As a domestic violence survivor, I’m torn about One Billion Rising.
Founded by The Vagina Monologues playwright and activist Eve Ensler, it’s a global campaign for people to come together and dance, to “call for an end to violence” against women. One Billion Rising is:
“A global strike
An invitation to dance
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
A new time and a new way of being”
Gender violence is a global pandemic. According to UN Women, “up to 70% of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime.” On the one hand, it’s great to see a demonstration addressing violence. One Billion Rising says it wants to “shake the world into a new consciousness,” calling one billion women dancing “a revolution.” But dancing won’t end violence. How will this display make a difference? Does it do enough to raise awareness about violence against women and gender violence? And is awareness-raising without further activism enough?
I’ve participated in rallies for Planned Parenthood, Walk for Choice and SlutWalk. I truly believe in the power of demonstration. But I find it troublesome that while women AND men are explicitly invited to participate, genderqueer and trans individual are not. Thankfully they do state that violence against women is not merely a “women’s issue” but a “human issue.” I just wish that they didn’t reinforce the gender binary. While I enjoy her plays The Vagina Monologues (NOT the “good rape” line) and The Good Body, and loved her Huffington Post piece “Over It” on rape culture, I wish Eve Ensler wasn’t the only voice the media was legitimizing in regards to anti-violence activism. Feminism must be about inclusivity, not elitism or exclusivity.
But my biggest problem? I find it highly problematic that One Billion Rising doesn’t address the underlying cause of gender violence and inequality: kyriarchy and rape culture. Simply putting feminist terms like “rape culture” in an online manifesto with no explanation or context does little to dispel myths or start dialogues.
As Natalie Gyte argues, the problem resides in One Billion Rising’s “outright refusal to point the finger at a patriarchal system which cultivates masculinity and which uses the control and subjugation of women’s bodies as an outlet for that machoism.” She finds it patronizing and ineffectual to ask people to dance, a display that “completely diverts the world’s attention away from the real issue of gender based violence” with a “façade which will have no effect whatsoever upon the global pandemic.”
Asking survivors to simply shake off their trauma, as if they should just “rise” above it all and everything will be fine is insulting. But I think a crucial piece of the puzzle is missing here.
No one is saying (or god, I hope they’re not) that dancing is the solution, the Holy Grail to ending rape and violence. As activists, sometimes we get so focused on the work of social justice and combating oppression and advocating equality, we forget the importance of self-care. Sometimes we overlook the importance and healing of solidarity, to simply unite in joyous celebration.
Feministing’s Zerlina Maxwell, a survivor herself, writes:
“Sure, dancing isn’t going to prevent a man from committing an act of violence, but there is something very powerful about survivors and allies getting together to dance, because dancing is literally about the physical movement of your own body. There is liberation in that autonomy.”
When you survive domestic violence, rape and/or sexual assault, your body is violated. It feels as if it no longer belongs to you. Taking control of your body and asserting your autonomy becomes vital. When I took dance classes years after my assaults, dance put me in touch with my body in a way I never felt before. I found it surprisingly empowering.
As I’ve written before about the connection between feminism and dance, the crux of art resides in evoking emotions and challenging perceptions. Dance captures what words cannot.
Hopefully One Billion Rising will stir emotions, ignite conversations and spur people to learn more about the impetuses of rape and violence. I’m skeptical. But I hope I’m wrong.
Sometimes I too dance to remind myself I am free.