Domestic Violence Awareness Month (which happens to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month…because there are only so many months to divvy out) has brought minimal discussion in my neck of the woods, so I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at an event hosted by NC State’s Women’s Center in Raleigh this week. “These Hands Don’t Hurt” is a nation-wide project, often occurring on college campuses, that involves students stamping their painted hand prints on a banner symbolizing their pledge to 1) not use their hands in acts of domestic violence 2) educate themselves about what domestic violence looks like in their community, and 3) to safely intervene if they witness scenarios of domestic violence.
While I must admit I was skeptical at first, with students appearing to be more interested in finger painting than in pledging to fight against domestic violence, I thought of the ice-bucket challenge, and my hope was renewed. In addition to the hand printing, we also asked people to sign a physical pledge sheet, listing the objectives at the top, and we handed out purple domestic violence awareness ribbons with small informational cards attached to them with a resource number. These acts combined were more comprehensive than a Facebook video challenging someone to dump water on their head, and even the hand print alone, as fun as it might have been, had some significant relevance to the cause. The goal is awareness and fostering conversation, and if that means, “hey, d’y’all go paint with yer hands yet out on the Oval lawn, something bout stopping domestic violence, it was fun!” than I’ll take it!
This is supposed to be about things I have been reading, not doing necessarily, so I will mention, on this topic, I just finished reading Eve Ensler’s memoir In the Body of the World. Ensler is famous for her play The Vagina Monologues performed around the world, and the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women. Through her work and her writing Ensler has thrust women’s bodies into the public eye in an often times controversial way. Her memoir turns the camera inward and explains how her drive to expose the pain and suffering of women around the world emerged out of her own life and trauma and struggle to stay alive:
For years I have been trying to find my way back to my body, and to the Earth. I guess you could say it has been a preoccupation. Although I have felt pleasure in both the Earth and my body, it has been more as a visitor than as an inhabitant. I have tried various routes to get back. Promiscuity, anorexia, performance art. I have spent time by the Adriatic and in the green Vermont mountains, but always I have felt estranged, just as I was estranged from my own mother. I was in awe of her beauty but could not find my way in. Her breasts were not the breasts that fed me. Everyone admired my mother in her tight tops and leggings, with her hair in a French twist, as she drove through our small rich town in her yellow convertible. One gawked at my mother. One desired my mother. And so I gawked and desired the Earth and my mother, and I despised my own body, which was not her body. My body that I had been forced to evacuate when my father invaded and then violated me. And so I lived as a breathless, rapacious machine programmed for striving and accomplishment. Because I did not, could not, inhabit my body or the Earth, I could not feel or know their pain. I could not intuit their unwillingness or refusals, and I most certainly never knew the boundaries of enough. I was driven. I called it working hard, being busy, on top of it, making things happen. But in fact, I could not stop. Stopping would mean experiencing separation, loss, tumbling into a suicidal dislocation.
I crisscrossed the Earth in planes, trains, and jeeps. I was hungry for the stories of other women who had experienced violence and suffering. These women and girls had also become exiled from their bodies and they, too, were desperate for a way home. I went to over sixty countries. I heard about women being molested in their beds, flogged in their burqas, acid-burned in their kitchens, left for dead in parking lots. I went to Jalalabad, Sarajevo, Alabama, Port-au-Prince, Peshawar, Pristina. I spent time in refugee camps, in burned-out buildings and backyards, in dark rooms where women whispered their stories by flashlight. Women showed me their ankle lashes and melted faces, the scars on their bodies from knives and burning cigarettes. Some could no longer walk or have sex. Some became quiet and disappeared. Others became driven machines like me.