Events don’t changes things. People do.

One Billion Rising happened yesterday.

Around the world, it was a big thing. It felt like a big thing to be part of it. It felt like a big thing in Second Life too, where I had the honour of being one of the people to organise it.

And this morning, when I wake up, is the world a better and bright place? Have we changed hearts and minds, and reached those clear green uplands where we have peace, truth, and justice for all?

Well, no.  But then I didn’t expect to.

Throughout much of my life, I’ve tried to take a stand on issues that I believe in. Sometimes, those issues have had popular support.  Sometimes, those issues seem to have been proved right by history – I must admit to a wry smile on reading the news that the majority of the public, ten years on, now thinks that those of us who marched against the Iraqi War in 2003 were, in fact, right.  Sometimes, protest against an overwhelming majority felt like being part of a small crazed cult who saw something that no-one could – it was crazy of us not to believe, for example, that siting land-launched nuclear missiles on our small island at vast expense was going to make Britain a safer place to live, and only left-wing fanatics and man-hating lesbian feminists could believe otherwise.

Things have changed – the missiles have, to a large extent, gone. But “socialist” and “feminist” are still often used as abuse.

There’s a story – I don’t know how apocryphal – that Chelsea Clinton had always tended to treat her mother’s feminism and her defensiveness about it as something of a joke (“Oh, Mom!”). Until she was out on the campaign trail with her – and saw for herself the level of venom and hostility directed against her mother not for political reasons (although that obviously happened too) but simply because Hilary was a woman.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve defined myself as a feminist.  I’m still a feminist. Not a post feminist.  Not a modern feminist, a lipstick feminist or any of the other labels that are applied in an effort to make feminism sound less threatening.  Just a feminist. I believe passionately in female equality – and for a lot of my life – and, let’s face it, even today in many parts of the world and in many, many societies, that’s still a deeply unpopular and often a dangerous position to hold.

Living in a Western social democratic country, I have it comparatively easy.  But throughout my life, a thing that has made me blazingly angry is that I am the target of sexual abuse simply because of my gender.

To put this in perspective – I have not been raped or beaten.  But I have been flashed at a few times, been aggressively propositioned by kerbcrawlers, been groped, verbally abused, sexually threatened etc etc. A third of women will be raped or beaten. But the overwhelming majority of the remaining two thirds will be subjected to a level of “Eve teasing”, as the appalling Indian phrase has it, that will make us feel shocked, soiled and very often scared – not because of our actions, but because of our gender.

But many men don’t understand this. I was once at a wedding party where a group of us where sitting around a table – me, my husband, a young male friend we’d brought, a single woman, and a mother with her five daughters, all in their late teens, early twenties.  For some reason we got on to the subject of the levels of abuse women faced for being women. My male friend thought that the older women were exaggerating – until every single woman round the table said, “It’s happened to me.”

And our experience can’t even compare to that of women around the world where social and cultural norms mean that for a woman even to uncover her face or step out of the door alone is to become a target for state supported abuse that might take the form of physical beatings or worse.

So do I think that dancing yesterday changed any of this?

Of course I don’t – any more than I think we stopped the Iraq War by marching, or that protests at Greenham Common sent the missiles away.

But what marching against Iraq did do was to change the focus of debate.  For politicians now to claim that a distant country endangers us and we should commit our soldiers to all-out war is far harder. Not for all time, and not for every cause – but (as the Guardian article points out) the terms of debate have been changed.

And those cold night protesting against cruise missile convoys did raise the level of debate too.

Dropping a pebble in a river won’t make a dam. But if enough people drop pebbles over enough time, there will be a dam.

Some people, of course, won’t like pebbles. They will argue the merit of grit, or mud, or concrete. “If we can’t have concrete,” they’ll say, “it’s not worth doing at all.” Some people will say that the river doesn’t need to be controlled – that if people choose to live in the floodplain, well, that’s their lookout.  Leave well alone.  All of these arguments have their merits.

But I will stand here with my pebble. Drop.

Various arguments have been raised about why One Billion Rising was wrong, was not a good event, was pointless.  I want to address some of those points. But, as I don’t want to bore you with a HUGE long screed, I propose to do this as a series of posts.

I want to make a few things clear before I start.

Posts that name people who are not taking part in the debate here, posts that attack individuals, and posts that use abusive terms will be moderated. My blog, my rules.

Other than that, let’s talk.

13 comments

  1. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the event in SL yesterday, but that was only because I went to a RL OBR event here in Florida and I have to say, I was inspired. I met and networked with a lot of people last night. I met people that worked for and support Harbor House of Central Florida and Florida Coalition against Domestic Violence. I have made connections and intend to volunteer and help more and whenever and wherever I can.

    I hope the same resulted for the event that took place in SL and the results were positive and it created more awareness.

    A big congrats and thanks to you and Honour and all the others that organized it inworld for those that couldn’t go out and network in RL. ❤

  2. When on Italian TV last night, after participating in OBR in SL, I saw the small group of Afghan women in Kabul, the very place where those shocking images of the football stadium executions came from a few years ago, I knew I’d been a teeny tiny insignificant part of something enormous. I forgot all about the utterly insignificant squabbles surrounding the SL event and my participation in it. Afghan women protesting violence against women – that trumps everything. It’s as simple as that.

  3. Saffia, beautifully said.

    I cannot offer more to the debate that you express. My thansk to you, Honour, Vic, Aisling, Qwis and the entire team for bringing people together through OBR in SL and raising greater awarness the issue of violence against women and opening up the doors for more informed and open discussion.

  4. Hmm, an editorial? I don’t know who wrote this blog post. But, I’ll say this since the writer mentioned “socialist”. I’m a Capitalist, and the reason that I am, is that it’s the type of economic system that will allow all people to rise. Time and time again it’s capitalism that allows women equality. Even in the so-called “socialist” countries of the world, it’s the basic capitalist system that enables “capital” to advance people, and women are the ones who benefit.

    The feminist movement has compromised itself, by aligning with socialism. With economic success, comes an equability society. (these things happen in stages, which is why the West with it’s capitalism and industrial revolution, advanced with equality for women before other areas) I saw some posts yesterday, about the unequal treatment of women in a southern EU nation. Well, that nation is steeped in socialism, and women have a hard time getting economic parity.

    Economic parity is the gateway to social parity. We don’t have to read Jane Austin to know that when women are denied economic equality, they are at the mercy of society’s good will. Which, is often not very merciful. So, we want to see women being equal and treated as such? Then support an economic system that gives women the tools to make the rise.

    Now, with that said, I agree much of what you wrote Spot on, and thank you.

  5. I did, and I should have specified for people who may be new to the blog. Posts signed Prim Perfect come from me, and all other people who post here do so under their own names.

    @ Celestiall. Although I didn’t say so in the post, just saying how ‘socialist’ is used as a term of abuse, I am quite happy to identify myself as a socialist (which is certainly not the same thing as a communist). Like you, I believe that issues of economic parity and empowerment are paramount in obtaining social justice. I would disagree with you on how this should be obtained, I suspect. For example, the Southern European countries were equality for women is problematic have all had histories of fascistic dictatorships, socialist democracies and very rapid capitalist expansion. Is one element of this to blame? Or a combination?

  6. I don’t think one can state that one system is better for empowerment of women than another. If anything, harsh dictatorships have proven to be best in this field, simply imposing equality upon the population. The USSR was pretty advanced for its day on these issues.
    Capitalism tends to be careful and therefore conservative. Socialists feel a greater need for revolutionary change. What I’ve observed in Holland is that the ‘socialist’ feminists in the 70s took to the barricades and then started to demand things from the government for years, practically sitting on their barricades. Meanwhile ‘capitalist’ women silently rolled up their sleeves, set out to work against the prevailing tide and became business leaders in the 80s and 90s, leaving those who created the opportunity often far behind them.

    1. Yes, I see what you mean about harsh dictatorships, But that’s not invariable – at the same time the totalitarian system of Germany was relegating women to Kirche, Kuche, Kinder – and women hardly flourish under the dictatorships (or dictatorial theocracies) in certain countries in the Middle East, for example.

      The case of Holland is an interesting one – but couldn’t you argue that the achievements of women in the 1980s and 1990s was, to some extent, built upon the work done by radical women in the 1960s and 70s? Are you sure it’s a clearcut division between socialist and capitalist women? And where does that put the continuously socialist tendencies of countries like Sweden, Norway and Denmark?

      1. Yes, that was my point – the ‘capitalist’ women started to work on the basis of the work done by the ‘socialists’ (all of these terms strictly quote-unquote – it’s not that clear). Socialists tend to look to the state for solutions, whereas business oriented people tend to try and find solutions themselves. I guess in the end you must conclude that you need both groups to get going.

  7. I would like to make this point about effective protests, strikes, and boycotts such as those mentioned and many others: all of them are protesting specific policies or laws, and usually also lobbying for specific changes in those policies or laws. Quite often participants are subject to significant inconveniences, sacrifices, and/or persecution.

    1. Yes, I agree. Before we got involved in the event, we had some discussion about the use of the word ‘strike’, which did seem to us mis-applied in the context of the event. We decided that, for us, it wasn’t a make or break issue – I’m planning a post where I discuss various things about linguistic choices in this context.

      One thing did make me grin though – one of the main criticisms that has been levelled at us throughout was not that we were insufficiently targeted – it was that we were too targeted – how DARE we stage an event without taking account of the violence against men????

      I do, however, agree with you that a smaller target usually gets better results. But there is also a case for the wider picture event that engages the greatest number, if it follows through onto something that concentrates the focus. Relay for Life has its place, for example – but so too does a campaign for the local hospice or to raise awareness of prostate cancer. At the end of the day, you are more likely to buy a new scanner for the hospice than you are to cure cancer all time forever. But … Relay for Life still has a valuable role to play in raising awareness, in enabling support and – yes – in raising money for research.

      So supporting a local refuge, or makling sure that the concept of free consent is part of every child’s education is great. But there’s a place for OBR too in informing people of the situation around the world, in empowering people who might feel very isolated and – hopefully – in inspiring people to go and do and find out more as a result.

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