Today is the 5th day of our Why I Rise blog series. Today's post is by Rashmi Joshi. Rashmi is currently the coordinator of Tufts University's Women's Center. She graduated last May from Boston College's Master's in English program, and this is the second time she is performing in the Vagina Monologues.
They say no one gives you power; you just take it. I think this task is easier said than done. There’s a space, a gap between the world of agency and somewhere beyond that, somewhere where all the gender norms and power struggles and violence against our minds and bodies are stored, that gets overlooked and hidden. It isn’t discussed outloud, but it’s whispered about in those moments where we try to understand what happened to us, that night when someone tried to overpower us. If that story of overpowering is as common as it is, I can’t believe that that saying is true. When our minds and hearts are worn down and silenced, we often need a sense of solidarity, of support to take back their power. In the silence, we are often not given the tools to make the full leap to personhood that we so rightly deserve. We deserve the right to wear whatever we want, to say whatever we want, to carry ourselves however we want and not have to worry that these actions will forsake control over our own bodies.
For the last two years, I have worked at universities where I’ve led some discussions on gender-based violence, and have spoken in confidence with undergraduates who struggle with owning their bodies and sexuality after experiencing immense trauma. In the last ten years, I have struggled with my own experiences with gender violence culture, and have become enraged at the commonality of that experience. I have become at first astonished, exasperated, and, finally, determined to fight the dynamics that allow us the denial of our bodies and power at a fundamental level, while granting some the sense of entitlement to continue forging scars that, when left unnurtured, might never heal.
That’s why the One Billion Rising is an important movement. I’ve discussed with many what they consider limitations to the movement, and I must admit, I also was skeptical about how moving our bodies collectively to music would actually affect the incidence of sexual/gender-based violence. But now, I see the ownership of our bodies in this process, particularly the solidarity formed from that freeing action, as a way to heal our sense of selves, to free ourselves from the bondage of rape culture, and the social norm-- and sometimes expectation-- that we must remain silent on the very experiences from which, if we are freed, we can finally feel whole again. That space I talk about between the violence that happens in dark corners of homes where the light is never turned on, where individuals are stripped of their power to speak their humiliation--- that space between those horrors, and the field of self-worth that survivors crave, is so difficult to leap over, because that leap means acknowledgement and peace. It is almost too delicately powerful to sufficiently put into words. In my mind, that space is occupied by the gender/rape violence culture that can be haunting, wolfish, even paralyzing to our spirits.
Wouldn’t the space where we heal from those wounds also be inexplicable? Perhaps that is why dancing can account for what we cannot say or do in the healing process—what we cannot exactly verbalize happens through our bodies on V-Day, with One Billion Rising. We only know that as a group, we are stronger, we are released a little from our pain, if even for a moment, because we know others are acknowledging it, and those of us who are not survivors, will stand as one with those who are. The statement we make on V-Day is that we have the right to that acknowledgement of our pain, of our worth, of our strength, on every other day of the year. For many of us, our bodies were taken away in moments before we could even claim the power needed to protect them. On V-Day, we own our bodies, perhaps in a way that I can’t completely put into words here. But we own them. No one else does.