One of my favorite feminist quotations – "If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution" – is widely (and probably wrongly) attributed to feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman. Accurate quote or not, the quote is a feminist mainstay, printed on t-shirts and bags, memorialized in tattoos and on Facebook profiles. Now, activist Eve Ensler has turned it into a movement called One Billion Rising, focused on ending the violence that impacts more than 1 billion women around the world. Its apex is today, and the action is simple: go out and dance.
I’ll admit: I was initially a bit nonplussed by OBR. Dancing? That’s all we’ve got to combat the systematic, worldwide oppression and violence that 70% of women (pdf) will face in their lifetimes? It struck me as too silly, too 70s. Too much about feelings, more "raising awareness" than much-needed concrete action.
But the truth is, violence is tragically one of the ways women around the world are united – regardless of our age, nationality, race, religion, class or culture, our very existence as women in the world is dangerous. We may speak different languages, have different belief systems and face different and intersecting oppressions, but physical and sexual violence against women is sadly universal.
The facts are astounding. Most of that violence comes at the hands of intimate partners, or someone a woman knows. And not all women are equally susceptible to violence. Factors like lower levels of education and income, maltreatment as a child and living in an environment where gender inequity is the norm all increase a woman’s likelihood of experiencing violence in her life.
In many places, including the United States, transgender women, lesbian women and women of color are disproportionately targeted. In the United States, a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds. In Egypt, 35% of women report being physically abused at least once in their marriages; 35% of Turkish women have experienced marital rape. In South Africa, 165 women report being raped every day, many of them targeted because they are perceived to be lesbians or gender non-conforming and the rape is "corrective"; and the number who report their assaults to police are likely a fraction of victims.
Gang rape is apparently a male bonding experience from Steubenville to Delhi. Victims of violence are little kids and little old ladies; other vulnerable women and girls, like those with disabilities or dependent on a care-taker, are also more likely to be assaulted.
How precisely to end that violence is a difficult matter, and one for which there is no single answer. Solutions must be multifaceted, vary depending on context, culture, history and legal codes. There’s no silver bullet or magic wand, and what works in Ohio will be different than what works in Oman. But the one universal shift must be in the status of women. We must be equal citizens. We must have a full range of legal, social, cultural, economic and political rights. We must be safe in our homes, on our streets and in our own bodies.
That 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.
It’s our bodies that are blamed for the harm that comes to us, when we’re told that we were hurt because we’re too tempting, too sexual, too ugly, too loud, too easy, too feminine, too manly, too vulnerable. It’s our bodies that too often feel like the enemy, when our own self-worth is worn down by cultural myths that we’re too fat, too dark, too poor, too awkward, too shy, too sexy, too female, too masculine, too strong, too weak, too big, too little.
And so it’s with our bodies that we should act. When our bodies have been politicized, targeted and defined for us, there’s power in the simple enjoyment of that body. When women are supposed to be small and inoffensive, taking up public space is a radical act. It’s unladylike. Dance, OBR reminds us, is both free and freeing.
Will dance save the world? Of course not. And it certainly won’t end violence against women. But any worldwide movement that focuses on the appalling levels of violence that women face and crafts a national day of action to push back against that violence is fine with me.
Creating mass disruption to force people across the globe to consider violence against women and girls won’t solve our problems, but it is a good first step. The next steps must be more localized and specific. Women may be bound together by the violence we collectively face, but the roots of that violence and its solutions are as diverse as we are.
That, too, is the power in One Billion Rising: 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. There’s not just room for growth; there’s a demand for it.
It’s not perfect, but then neither are my dance moves. Sounds like my kind of revolution.