Dancing back to life

AS last week’s One Billion Rising campaign to end domestic violence gathered pace, Katy Brand put campaign director Eve Ensler in the spotlight:

Let me start with a trio of quotes from three famous feminists on rape. They are not easy quotes, and these women were all roundly attacked, mainly by other women, but, in the spirit of freedom of thought and expression they remain interesting and controversial years later.

First, Camille Paglia: “Rape is an outrage … but the hysteria around rape is equally outrageous. The whole system is now designed to make you (i.e. the victim) feel you are maimed and mutilated forever.”

Fay Weldon, author, said in 1998 that “rape is not the worst thing that can ever happen to a woman, if you are safe, alive and unmarked afterwards”.

And finally Germaine Greer: “It is not women who have decided that rape is so heinous but men. The only weapon that counts in rape is the penis, which is conceptualised as devastating.”

Obviously these women were not seeking to trivialise rape with their comments, they were mainly arguing against this apparent belief in society that following a rape, a woman will never truly recover – that her life will be over, she may never feel joy again nor be able to have a functioning sexual relationship.

And that is quite a thing to tell someone after they have been the victim of a crime. If you tell women this over and over, we will start to believe it, and then start to live as if it is true. In a time where the lack of justice for rape victims is a disgusting scandal, is it helpful to also force them to feel that a lifetime of emotional torment is also inevitable?

Greer’s point is startling: that in a male-dominated society, it tends to be the case that rape is considered something you cannot properly recover from, as if the penis is by definition the most powerful weapon of all. Is that fair to the victims?

That rape is horrifying, shocking, miserable and disturbing is not in question, but there could also be a message that you will get better, and perhaps, God willing, more quickly than you thought. You will enjoy sex again. To be the victim of rape is not necessarily a life sentence – how awful to make a woman feel that it is. With this in mind, I believe Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising project to end violence against women is very interesting.

Ensler is most famous for her play The Vagina Monologues, and her V-Day campaign, which was set up to eradicate violence against women 15 years ago. She has said she was not expecting to still be doing it now, but the latest statistics suggest that one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, giving the figure one billion, and so her work is as necessary as ever.

The concept behind One Billion Rising is pretty simple: get people dancing in the street. Men, women, children. Through flash mobs coordinated by the campaign on Thursday last week, there were events all over the world.

To use dance as a weapon against rape and violence is a great idea. Dance is used to express joy, life, vitality – everything a rape victim is robbed of following the crime.

Lindsay Ziehl, of Yokhusela Haven in Port Elizabeth, said: “It is extremely important for women to have counselling. It is important for the women to talk about what has happened.”

About the One Billion Rising campaign, she said: “We need all the awareness campaigns and everyone has a different way of expressing themselves. We need to fight rape every day. We must change the laws and get the courts to speed up the process.”

Port Elizabeth community activist John Preller said it was important for rape victims to claim back their lives and their right to exist.

“Rape is the most diabolical act by one person on another … rape leaves deep, deep, deep scars. People who overcome the horror of rape can adapt to life and claim back their lives.”

I am sure there were many victims of rape and violence out on the streets dancing on Thursday, showing that there is life after sexual crime; that no rapist is going to stop a woman from enjoying a good dance about in the street if and when she feels like it.

It is defiant and powerful.

If rape is a non-verbal method of communicating hatred, surely dancing is the perfect protest. – The Daily Telegraph and Shaanaaz de Jager

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