Happy Valentine’s Day! Today, over 1 billion people worldwide will be part of the One Billion Rising movement – but some of us won’t. In this roundtable, our organizers, students, and interns hash out what it means to rise and what it means to act.
Maddie, Feminist Campus Organizer
Today I will not be saying “I Rise because” but “I Speak because.”
If you are familiar with the Feminist Campus blog, you will know that I have already spoken about the need for safe spaces for survivors of domestic and sexual violence to speak about their experiences and heal together. However, what is a “safe space” for one person may feel exclusive, harmful, or violating to another. I’ve attended meetings on the intersections of reproductive justice and faith and found that faith was meant as a stand-in for Christianity, leaving my views as a Jewish woman out of the conversation. I’ve also seen my coworkers and friends marginalized within important dialogues and events where I was allowed to thrive because they are women of color and/or trans-identified.
The dialogue around inclusivity and creation of truly safe spaces is one that is extremely necessary within this movement. I believe that One Billion Rising creates an opportunity for that dialogue to continue; a dialogue that has already been created by many brave people.
Writer and journalist Marie Shear asserted that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” As many survivors know, an abusive relationship, sexual assault, or violent encounter can take away that sense of humanness. After my rape I felt like an object that was used and then thrown aside. Many attempts by those around me to relate or help me heal only made me feel like a statistic, a story to be collected, and not a human being.
When I first encountered One Billion Rising I found it incredibly helpful because it gave me a reason to talk about my experiences, a starting point for dialogue. Even though I was not active in any of the events, I brought OBR up in conversation as an excuse to talk about domestic violence prevention and awareness without fear of judgment or shame.
But I am not willing to rise if it is on the backs of my allies and partners in the feminist movement who are being silenced or exploited within this campaign. Therefore I urge everyone to use this day, and this campaign, as an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue about safe spaces and inclusion. To redefine what it means to be an ally.
I speak because everyone deserves to feel empowered again, feel safe again, feel human again – and any space that doesn’t allow that for all participants is not a safe space.
Rachel Chung, Feminist Activist
I’m a college senior applying for jobs, and my resume says vagina.
I performed in my school’s production of The Vagina Monologues my freshman year, and I’m producing the show this month with an outrageously talented cast and creative team. It was so invigorating to look out at an auditorium full of strangers and talk to them about vaginas that I couldn’t help but come back for more. But as I started to think about job applications, I was uneasy about writing vagina on my resume. Would people think it was weird? I thought long and hard to see whether I could somehow exclude it. Turns out I couldn’t: it would look like I’ve done nothing on campus all year, or that I produced a play about nothing. More importantly, I decided I shouldn’t. That’s the title of the play, that’s what the play is about, and so that’s what I resolved to write on my resume.
Recently, I was writing a blurb about the show, “vagina” obviously included, to send to the box office that’s helping us sell tickets. Their manager had descriptions from past productions on file, but he asked us to send him something new, specific to this year’s show. I went to the One Billion Rising page for inspiration, only to realize that I had never actually read the mission statement of the campaign I’ve been working toward for more than a year. I know what it’s about in the general sense, of course. One Billion, because one in three women will be raped or assaulted in her lifetime, and the rest is simple math. And Rising for Justice, the rest of the full title, is self-explanatory.
Reading the mission statement got me thinking. The key, though we often drop it from the title, is justice. One Billion Rising for Justice. So what, exactly, does justice look like? It seems nebulous. The world is so rampant with injustice, even the thought of forging a step by step (by step by step) path to justice seems overwhelming.
I like the law. I like its detail and technicality and order. I’m thinking about law school in the future. I like the law for its pursuit of justice. But as it stands, the legal system is not a justice system. Women are but one historically marginalized group who struggle to secure the full scope of justice the system purports to offer, to which they are entitled. Our legal system does not acknowledge, for instance, that the absence of proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean a perpetrator did not rape. It does not mean that a victim whose rapist was not convicted is not faced with a long, arduous healing process, just as any other whose case happened to meet the legal burden of proof.
I rise to see that the justice to which we are entitled is the justice we are served. I rise because this movement is growing and I want it to explode, until it has no more room to grow because justice is already everywhere.
It turns out, by the way, that vaginas – or, more accurately, The Vagina Monologues – are a huge conversation-starter with prospective employers. They tiptoe around the word, but they want to know everything about my involvement with the show. I tell them how I’m organized and detail-oriented and have developed my peer leadership skills, which would make me a great fit for their company. But I also tell them that part of what’s so wonderful about The Vagina Monologues on my campus, part of what brought me back as a producer, is that people are starting to listen. During my three nights of shows, more than 1,500 people showed up to listen to me talk about vaginas. They showed up because they want to know about vaginas, because they care about vaginas and about the women who have them. So between the women who have them and the people who care about those women, it’s on every single one of us, vagina or not, to rise for justice.
Randi Saunders, FMF Intern
In March of 2012, I made a sudden decision to become a rape-crisis counselor. It was a decision made out of a desperate need to learn how to support those who were coping with the effects of sexual assault, after months of listening helplessly to my friends who were themselves survivors of sexual violence. It was only once I was in training that I began to come to terms with the things I had experienced in my own life. In the months since I became certified, I have heard countless survivors talk about their experiences in the aftermath of being assaulted or abused, and I have listened and empathized with each of them. It has been difficult, but I have been grateful: I was given the chance to work with people who could support me, people who were committed to supporting others, and given the chance to help others work towards healing even as I healed myself.
This is why I rise.
Outside of actual activism, though, I know that the world does not always accept survivors of sexual violence. I have listened to too many rape jokes, heard too many accusations of lying, have put up with too many victim-blaming and slut-shaming comments, and enough is enough. I have heard too many collegiate debaters speak dismissively of rape, and too many of my fellow students shrug and say “well she was drunk” or “but men can’t be raped”, and enough is enough. I have told people that certain things trigger things and tried to set boundaries only to be told that I’m “being over sensitive”, and I have had enough. 1 in 3 women is not a coincidence. It is not women being oversensitive. It is a society that prioritizes the happiness of men over the safety of women, and enough is enough.
This is why I rise.