What’s political about dancing? The global campaign to highlight violence against women asks us to reclaim public space with joy
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.