A Kony for women

A group of women rehearse the dance for the 'One Billion Rising' event on Valentine's Day.

A group of women rehearse the dance for the 'One Billion Rising' event on Valentine's Day.

It’s a powerful set of images to a rousing beat and soaring song.  It features women from all over the world rising up; one throwing off an attacker, another dropping a heavy load, a third chucking paper in the face of a sleazy boss, to join in a wild, joyful dance of freedom.

These images are not from my fantasies but from a video to promote the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign that will take place on Valentine’s Day.

Anne Hathaway showed her support for the One Billion Rising campaign when she appeared on the cover of <i>Glamour</i> magazine.

Anne Hathaway showed her support for the One Billion Rising campaign when she appeared on the cover of Glamour magazine.

I’ll admit my heart swells at the idea of women rising up together to demand an end to violence.  The video is a hopeful, powerful and positive fantasy. Yet, it does strike me as a touch reminiscent of the Kony campaign. 

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Remember Kony? It was last year’s hit video about child soldiers in Uganda.  With its 21 million hits on YouTube it promised so much in terms of Hollywood like campaigning; but then delivered so little.  I didn’t see a single poster in my city and Joseph Kony is, of course, still at large.

But the creator of One Billion Rising is not a naive Christian organisation without a back up plan. Eve Ensler is a writer and activist who ‘grew up in hell’. Raped and brutalized by her father Ensler has spent much of her life studying the silenced epidemic of rape, assault, brutalization and hate that she says scars women of every age, every race and every class, on every continent.  Propelled by a series of interviews with women she wrote The Vagina Monologues in 1996; a work still performed all over the world.  Then, armed with the UN statistic one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, Eve Ensler travels the world aiming to end what she calls ‘a global patriarchal pandemic’.  She has raised more than 90 million dollars for rape crisis centres and places for women across the globe. 

Eve Ensler knows that dancing won’t end rape. But she’s calling for a revolution of joy.  She wants women to dance to reclaim our bodies for ourselves.  She sees dance as an act of empowerment and defiance. For Eve the dance on Valentines Day is about breaking out of a cage of fear and of intimidation.

Now it’s easy to be cynical about dance for change and about a white western feminist calling for a global sisterhood.  But Ensler support goes beyond the Kony Kardashian style hype.  Her celebrities have more gravitas - Anne Hathaway, Robert Redford, Yoko Ono and the Dalai Lama are on board.  Her campaign is global and most countries have events – including Australia (Prime Minister Julia Gillard has recorded a video) while San Francisco has even declared February 14th One Billion Rising Day.   

While I may not learn the dance choreographed by Debbie Allen with its incantation to call the powers of the universe, I am not against a jolly good dance on Thursday. 

But here’s my rub.

I question how Eve Ensler broadens her argument.  In interviews, recent videos about V-Day and in her next book The Body of the World, Ensler is developing the theme that the raping of women is akin to the rape of the earth.  She talks about climate change being like sexual assault  – with the same attempt at denial and blaming of the victim.  She talks about a rape culture on the planet from women, to the earth, to rape of the poor through land grabs.

Eve Ensler is a '70s-style feminist like Naomi Wolf – they are both very touchy feely, they both like to focus on the vagina, they talk about joy and energy.  As a Generation X, I understand the boomers and grew up singing along to Carole King’s ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’.  I’ve done the ‘Which goddess are you?’ quiz (Athena) and I’m a fan of the Goddess of all earth in Hinduism (Gayatri).  Yet, even I, am resisting a giant eye roll.

By drawing connections between the violence men perpetrate against women and violence against the earth, Ensler dilutes her message.  For a start, the earth cannot feel the trauma inflicted upon it in the same way as a sentient human being.  What’s more, the earth is not a woman and women alone are not responsible for its management and protection.  Women are in management of in mining companies, car manufacturers, coal-fired power plants and the banks that fund them.  Women are consumers.  Buying into the eco feminism Earth Mother stereotype is an out of date romanticism and perhaps a throwback to biological determinism.  Isn’t it a touch patriarchal to see women as nurturing mothers whom only do good?

I appreciate Eve Ensler’s need to build coalitions at the intersections of race, sexuality, poverty and climate change.  But language is powerful and can put many off her cause.

Of course there are often direct links between violence against women and mining. Eve Ensler herself has spent much time in the Democratic Republic of Congo where armed militias have used systematic rape to break up and control communities to aid and abet mining.  Over half a million women and girls have been raped in the last 10 years in the Congo and V Day has funded and built  'City of Joy' a community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu.  At the opening, women danced with such bravery and joy that Eve Ensler developed the concept of the Valentine’s Day Dance.

Clearly, there is a link between consumerism, mining and violence.  We should demand goods from places that respect human rights.   Yet I feel Eve Ensler’s ‘feminist tsunami’ is overreaching if it wants to rejig capitalism and solve climate change.  At its best ‘One Billion Rising’ will be an act of defiance, liberation and consciousness-raising.  Let it be that. Let it be empowering. Let it raise awareness.  Go dance if you will.  It’s a Valentines Day gift better than any wilted red rose in plastic.  But when the music stops I hope the campaign turns to practical ways to develop policy, programs and a change in attitudes to stop violence against women.  I’m heartened that the UK is using V-Day to debate new sex education that will incorporate talk about violence and abuse in relationships.  There is a lot more to do when the dancing stops.

22 comments

  • Your title to this piece says it all! Great article!

    Commenter
    Mango
    Date and time
    February 12, 2013, 9:17AM
    • Except the original Kony suffered from the fact million clicked a button in support but then did nothing else...

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 9:33AM
    • Carstendog - that is plain wrong - they they told all their friends that they clicked that button and basked in the warm glow of knowing that they had really done something to change the world!

      Commenter
      null
      Location
      brisbane
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 5:50PM
  • I'm not resisting the eye-roll. I gave it full reign. Why would an intelligent woman do so much to undercut her message about violence against women by tryling to personify the earth in this manner? It makes her sound like an aging, out-of-touch hippy. It makes her so much easier to ignore.

    Also, and perhaps this will be unpopular, but men are victims of rape and abuse as well. Why can't we be more inclusive of brutality against HUMANS rather than limiting ourselves to only one gender? I realize that the numbers of women who are sexually assaulted is much higher but I think that more men are subject to violent attacks (although perhaps not from their partners). Just look at the rates of men hurt/maimed/killed through violence. It's a plague and should be addressed on behalf of both genders.

    And before I get slapped down for being a dismissive male let me state that I am female. I've been subjected to both sexual assault and physical violence. That doesn't make me any more worthwhile of help than a male who experiences the same things.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    February 12, 2013, 9:27AM
    • Well said TK. Your comment "Why can't we be more inclusive of brutality against HUMANS rather than limiting ourselves to only one gender?" encompasses the issues associated with modern feminism entirely.

      "As a woman", I believe (and hope) the new way forward for feminism is to stop isolating and defining by sex and instead embrace the human condition without bias. The current feminist doctrine inadvertently lacks compassion in its deliberate ignorance of the suffering of 50% of the population. Maybe we, as feminists, should be moving towards aligning ourselves with the philosophy of humanism instead?

      Commenter
      M
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 10:38AM
    • Very well said. It is time that there was more recognition that violence affects many of us (men and women) be it on the streets (more men) and in the home with one third of DV victims being men. The UN enquiry that came up with the 1 in 3 figure for women was successful in sweeping under the carpet the fact that 80% of POW's (men) in the Bosnian war were raped and that a great many male prisoners in the Congo were raped up to 11 times daily destroying their bowels. We hear little of this and support goes only to women with none for men. We need support and help for all victims not just women. As a grandparent I worry more as to what harm may be visited on my grandsons when they are out and about than my grandaughters and nobody seems to care.

      Commenter
      Bev
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 11:40AM
    • Great comment, glad to hear some common sense from a peer of the opposite sex, and who posts her comments on this section.

      I find it quite refreshing to read your comment, in which there is no discrimination based in gender, instead, you offer a rather logic approach to a civilized and egalitarian society.

      All my respects to you. Some extremist-feminists around here should learn one or two things from you

      Commenter
      ValMonte
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 1:56PM
    • "Also, and perhaps this will be unpopular, but men are victims of rape and abuse as well. Why can't we be more inclusive of brutality against HUMANS rather than limiting ourselves to only one gender."

      Yes, absolutely men are victims of rape and abuse as well - most likely in higher numbers even in this country than we ever thought existed, although it will never come close to the numbers of women being abused, raped, murdered, sold, brided off, trafficked, EVER. However, men are not being raped and abused by women, in the 99% of cases. They are being raped and abused by other men. This One Billion Rising is an action by women for women. If you as a man have been raped, report it or if you are not able to do that, share it with a friend, a parent, an adult child, a partner, on the internet.. Talk about it. Start your own damn movement. Patriarchy is the underlying cause of this violence. Humanism is a moot and silly term. I couldn't disagree with you more.

      Commenter
      Shelby
      Date and time
      February 12, 2013, 11:05PM
    • I can't picture any other civil rights movement in history ever putting on a dance off for their liberation. What we are talking about is extreme, pandemic violence and systemic oppression of girls and women. This movement trivialises the issue in my opinion - a watered down political protest with a big pink bow on top.

      Also, I think that to deny that rape is a gendered crime is a mistake. Yes males get raped and yes females can be violent, but the overwhelming majority of rape victims are female and the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of rape (and most other forms of violence) are male. We need to be honest about this fact if we want to do anything about it, for the benefit of both male and female victims.

      Commenter
      Lyn
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 6:42AM
    • "I realize that the numbers of women who are sexually assaulted is much higher but I think that more men are subject to violent attacks (although perhaps not from their partners). Just look at the rates of men hurt/maimed/killed through violence. It's a plague and should be addressed on behalf of both genders".

      Yes, the numbers of girls and women who are sexually assaulted are much higher and males are physically assaulted at much higher rates than females. Both sexes suffer violence, both physical and sexual.

      What you seem to be skirting around is the fact that most of this violence is committed by males. This is not the same thing as saying that all males are violent or that females are never violent. But to deny the fact that we have a problem with male violence doesn't help either male or female victims. You have to name a problem and be honest about the nature of it before you can address it.

      Commenter
      Kate
      Date and time
      February 13, 2013, 7:22AM

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