This post is part of a series discussing the 2012 National Organization for Women (NOW) Conference: Energize! Organize! Stop the War on Women. You can read my notes on this session here.
The third session I attended at the NOW conference was a plenary session (officially Plenary II, although I didn’t attend the first one) with Eve Ensler, the keynote speaker. Ensler is the author and playwright who penned The Vagina Monologues, a feminist classic which has been translated into 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. Ensler is also the creator of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. One of V-Day’s projects, One Billion Rising, encourages women to rise up on February 14 to demand an end to the violence.
To say that Eve Ensler is a charismatic orator would truly be the understatement of the millennium. Hearing her speak - no, experiencing her speak - was one of the highlights of my time at the conference. She was just…amazing. I’m beyond words. They cannot even begin to describe Ensler’s awesomeness.
The way Ensler spoke about the issues was just amazing. She presented them with a sense of humor, but still treated them with the respect and gravity they deserve. She celebrated victories, like the reaction to Vaginagate, and rallied the audience to DO something to fix the problems, like the fact that one billion of the world’s women - that’s 1 in 3 women - will experience sexual abuse. “We must misbehave!” she urged the audience. “I can’t say that strongly enough.”
She then discussed V-Day’s amazing work towards empowering African women. Ensler shared the story of Jean, a woman from the Congo, a rape zone whose systematic desecration of women is terrifying. Jean was raped, so she was sent to City of Joy, a V-day establishment for survivors of gender violence “where women turn pain into power.” After Jean returned to her war-torn village, she was regularly raped for two months by soldiers. She came back to City of Joy and truly turned her pain into power, graduating from the center in January and becoming a leader advocating on women’s behalf. It’s absolutely amazing how Ensler has made this sort of transformation possible, how she has truly dived into this cause and accomplished so much.
I cannot give the next part of Ensler’s speech justice by paraphrasing it or giving my thoughts on it, so I’ll just include my transcribed text of it (any mistakes are mine, I apologize) and provide the link to the video accompaniment. I know the video is almost 40 minutes long, but seriously, it’s worth watching. I’m listening to it as I type these words, and I’m getting chills, even though this is my umpteenth viewing it. If you don’t have the time and/or patience to watch all 40 minutes, skip to 24:57 in order to listen to the part I have transcribed here.
So you might ask, why rising and why now? I think you know.
We are rising because the time has come. Because we have waited too long, worked too hard, built and rebuilt and built again, and frankly I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over like Groundhog Day when I’m 85. We’ve opened shelters and hotlines, campaigned for rights, fought for legislation, and then fought for the same legislation again and again, protected our sisters’ choice and our sisters’ bodies.
We are rising because we are done convincing and cajoling, arguing and arranging, accommodating and acquiescing.
We are rising because the future of the earth is at stake and the world economy is at stake and our right to determine our identities and destinies. The future of the body, of the earth and the bodies of women, are one and the same.
We are rising for and with the native and indigenous women who have suffered multiple violations of culture of land and bodies.
We are rising because we refuse to be pushed back to the Dark Ages where women had no control over their uteruses, vaginas, desires, sexuality, reproduction, or health.
We are rising because we are over a tiny particular group of powerful men who are unable even to say the word vagina having the chutzpah to attempt to regulate and determine our vaginas.
We are rising because we are over transvaginal wands and personhood amendments and being censored and spanked for mentioning our own body parts. [wild cheers]
We are rising because 1 out of 3 women on the planet is raped and beaten, 1 out of 5 women on college campuses is raped, and 1 out of 4 teenage girls are abused.
We are rising because we are over girls being trafficked and sold and reduced and objectified.
We are rising because we are sick and tired of women being on the frontlines of every revolution from Tahrir Square and being pushed to the back at the moment of victory, marginalized and disappeared.
We are rising to stop the War on Women in America, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, Egypt, Guatemala, name a place.
We are rising to tell religious leaders - and I mean this to religious leaders - and governments that the time has come to direct their energy to feeding, healing, housing the people rather than obsessing about our vaginas.
We are rising so the marginalized majority steps into equality, voice, and power.
We are rising because we are over the overregulation of women’s health clinics and women’s bodies and vaginas when those same overregulators do nothing to protect those same women when they get pregnant, when they get raped, unemployed, or sick and need moral and financial support.
We are rising because we are over those who pretend to care about our personhood and then cut funding from Planned Parenthood, which makes the health of our personhood possible.
We are rising because we are over brilliant, passionate remarks by women being called tantrums, and outspoken women being called crazy, slut, inappropriate, and lacking decorum simply because they disagree.
We are over rape culture, rape mentality, and rape jokes.
We are rising because we are over people not understanding rape is not a joke, and over being told we don’t have a sense of humor when most women I know are really fucking funny. [cheers] We just don’t think an uninvited penis up our anus or vagina is a laugh riot.
We are rising because we are over 1 woman out of 3 in the US military who defend this country getting raped by their so-called comrades.
We are rising so women can stop being silent about rape because they are made to believe it’s their fault or they did something to make it happen or it’s really not that bad.
We are rising for the Violence Against Women Act to finally pass and be done once and for all! The destruction…of women is the destruction of life itself. No women, no life. Duh!
We are rising because we are over some powerful men pretending this deep love of fetuses or babies and life when really it’s a guise for their terror of our sexuality and power. If you cared so much about life, you would never ever consider letting a woman die rather than performing an abortion. You would ask the lifegivers, the women themselves, what they need and want, and you would honor their decisions and trust their decisions and believe that they were thought out carefully, with depth, because that’s how women are. And you would maybe even worship their vaginas, you would cherish the word vagina and know there’s nothing dirty or disgusting about the place where all of life comes from.
We are rising because we are over people talking about the weight of our bodies rather than responding to the weight of our ideas.
We are rising and we are calling the good men to rise with us. There are plenty of good men. You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation and censoring of us?
What does the rising look like? This is what it looks like. It looks like 5000 people in Lansing, Michigan screaming “vagina!” on the Capitol steps to protest the banning of Lisa Brown for saying the word vagina. Go Michigan!
It looks like women’s groups across the world uniting and having each others’ backs. And I can’t say this strongly enough, we all have to get over our stuff, we just have to get together now and we have to make this happen. This is our moment. The GOP has given us a gorgeous opportunity. Let’s turn it into our moment where we bust patriarchy once and for all and unite and come together and do it.
And when we talk about solidarity, no one gets marginalized or made to feel less important. Those women who have been traditionally invisible - women of color, native women, LGBTQ women - got to lead the way.
It looks like every color rising and every religion and every sexual orientation and every class.
It looks like one billion. And I’ve been doing all these ways of conceptualizing what one billion looks like. This artist figured it out. If you had a panel and it was 8 feet tall and you had just a tiny little symbol that repeated itself on a panel of 8 feet wide, it would take 143 miles with just those little repeats. It’s a lot of people. We have a lot of power. One billion women and all the men who love us, that’s a lot of power.
It looks like Tahrir Square and Zucotti Park times a billion. So just imagine that and then multiply it times a billion. It looks like the women’s spring and I’m gonna tell you something, deep in my soul, in my heart, in my vagina, I know the women’s spring is here. It is here. Our time is here.
It looks like millions of women taking back their bodies…and wishes and destinies.
It looks like teenage girls breaking free from brothels and pimps and abusive boyfriends.
It looks like an end to cutting and beating and acid burning and stoning and forced marriage and rape.
It looks like women dancing in the streets, in the alleyways, and in the dark or any place where they have not been allowed to walk or travel or feel safe.
It looks like dancing.
It looks like women having energy because fear has lifted and their energy gets directed towards healing and growing and feeding and…leading.
It looks like men grieving and opening and supporting and finding a new way to be men, which looks like freedom.
It looks like an end to shame.
And yes, it looks like a big yes to touch and skin and kissing and sweating.
It looks like leaves shimmering in the sun and wind. It looks like waves rising. It looks like we’ve all been waiting for for most of our lives. It looks like radical love.
We will hear it in the drums, in the two billion feet stomping, in the bodies spinning and writhing and whirling, a weight that breaks the heart of the world open, that shakes the Richter scale and lands us in ripeness.
This is the moment. This is where it all turns around.
This is where we talk back, speak back, this is where we dance and dance and dance and do not stop dancing, this is where we rise up.
This is where we celebrate every brave woman who has stood up before us, we stand up now because of her. This is the moment where we multiply her efforts and our efforts, it’s the billion effect. One woman reaching ten reaching 100 reaching 100,000 and so on and on.
This is where we go the distance and stop apologizing and asking permission. We don’t do this for us, we don’t do this for power. We do it for life, for our children, for the future.
This is the moment we dance and I mean dance, we take up space, we spread our wings, this is the moment of our rising. It begins here and now. Each day until February 14 is part of the rising, each action must be bolder and more determined and more disruptive.
Who can stop one billion of us? Who?
This is the moment of our rising. Will you rise with me?
Holy freaking cow. If that doesn’t stir the hearts of the masses, then I don’t know what will.