Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. While most people will dine at fancy restaurants, eat chocolates and smell roses, I’ll be dancing.
I’m honoring V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. This Feb. 14 marks its second annual campaign, which is aptly named One Billion Rising For Justice. It’s a global call to all female survivors of violence and those who love them to gather and dance. And they’ll dance in places worldwide where women deserve to feel safe but often don’t. It’s a way for survivors of violence to break the silence and voice their stories, whether they’re expressed politically, spiritually or exuberantly through art, song, dance, spoken word or marches.
According to a United Nations report, one in every three women will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. That’s more than one billion women.
To understand sexual and gender-based violence, you have to also understand the entrenched attitudes, values and cultures that perpetrate it. During the 1970s the second-wave feminist movement brought forth a concept known as rape culture, a term used to describe an environment in which rape, sexual violence and sexual exploitation were normalized through cultural ideologies, media images and social practices. That culture is fortified by misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies in music, film and advertising, and the overall glorification of violence. People say they’re opposed to this, of course, but there are examples of how it still impacts our society. I think we have more work to do. Maybe we’re contributing to these things without even knowing it.
There’s this notion of victim blaming, where crime victims are wrongfully held accountable for the harm they encountered. It sounds preposterous, I know, but how many times have you heard comments like, “She asked for it?” People can humiliate a rape victim because she chose to wear a certain outfit—as if to suggest that the rape was her fault.
We also tend to trivialize sexual assaults. You’ve heard those expressions, too, like, “Boys will be boys.” Even more concerning is that fact that we tell women to take unwanted sexual attention as a compliment rather than as harassment. The operative word here is unwanted.
Females are exploited in popular culture, especially in music. When you listen to certain lyrics, you can identify themes that could pertain to rape culture. Take the popular song, “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke. It’s hard to know what Thicke’s intentions were here; however, when it comes to a woman’s sexual consent, the lines are blurred, as if no really means yes. The girl in this song is described as a “good girl.” She’s also desired for being animalistic and forward with her “grabbing”—like that’s a good thing.
Songs like this help to create a mindset in which sex is less about intimacy and commitment, and more about domination and possession. The ideal sexual situation then becomes one in which the man ravishes the woman—and the woman is subservient. There’s nothing ideal about this.
As a young woman, I feel a responsibility to spread awareness about sexual and gender-based violence. I also want to give new meaning to and appreciation of the Valentine’s Day celebration. I celebrate healthy and secure relationships. But I also hope to spark more understanding of the serious injustice of sexual abuse.
So on this Valentine’s Day, I hope you’ll cherish the positive relationships in your life, and remember the world’s one billion women who have survived sexual or physical abuse. Women have come a long way, and we’re strong. But sisterly—and brotherly—support goes a very long way.
Shall we dance?
Paige Fisher graduated from the University of Delaware in 2013 and is currently earning her master’s in clinical social work at the University of Maryland.