14 February, 2013

Dear Natalie Gyte: I Hope You Dance

Addendum: I had sent this on to the Huffington Post early on the 14th but it did not appear until today. So if you want to read the same piece over there, it is at this link.

I began to write this as a comment to a post by a dear friend and activist on Facebook, but decided to use this space instead. The link was to an article on Huffington Post, “Why I Won’t Support One Billion Rising,” by Natalie Gyte, who leads the Women’s Resource Center, an umbrella organization of womens charities.

In the article, Gyte argues quite persuasively, against Eve Ensler’s effort to raise awareness about violence against women on Valentine’s Day – today – via One Billion Rising, whose premise is that people gather in flash mobs and at organized events to dance. Dancing, in this reading, is a way to rise up above the desperation that keeps many women trapped in difficult situations. According to Gyte, Ensler’s effort undermines the work of ordinary activists because it does not address the patriarchal system that underlines much of the violence that is perpetrated against women, that it includes men, and is too sexy – though she doesn’t use that term – and, therefore, media worthy.

I disagree with almost everything in this piece. I believe firmly in the rights of girls and women to fulfill their ambitions, but I protest equally firmly the notion that the achievement of those ambitions should come at the cost of what women have valued for centuries: peace, safety, security, or the dismissal of what a majority of women embrace: a feminine aesthetic, a female essence, intangible but no less critical to what we bring to the discussion. Hence the post I wrote recently about women in the military.

Gyte berates the movement for including men. She condemns Stella Casey thus for stating that violence is not limited to gender, that it affects society as a whole: “Really Stella? Really?” Yes, really Natalie, really. Violence is a societal issue. And so long as we keep pretending that it isn’t, nothing is going to change. And to speak of violence perpetrated against women by a male hierarchy, as Gyte does, but claim that we must exclude men from the conversation is like arguing that the priesthood is fornicating with little choir boys but we can end the problem by just focussing on the little boys and leaving the priests out!

Gyte explains that two activists – one “beautiful and radiant” Congolese and one Iranian (presumably ugly and drab?) – question the idea that White middle class women (who are in effect the upper class in the global scheme), should tell them what to do. They are right, of course. But might we remember that in that regard, they should also question then the cultural hegemony of White women who do what Gyte does. Fact is, they probably do. Non-White women have questioned for decades the priviledge assumed by people like Gloria Steinem, the 1% of the feminist movement to which Gyte also belongs by virtue of her hue and class. And yet we have chosen to march beside, holding the wheat and letting the chaff blow away in the wind, as best we can, because we champion the better intention over the lesser negligence.

To skewer a fellow activist who has – by her own admission – done admirable work, for choosing to fight this particular battle on several fronts is to confirm the precise stereotype of women attacking other women. It makes me cringe for us all. And it reminds me of another fierce woman warrior, Audre Lorde, whose words have been the foundation of every bit of political work I have ever undertaken; the words that concluded my undergraduate thesis on the brutal and insidious political, cultural, and economic hegemony of the West (the very one that Gyte and the two activists above decry), are still the words that guide me now: “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”

Finally, Gyte’s harrangue against the joy inherent in this effort reminds me of nothing more than the beautiful exchange between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot in the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Judas berates Mary Magdalene for buying myrrh for Jesus because that money could have raised “300 silver pieces or more” that “people who are hungry, people who are starving matter more than your feet and head.” The reply from Jesus is priceless. It reminds us of the fact that it is Judas who condescends to Mary (dismissed by him as a mere prostitute), and that it is he who betrays Jesus, never mind the poor and struggling, never mind the myrrh and silver.

There is something vital and affirming that is lost to us as a collective of men and women when we decide that any expression of joy undermines the sorrows that plague us. And so I come, as I have done before, to these lines from Jack Gilbert, in his poem “A Brief for the Defence,” from the collection, Refusing Heaven.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down.
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Joy is allowed. Seriously. And dance is all-inclusive. It transcends gender and class, culture and color. It is the great unifier. The revolution begs you, if not on every other day then at least on this day, when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, to choose to dance.

5 Responses to “Dear Natalie Gyte: I Hope You Dance”

  1. Ami Dar says:

    This was delight-full :) Thank you!!

  2. T says:

    I too read Natalie Gyte’s article and wholly disagreed. Having been involved in the organising of OBR Sri Lanka – Colombo Rising, yesterday was like a balm to the wounds of reading about rape and abuse every single day in the papers here and feeling helpless about it. People came from all corners of Colombo to Rise and it was a beautiful home-grown movement; one that didn’t just ask survivors to rise above their grief (though there were those who did), but asking us all to RISE from our apathy, rise from behind our desks and take to the streets. For many who came it was their first protest. The feeling of solidarity was incredible; the feeling that with these kinds of numbers behind us we can make real change. The 14th of February may not have changed laws, but it brought a society together. I am immensely proud of what we did yesterday, and what we can do in days to come, and the OBR movement was the changemaker for us.

  3. Prasenjit Banerjee says:

    Natalie Gyte misses the fact of the Girl Child being taught to ignore all sexual mis-fiances on the plea the male can KILL on refusal. This safety method is taught by the lady peers in the family/group/tribe. The peers tolerate their men who assert ‘men will be men’.
    Rape – women subjugation are problems from invading armies, commanding Romeos and even the wife posting replacements. Like menstruation is the least discussed subject so is women subjugation. I am grateful on your take on Eve Ensler, who has put women on a single cause campaign. Here on the details above will come out to sustain an everlasting change, Thanks

  4. S says:

    Thanks for this. I was so angry after reading that article, I felt like she was being paid off to say the most ignorant things about Eve Ensler and feminism.

    Will you now respond to the vomit she has put out against Emma Watson’s UN speech? Here’s the link to it, but I really wish HuffPostUK would stop publishing her stuff. Hope you can make some sense of it, but there’s a lot of confusion throughout.


  5. Ru says:

    Actually, I was dismayed by the elevation of Emma Watson over Beyoncé during this whole fracas. There was quite a response to Natalie Gyte by several others at the time, but very few willing to point out the obvious. This was one of the better pieces: http://www.xojane.com/issues/beyonce-feminism-vs-emma-watson-feminism

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On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

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