giovedì 14 febbraio 2013

one billion rising and my itchy feeling [ENG]

One Billion Rising is a global event organised and promoted by V-Day, a North American nonprofit organisation which was born out of Eve Ensler’s successful theatrical piece and book The Vagina Monologues (1996) and which is devoted to create events to fight violence against women. On February 14th, 2013 V-Day will celebrate its 15th birthday and One Billion Rising has been organized to mark this result. Women (and supposedly men) all over the world are being invited to stand up and dance to protest against sexual violence on the day when a romantic and stereotypical ideal of love is being celebrated. San Valentine must be quite annoyed about this fact and the huge marketing that surrounds it is not going to be happy either! That is such a good idea, I said to myself. That is why I also joined the group of women who organize the event in my local town in Italy. However, soon afterwards a subterranean itchy feeling started to develop inside myself. Dancing? What kind of dancing? And how is it going to be staged? 

According to a 2003 UN Women report, one out of three women in the world have been raped or beaten in their lifetime, the One Billion Rising site says. That is about one billion women, “one billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution”. Eve Ensler affirms that 

Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, contagious, it breaks the rules. It can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone and everyone, and it's free. Dancing insists we take up space, we go there together in community. Dance joins us and pushes us to go further and that is why it's at the centre of ONE BILLION RISING.

In this assertion there is no specific reference to any kind of dance and the idea pervading it seems to be that dance is the cure for every disease, which is not. The choreography created by TV series Fame star Debbie Allen consists of small steps on place, to the front, to the side and backwards. It is quite simple and of great effect when performed by a group. It does not represent violence, it does not have any particular pathos, it is rather a dance of joy. Would not another type of movement approach have been more powerful? As Maria Chiara, a friend of mine has suggested, we could all lay down in silence or maybe we could stand still for a minute in a particular pose (dancing is also being still). That is an important point, because dance may be a good idea for a project like this, but I think it should be more intrinsically related to the question, it should make people stop and think about violence against women, not enjoy themselves in the hope of fighting it. The itchy feeling returns to bother me.

I think about Italy and how discouraging is the way dance is being perceived. In the past twenty years or so, Italy, has been infested by what is commonly known as ‘velinismo’, that is acts of no particular significance performed by untrained show-girls, including a poorly acted dancing. This trend was born in the mid-1990s with the TV show, Strisciala notizia (the news that crawls) by Antonio Ricci on Channel 5, one of Silvio Berlusconi’s TV channels and has widespread on Italian television with the result of denigrating women in general and dancing women in particular. This happens in spite of the fact that there are many dance companies, many groups of people really studying dancing seriously and producing interesting works. That is why promoting an event with women standing up and dancing sounds weird to me. And I ask myself, what about the other countries that have adhered to the campaign? How is this dancing event going to be perceived? In other words, dancing has many implications and meanings in different countries, has the One Billion Rising team thought about that?

And then I think about the scale of this campaign which is global. This is a global call for action. The website is very well organized with a list of more than sixty language selection option (google translator, though), a toolkit for those who want to join in, a blog, a news section, a lot of multimedia material, like videos and statements, and a section where you can share your plan of the event in your town. If it were not for its noble cause, it would look as a giant marketing campaign to standardize and, as another friend of mine has said, turn it into a giant show. It is true, those who join are quite free to decide what music they can choose, what kind of dancing are they going to perform and so on. Still, it looks like a branded event. To name one thing, its clever red logo, the stylization of a woman with pronounced hips (it recalls the mother goddesses’ prehistoric small statues) with a printed white V on her vagina (of course!), will appear everywhere and reduce differences among those countries who take part to the campaign. Ensler, in a recent video shot in London, highlights the fact that violence against women is a “global, patriarchal, epidemic” problem, but should it be addressed in this manner? I think this is a controversial issue embedded in the project.

As is the underlying essentialist feminism promoted by Ensler, whose too politically correct and too idealistic tone pervades the whole thing. Tina Clark’s lyrics of the campaign anthem “Break the Chain” are exemplary: “This is my body, my body’s holy / No more excuses, no more abuses / We are mothers, we are teachers, / We are beautiful, beautiful creatures”. Defining women as mothers and teachers only reinstates what feminists and many other women and men have been trying to deconstruct during the past forty years, that is the essentialist association between women, reproduction and cure, something which is quite depressing. Even reading Ensler’s Male Prayer (a good idea, in a way) one is confronted with the illusion that everything is going to be fine (the prayer ends again with a reference to motherhood!), that violence against women is about to end. This tone has probably been used to get as many people as possible to agree with this campaign. Which is fine, as I said, I am going to be part of the event itself, but still the itchy feeling remains because deep down I sense that events like this one, a huge one-day event that is so exciting and that it includes so many people is not really going to change things. After having danced together, how many women will go back to their home and decide to rebel if their husband start beating them? And how many violent husbands will reflect on their urge to beat their wives? 

According to the Guardian journalist, Vanessa Thorpe, Ensler has made an interesting comparison between her One Billion Rising campaign and “the activism in the Arab world”, but there are substantial differences. The One Billion Rising campaign has been organised by the V-Day which is a well established nonprofit institution in the United States, while the Arab spring was an uprising of the people against the system that governed them. The former took a vertical approach, lasts for maybe a few hours and is probably mainly going to disrupt Saint Valentine’s day, the latter took a horizontal one, lasted days, weeks, months (in Syria they are still dying every day!) and attempted and in part managed to disrupt the political system that governed these people. 

In a way, this campaign is another marvellous example of our schizophrenic society where meaning has been replaced by its marketable correspondent, which is, alas, empty…violence against women is a very complex problem that is intrinsically connected with culture, economics, science, technology. We should look at it from a wider point of view and tackle these spheres. How are women represented in the media and in culture in general? How is this element connected with the sense of possession men usually develop over them? Women should be economically independent from men, but today’s economy, at least in Italy, is not women friendly at all. Women, then, are the victim of a sophisticated biopolitical control over their bodies (to quote Michel Foucault and Rosi Braidotti) as it happens with rape as a war weapon.

Today I will join Ensler’s cause (with my ever-present critical itchy feeling though) and take part to the event in my town. Ensler herself has affirmed that this is the beginning of a real change and that throughout the year we should be thinking about what we can do to fight violence against women. Maybe we could start by dancing in a different manner, bringing pathos in steps that could express the complexity of the issue, and we should not be doing it anywhere, but in specific places of power that contribute to perpetrate this painful atrocity, like banks or newspaper buildings. Last but not least, we should not be doing it just for one day, but every day as it happened with the protesters in the Arab world or, anyway, on a regular basis, like every week, as for example occurred with the truly revolutionary protest of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who turned motherhood into a social appeal for justice. Right, my itchy feeling is calming down and now I am ready to dance!

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