Today isn't just Valentine's Day; it's One Billion Rising, a movement that invites "ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence" by coming together and...dancing. That's it?
OBR, the brainchild of activist and playwright Eve Ensler, has received a ton of media and political attention worldwide; it's even backed by the UN Secretary General. The concept of one billion women collectively demonstrating their power via joyful movement sounds lovely, but in reality it's patronizing. Who are we to tell the one billion women who will be raped or beaten in their lifetime that they should dance their struggles away?
"In asking women to dance in order to overcome violence and rape, focus is displaced and root causes are overlooked," Natalie Gyte, Head of Communications at Women's Resource Centre, writes in an anti-OBR Huffington Post piece. "It completely diverts the world's attention away from the real issue of gender based violence and rape with a pleasing-to-the-eye coordinated dance."
Gyte spoke to women around the world who were disgusted by OBR, like an Iranian woman who had seen her peers "beaten, raped, doused in acid, set alight, imprisoned and murdered" and called the movement "insulting."
"Who is someone else to come to my country and claim to 'help' me by telling me to 'rise' above the experiences I have had?"
It's not right for outsiders to tell women from the Democratic Republic of Congo — one of the main hubs of the campaign, where it's estimated that forty-eight women are raped every hour — to "rise" above the violence they have experienced by dancing. "Imagine someone doing that to Holocaust survivors," a Congolese feminist Gyte spoke with said. Cringe.
One can't help but think of Kony 2012, the infamously well-intentioned but misguided awareness campaign that really needs no introduction at this point. Did hanging up all those Kony posters help Ugandans? No. Will dancing in public spaces spare women from getting raped and beaten? No.
Over at the Guardian, Jill Filipovic makes a solid case for why OBR is worthwhile; she was skeptical at first, but realized that the "basic necessity that so many women lack – being safe in our own bodies – is what made me finally come around to the OBR call to dance. It's our bodies that are violated. It's our bodies that are politicized and subjected to laws about what we can or can't cover or how we can or can't reproduce or what our families should look like."
I agree with Filipovic that "highlighting a shared problem can encourage the sharing of solutions alongside the recognition that a wildly varied world means varied experiences and requires varied strategies"; that's why I'm usually a staunch defender of feminist campaigns that have been criticized for being all awareness and no action, like SlutWalk. But SlutWalk was (and is) an ongoing movement — not a 24-hour celebration — and I know from firsthand experience that it led to important, extensive organizing efforts. Plus, SlutWalk tackles a more idealogical problem, so it makes sense to me that the main goal isn't to raise money or change policy.
In OBR's case, I'm going to side with Gyte:
The answer from most will be that it is an awareness raising exercise. However, I can tell you from working with grassroots organisations, that seeing footage on the news of women dancing in unison will do absolutely nothing to educate or deter a perpetrator or potential perpetrator. Educational programmes on the ground are much more effective form of deterrence. News footage does not equal awareness, educational programmes do.
Some say it's unnecessarily negative — hurtful to the feminist cause, even — to point out the issues with OBC; why not let a bunch of people dance around and think positive thoughts about equality if they want to? Because the massive amounts of resources pouring into today's events could be used so much more effectively elsewhere. Gyte notes that Ensler's other charitable organisation, V-Day, has actually raised money for educational projects, re-opening refuges and safe houses. That's meaningful. Today's flash mob is not.
Go ahead and shake what you've got if you're moved to do so today, but please consider whether you're actually making an impact while doing so, and who you're really dancing for.