Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Navel- Gazing Arm Chair Critics

I am one who is all for constructive criticism and the whole notion of interrogating even those ideas, institutions or beliefs that we hold firmly. It is also vital to scrutinize programs and campaigns that fall into the area of activism, social justice, human rights and development because there have been many abuses documented over years and years, by organizations purporting to “help” vulnerable people. These abuses have led many, particularly in the developing world- in places like Africa- to become skeptical of those who hail from western countries in the name of “development”. I have blogged about the issue before and some of the reasons surrounding the skeptism particularly where women and girls are concerned. The post is here. The issue of what motivates an individual or an organization to leave their homeland with its unsolved problems and head to “help out” in the developing world is one many intellectuals, scholars, feminists, students, economists and politicians have discussed ad nauseam. In many cases unfortunately there are ulterior motives tied to donor funding and development agencies which go to developing countries and spend years working on an issue with no tangible results to show for it.

Therefore the skepticism around One Billion Rising as a campaign comes as no surprise at all, and it seems to me to be a good thing. Many legitimate questions have been raised thanks to this campaign: many have questioned whether it makes a mockery of those who have been raped and abused because of its central modus operandus which is dance. Others have questioned how effective such a campaign might be, given that it is a one day affair. These questions need asking and they also need answers.

Certainly the OBR campaign is by no means a be all and end all to domestic violence and rape. In fact that is not the mission of this campaign. The mission is to create a heightened awareness, such as the world has never seen in order that rape and VAW become a front and center issue rather than a marginalized “women’s issue”. The increasingly brutal forms of violence such as rape and post-rape mutilation of females and the regular use of rape as a weapon of war indicate a rapid move towards the normalization of violence against women and as such a more radical approach to campaigning against this tidal wave of violence that threatens to cause irrevocable damage to societies that in many ways are already broken is urgently needed. Dance is used in this campaign because it is a radical form of protest. Its radicalism lies in the fact that dancing requires that an individual takes control of their body and channels their inner energy into moving that body as they choose or as the music moves them to. This is radical because for the majority of women their bodies belong to someone else, either through cultural rituals and practices or through societal pressures and conditioning. Women’s bodies are rarely allowed to exist for their own purpose. They are either reproductive machines, owned by the men in their lives as beast of burden or sex machines or psychologically enslaved through brainwashing media which reinforces certain standards that define women’s bodies as beautiful or ugly. Dance is one occasion that women can fully own their bodies and dance illicits joy and initiates healing.

What I describe here about OBR is not new. Therefore it is quite disingenuous when women like Marelise Van Der Mewe decide to vent their personal issues with Eve Ensler by rubbishing a campaign that she herself could not, with all her narrow mindedness and smug privilege, have envisioned. She begins her “vapid” piece thus:It’s a celebrity-endorsed attempt to get a billion activists worldwide to take part in a choreographed dance to end rape. The trouble is, it’s got bugger-all to do with rape at all. And it’s unlikely to achieve anything, either.’ This statement alone is fallacy because OBR is not about getting people to dance to a choreographed piece at all. In fact in her own home country, there are communities that will not be doing the OBR dance or reading any of the poems that have been suggested. She is wrong again on the issue of OBR not achieving anything. She is unaware of the conversations and ideas that have been borne as people gathered to get ready for the event on the 14th. The event is a culmination of months of sharing talking, and looking for practical solutions to make a difference in people’s lives. Men are getting together to form community based groups to push for progressive masculinities. Yes men are taking an active part in this issue and this includes educating their children about respect not only for women but for life in general. In another community, activists are working with the police for the creation of victim- sensitive police units to deal with victims of rape, from writing a statement, submitting evidence and identification of victims as a way to make it easier for women to report rape. I could go on, however I think the post OBR era will have numerous examples of just what this campaign has ignited in terms of real and lasting change.
Less advocacy more action!

Van der Mewe’s concerns may have been legitimate, were it not for her bellicose rants against Ensler and V-Day. What is quite shocking to me is that her dislike for Ensler is so deep that she does not bother to do much research about what V-day has done for the last 15 years with the money that the organization has raised. A simple Google search would have given her some insight into the work with women in the Congo, work with women and girls facing female genital mutilation and work with girls in South Africa. However in her volatile emotional state she quickly jots down some hogwash about no one knowing what V-day does with its money. Get real! She fails to conceal her ire , stating that only 56 people have registered for the event in the whole of South Africa! Look who is totally out of touch with reality. If she had her finger to the pulse of South Africa she would have noted that there are thousands who have been working tirelessly in communities across the country in order to have this event. She is clueless as to what victims of VAW and rape need or feel or think about this campaign, because if she were not, she would have realized that those who are mobilizing are the ones whose communities are most badly affected by poverty and violence. many of them have been raped or experienced domestic violence. Of course she would not know this, and if she did I doubt she would care. Her rather patronizing prescription- do as I do, blah blah blah- as she reels of a list of "things one can do about the issue of rape" as though she has done something amazing, is quite laughable. This, from the woman who has just railed against armchair activism. She openly states that she dislikes Eve Ensler and anything she touches. In other words: whether OBR has its merits or not, it doesn't matter because she chooses not to see them. How mature. show us the records that indicate a "lack of transparency" where V-Day and its funding is concerned. Her diatribe can be found here.  A well researched article written by Gillian Schutte on Eve Ensler and the work that V-Day has done can be found   here.
City of Joy, DRC.

What might interest her is that in the Congo and elsewhere, women who have been gang raped beaten, lost family members and should in her books be lying in some corner waiting to die are DANCING!!! Yes they are going to dance and enjoy themselves because in that joy lies freedom to be themselves finally despite all the trauma they have faced. Merilene might like to try dancing. It is liberating, and maybe she will befriend her vagina and finally be able to disclose to the world her sexual orientation. Ensler does not reduce women to their vaginas but rather uses the vagina as a way to disempower reductionist patriarchy in which women matter only in so far as they have a functional vagina. By having women get in touch with their bodies and reclaim their sexuality, Ensler has been able to change many women’s view of their sexual and reproductive health and their overall health also.

The bottom line is this: Women who take cheap underhanded pot shots at other women who are actually doing something in this world to better our lot, really suck. Former United states secretary of State, Madeline Albright, once said there is a special kind of hell awaiting this kind of woman. I really hope so, because it is women like this who set us back in our efforts to dismantle patriarchal structures that keep us all in chains. What is even worse are those women who themselves are doing absolutely nothing practical to further the cause, other than complain and whine about existential/ ideological/ personal issues they have with  OBR and or Eve Ensler. Women who personalize issues rather than be objective and analytical in their assessment before passing judgment are nothing more than a nuisance and a distraction. Please go away quietly and let those of us who understand OBR and who are truly passionate about getting rid of VAW do so in peace.

By the way this piece is not in defence of Eve Ensler, but it is in defense to a record of a body of work that has benefited thousands of women, me included. If Marelise Van der Mewe can show us a record of her work,any work, then I might be impressed. As its stands I think her poorly articulated “issues” with OBR are just a personal rant full of baseless claims which leave her looking like nothing more than a mean spirited individual with serious issues vis-a-vis her vagina or 'women's bits' as she calls it. “Sour grapes” Marelise!

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