Peace Is Sexy – Yes, We Said It!
Nawal Rajeh interviewed Marianne Perez de Fransius, founder and visionary of Peace is Sexy, a tool for redefining peace and the media.
How did your interest in peace and media begin?
My whole foray into the world of peace started at Georgetown University studying at the School of Foreign Service. I applied for this grant called the Circumnavigators Fellowship. The only requirement was that you had to go to at least six countries on three different continents during the summer between junior and senior year. My proposal looked at conflict resolution through cultural means (theater, dance, etc). I made it to the final round and the panel said they noticed that I planned to visit a lot of conflict zones and countries that the U.S. had on the travel advisory list. I responded along the lines that I felt frankly, the travel advisory list is exaggerated and if one keeps their head on their shoulders you can travel safely in most parts of the world. They didn’t like that response. So I didn’t get the grant. But it was a really good exercise in finding alternatives to diplomacy. So after that I decided to look more on the peace studies side of things and decided to pursue a master’s degree in it. I always thought I wanted to be a journalist when I was a kid. I had this fascination. I remember seeing CNN Anchor Bernard Shaw reporting from Baghdad during the first Gulf War and thinking, “I want to do that.”
I went on to get my Master’s degree from the European Peace University. It is a unique program: There were 40 students from 35 different countries in the middle of the Austrian countryside. What makes it so intensive is that it’s super experiential. You’re learning about conflict resolution in the classroom but then you have to make it work in the kitchen- eight burners, only six work and 40 people trying to cook at the same time. During my time there I would ask every single professor, “What’s the role of the media in all of this?” I was a broken record. It struck me that each professor would say, “Of course the media also plays a role in this. The media can have both positive and negative effects,” but the conclusion usually was that the media had negative effects by focusing on violence more than creative solutions and peacebuilders don’t get much coverage in the media.
So hearing that media could potentially have a positive role but doesn’t, from 20 different professors, and hearing the same from my fellow students got frustrating. I thought, it’s time for a shift. So that’s why I got interested in creating an alternative to the media that exists.
Where did the idea of Peace Is Sexy get started?
I was at a Peace Alliance conference (lobbying to establish a US Department of Peace) when someone gave me a pin that said ‘peace is sexy’. I wore it all the time and enjoyed seeing how people responded to it. It’s basically a re-branding of peace. So, I started with the Peace Is Sexy website on Valentine’s Day a year ago. People think of peace as something that’s either completely passive, weak, and boring or people think it’s just politicians that are in charge of it and have the power to make peace. Most people think, “Oh, peace is great but I don’t have a part of it. I’m not a hippie and I’m not a political leader.” That’s why my idea started with giving stories of real people and real organizations and showing that peace is really accessible. They’re not all Gandhis, fasting and walking around in loincloths; they’re people who have a passion for making the world better and have chosen to do something about it. In some ways it’s a job like any other job. And it is accessible to everyone.
What made you decide to do your own thing?
The more I looked into traditional media the less I was interested in getting involved with it. It doesn’t represent at all what I want to be in the media. And, it seemed like a really big system to try and change from the inside – so (somewhat perversely) I thought it’d be a good idea to create my own system! You’ve got to do something, right? The Internet is basically a giant free photocopying machine that offers so many opportunities for new voices to be heard. You don’t need to own a printing press in order to get your message out.
What are you hoping to see change and evolve in the future of your work and the field?
The biggest thing that I’ve learned from the field of peace and peacebuilders is that it needs a little bit of a rebranding and a reimaging. I’m surprised how many people have come back and said, “Peace shouldn’t be sexy. If you associate it with sexiness, then you’re commercializing it.” They’re burned out activists. Part of being sexy is being at peace with yourself. If you’re only giving of yourself and channeling all your energy and money out, but doing it at the expense of your own health and happiness and personal relationships, I don’t think that’s actually peaceful. So if peaceworkers took care of themselves and nurtured their sexy side, it could actually do a lot for peace. Inner peace is reflected in outer peace and outer peace is a reflection of inner peace.
My next intention is to take these stories of organizations and people and fictionalize them and put them into a graphic novel series or webisode series. I have developed characters based on people that I’ve interviewed and will be taking them on different challenges or adventures and showing how they transform conflicts. The idea is they are normal people with super powers- but you can have access to these superpowers too! Their superpowers are things like empathy, active listening, or nonviolent conflict intervention. I think a lot of times we learn our social or behavioral cues from media. I don’t think there are any good or fun examples of nonviolence or creative conflict resolution. It’s easier for students (and adults!) to tease someone than to appreciate them or help them. One such character is a former gang member who got nonviolence training and it changed his life so he teaches nonviolence and peacebuilding to prisoners and nonviolently intervenes in gang conflicts. He would be a great character to learn from. Unfortunately, most people don’t know about these everyday peacemakers living amongst them. They should be more visible and role models for people.
You can read the 80 interviews that Marianne has done with people (peace is sexy) and organizations (peace is possible) at PeaceisSexy.net as well as browse her other categories,(peace is profitable) about economics and peace, and (peace is fun) on music, movies, and apps.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.