Sunday February 10, 2013

NORTH ADAMS

It was spring and I was trying to convince a reporter to cover a Take Back the Night march and rally being organized by the Women’s Center at MCLA. She observed that we had been holding these events in the Berkshires for decades and hadn’t succeeded at ending violence against women yet. It wasn’t news and she would not be there.

Her assessment was simultaneously very right and very wrong! She was wrong because if you read the newspapers published in any city, in any country (most definitely this one), on any given day, you will see headlines describing horrific violence against women in many forms. Here’s a small sample of real headlines from various countries including our own. The last two in the list come from our own local papers:

* Honour killing: parents of 21-year-old arrested.

* Woman beater committed acts while on bail.

* 2 year-old acts out mother’s murder.

* Man kills daughter over alleged affair.

* Mob stones "marital rape" protesters.

* Man choked his wife when she confronted him about his child pornography on Valentine’s Day.

* Dowry death? Pregnant woman found hanging.

* Woman has her throat slashed.

* North Adams man admits to killing estranged wife.

On the other hand, she was right because male violence against women is so constant, so regular, that it has become routine. We all live in a global "rape and domestic violence culture." It is in the news, but it isn’t new. The data should still appall us.

One out of three women in the world will be battered or raped at some point during her life. With a global population more than seven billion, roughly half of whom are female, one in three equals more than one billion female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. ONE BILLION!

According to Antonio Guterres, two-time winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, "Gender-based violence is one of the most virulent, culturally endemic, and persistent trends in the world."

Women have long resisted the violence perpetrated against us and our children. Among other strategies: we fight back, leave home, go to court, return to school to improve our ability to support ourselves, develop services for survivors, and organize local, national, and global movements for social change.

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One such movement for social change is V-Day, a global activist effort to end violence against women and girls that raises money and community awareness through local benefit productions of playwright and V-day founder Eve Ensler’s award winning play, "The Vagina Monologues."

This year marks the 15th birthday of V-Day (commemorated annually on Valentine’s Day) and at the initiative of Ensler, we are adding another item to our revolutionary tool kit: One Billion Rising, a call to action to all men and women to refuse to support "business as usual" until rape and domestic violence culture ends. It is an act of solidarity across national borders. It is a global strike to end violence against women.

V-Day invites one billion women and those who love them to "walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to gender-based violence." One billion women beaten and raped constitutes one billion atrocities. One billion women dancing is a revolution.

Locally, we will rise in Pittsfield on Feb. 14 at a dance party upstairs at Spice Dragon at 297 North St. starting at 6 p.m. Dance tickets cost $10 each which includes light fare and DJ Fern. There will also be a cash bar. This event launches the 10 x 10 Upstreet Arts Festival and is sponsored by Ananda Health Center for Integrative Medicine; Blue Q; Cain, Hibbard & Myers; Canyon Ranch; The Gateways Inn; Gotterer Dental; the Elizabeth Freeman Center; HAVEN (Human/Animal Violence Education Network); Lisa Kantor; Seven Hills Inn; and WAM Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 1-800-838-3006 or at the door.

Whether or not you attend the dance, one action each of us can take this Valentine’s Day to be counted among the One Billion Rising is to wear a red armband. People will likely ask, "Why the armband?" That provides an opportunity for us to spread the word about the magnitude of the problem and the necessity to rise in opposition. An additional strategy for raising community consciousness is to change your Facebook profile picture to the One Billion Rising logo for the day. It can be downloaded at One Billion Rising’s Facebook page.

The rising will continue on Friday night, March 8 at Flavours of Malaysia (75 North St.; enter via McKay Street). In honor of International Women’s Day, a fundraising dinner to benefit the Elizabeth Freeman Center (Berkshire County’s provider of services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault) will be held. There will be two seatings, at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. and $25 covers the extensive buffet dinner (tax and tip additional; cash bar). Fabulous raffles will be held at both dinner seatings.

Strike! Dance! Rise! This revolution belongs to all of us. To paraphrase James Oppenheim’s 1911 poem "Bread and Roses" -- "The rising of the women means the rising of us all." And never forget Emma Goldman’s sentiments summarized as follows: "If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution."

Dr. Susan Birns is professor of Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work at MCLA and board president of the Elizabeth Freeman Center.