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.