stewart is a prominent advocate for domestic violence awareness and prevention. Didn’t he just get ten times more amazing? As I’m standing in line for his Q&A panel, I get the notion that I may just ask him about it. I told my friends, and there was no going back. Peer pressure, y’all. I went over again and again what I’d ask when I made it to the mic. Here’s what I said:
First of all, I’d like to say thank you so much for coming and answering questions. I’m so excited for the opportunity to do this. I’d like to know what – I know that you have been a very outspoken advocate for domestic violence prevention and awareness and education and as an educator and a feminist activist myself, I would really like to know what advice you have to give to advocates and educators to give to young people and young men in particular who really do look up to you about the whole prevention topic.
Major adrenaline rush, in case y’all were wondering. I think I took him off guard, because his entire demeanor changed. This is serious stuff, you know! He said:
Well it has to begin with talking to them, and treating them as individuals, perhaps a little older and more mature than they might appear to be. In my experience, that generally works. Treat a 12-year-old as if he were 16 and he might possibly behave as a 16-year-old. Although as a friend of mine said a while ago, teenagers are not people! *Audience laughter* Uh, education, education, education! And I know that in a lot of American schools, ethics are taught as a matter of course, and the importance of abolishing gender discrimination and sexism and racist in all of its forms, all of these things- and teaching, well, it comes down to respect, doesn’t it? And I’ve always felt that perhaps the most important lesson we might learn, and interestingly enough (well maybe it’s not interesting, but it’s interesting to me), it was one of the characteristics of Jean-Luc Picard that I most enjoyed exploring through the, what, altogether 14 years that I was playing that character. It was the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see the world from their point of view, to put aside your own needs and desires and beliefs and ambitions and see how things look from another point of view. And I’ve often felt ranging from the United Nations right down to the school playground to be able to see the world from another pair of eyes is incredibly helpful in every possible way, so I think maybe I would emphasize that as being the most important thing that you can certainly bring to young people. Thanks for asking.
I thanked him and walked dreamily back towards my seat. I couldn’t have envisioned a better answer to my question. The advice about putting oneself in another’s shoes is, I think, invaluable. We don’t know what people are going through, what they have to deal with at home or at work, and we can’t act like we do. Keeping that in mind as an advocate and activist can be incredibly difficult, especially for me because I tend to get wrapped up in my academic ivory tower. If we can just remember that, I think we as feminists and activists can accomplish so much.
But wait, there’s more! Later that day I stood in an obscenely long line to get an autograph from the one and only Sir Patrick Stewart. I wish they had let me take pictures, because I totally would have shed my online anonymity and put one up. I did sneak a few while in line, however. I swear, he’s barely changed since TNG. When I finally got up to the autograph table, he greeted me with “Hello, darling!” in that sonorous voice of his, and I said hello back and mentioned that I was the one who had asked about domestic violence prevention in schools. “Oh, was that you? Wonderful! Is that something you’re very interested in?” I replied that yes it was, and that I work in schools and it is one of primary areas of research.
And at this point he leans in towards me, elbows on the table, and tells me of a theater company in London (I believe it’s this one) that he’s a patron of whose focus is going into schools and recreating the situations that lead up to domestic violence. The company’s job is to show students how matters escalate and the warning signs of abuse and violence, and to teach them how to handle these situations in positive ways. He advised me to look for such places in my area, advice that I am passing on to y’all. He described how if children see these situations, they begin to learn what to do and what not to do. The idea is that having students participate in something interactive and engaging will make them care more about the issue at hand, and seeing it played out in person rather than on paper will strengthen the impact.
At the end of this, I noticed the volunteer begin to move another person towards the table, and I stepped a little to the side. At which point Patrick Stewart shifted in his chair and turned towards me again, still leaning in on his elbows, to keep the conversation going. Surreal. “The key here,” he said, “is communication. You have to communicate with them on their level.” This is something that I absolutely believe in. What teenager wants an adult lecturing down at them about not hitting their partner? “You’ve got to talk to them like adults, and they’ll act like adults,” he said, reiterating a point from the Q&A session. He told me to just keep talking to the students, keep educating and providing information and resources. Then he wished me luck, I said thank you, and my friend and I left the table. And yes, I was shaking.
Besides the fact that I can now say I had a conversation about domestic violence with Professor Charles Xavier, I was reminded of several key points that educators and advocates tend to forget. We aren’t talking to criminals, and we can’t assume that everyone comes from the same background. I think that advocates in particular tend to get stuck in a mindset of talking to other advocates or feminists or progressives and forget that the kids they’re talking to probably don’t know anything besides what they’ve seen in the media and maybe at home. We tend to forget that we too were once young a and unaware, and we needed somebody or something to show us what to do and what not to do. I do think, however, that we can all agree that delivery is key. It means the world to kids to treat them like adults, to give them the same respect and benefit of the doubt we give anyone else.