Aerobics against Rape

Last night was V-Day in Australia.

Eve Ensler has done a wonderful detournement of the nasty heteronormative consumer fest of Feb 14 by declaring it a V-Day – V standing for Vagina (women) and Violence (lets end it) and creating an international event called One Billiion Rising.

It’s going off now in the Western Hemispheres, newsfeeds are a flutter.

It seems BIG, with a BIG Branded Logo, it’s own theme song, video and dance moves.

Last night’s V-Day in Melbourne left me completely perplexed. Flabbergasted even.

I was seduced by social media promotions, and by a friend from the Women’s Circus organising rehearsals in Footscray.

I messaged some more friends and we arranged to meet early at the assigned venue of Federation Square.

There were lots of women in red t-shirts, who I assumed were leftovers from the 30,000 strong teachers rally earlier that day.

there were lots of people of both (and I use that word quite deliberately) genders, milling around. Some looked like they were just hanging out in Fed Square, and some were standing excitedly, looking like they were waiting for something to happen.

And there were drummers, African style drummers, I’m not sure if they were African Australians or just African styled Australians. There were more people of colour than at regular feminist events.

More and more people filled the square, and an MC grabbed took to the stage, and started proceedings.

First of all – a live simulcast from Julia Gillard, our female prime minister. The one whose feminist rhetoric rings so hollow in the face of the cuts to sole parenting payments, and the stronger futures legislation. There is a LOT of research to say that decreasing the financial resources and independence of poor women, marginalised women, and women with children will increase their likelihood to stay in violent or abusive relationships with men. Gillard’s government has just increased the conditions for more violence against women and children, so I cannot cheer or clap at her words.

And then there was this video, broadcast on a big screen in the middle of the city.

And this is where words start to fail me, and I can only talk in the language of bodies and affect.

Music/flashbacks/fleshtingles/awkwardorientalism/WOMAD/whitecringe/music/whyareblackmenalways shown as violent/why are white women pretty/violent/flashback/trigger alert/stomachheave/ew/nostop/yuck/ oh, drumbeat/deteournment/why doesn’t she shoot him?/WHERE IS HOTHEAD PAISAN WHEN WE NEED HER?

And then the music started pumping, and everyone was told to raise their index finger from a fist, just like that old raver dance move, and boogie around a bit, and a bunch of fitties in white t-shirts took to the stage, and did an elaborate aerobics routine to a whole heap of gym-style music, and the crowd joined in or tried to follow, and this was REALLY REALLY WEIRD.

I knew about the dancing, or I thought I did. The brief rehearsals I did to the song, weren’t what was happening on stage though. It was only when Gabriela (which I was so glad to see still exist after 30 years) took to the stage, that we went through what looked like the official V-Day dance.

As for the calisthenic remainders – yes – it did look like a big open air aerobics class. I was perplexed. I caught the eye of some other recognisable radical feminists on the edge of the crowd, also looking perplexed. I decided that my Oatmeal T-shirt was not appropriate for this setting. I was so relieved when my queer friend wearing her Sydney Leather Pride t-shirt turned up, that I could have cried.

The females were very femme. (OK – it was hot sticky sunfrock weather). And there were lots of men who looked  cis/straight who we were all asked to thank for coming (ew). And yes – this was all about the man/woman binary. Mainstream hettie feminism, asking simply and politely for a fairly obvious and reasonable demand ‘can men please stop beating and raping women’?

Why am I such a grumpy feminist?

Am I really so old-school, so narrow-minded and rigid that I could not simply get ‘with it’?

Part of what pains me is that, I’ve bemoaned the Reclaim the Night marches for years – because of the lack of movement. I’ve wished for YEARS that we could have a shouting, dancing response to our rage and frustration about misogynist violence. HEre I was in a crowd, doing just that. I LOVE dancing! I should have been happy. Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted?

There were only 2000 people gathered last night, dancing against violence. Over 30, 000 people blocked Sydney road marching against the rape and murder of Jillian Meagher, and 10,000 marched on Reclaim the Night.

A word for what last night was, was ‘minority mainstreaming’ . Where a small, and well resourced group, decide to invent themselves as a hegemonic activist space; ie ‘this is the most reasonable, and accessible way that we can visibly campaign against misogynist violence’, excluding the queers, the gender queers, the radicals and the ratbags, and the plain old grumpy. The categories of woman and man were pretty fixed in that setting, the tropes of violence were lamentably orientalist, bordering on racist, and yet, still, amidst all of this, with all of these compromises, the action was so small.

Maybe these somewhat vicious, dismissive words above can contain my very ambivalent feelings about V-Day, but I don’t want to deny my awkward feelings that slip outside the pithy critique. I want transformative affect and dancing. I really do. I want to promote feelings of solidarity between women of colour and women of white privilege, but not in a way that makes violence against women a coloured issue, where white women pity our sisters, framed by this context as more oppressed and therefore more primitive. The drumbeats did not set my heart at ease in this respect.

I don’t want to become one of those detached academics, who deconstruct themselves out of any action whatsover. OK – So I’d spent a day designing a course where gender binaries are deconstructed, where the assumptions underlying all these commonplace terms like ‘family’, and ‘sexist violence’ are actively questioned. But I don’t think that the precarious promise of 12-week teaching contracts can be equated to an ivory tower, or that I want to be detached from the life and movement and possibilities emerging around me, even among those who will never read Foucault.

And – fuckaduck – there does need to be political social analysis of violence. Not a random cluster bomb of affect and wooing, that makes vague noises about deeply personal and horrible stuff, in public, without creating a transformative vision of how we as a society can actually change things.

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2 responses to “Aerobics against Rape

  1. Hey Mayhem,
    I think this is a really good critique! I’m thinking about that video, it’s mixture of horrifying colonial gaze and power. I’ve watched it a couple of times now to try to really critique it yet, I find I get so fucking emotional I find it pretty difficult to be objective. I remember a child on his fathers shoulders in front of us, how he closed his eyes at some of the scenes of violence and then how he said “eww blood”, and I wonder if those are the only words he had to express what horrified him, or whether the blood was his biggest problem.
    Those fucking aerobics instructors! This for me was one of the largest visual symbols of heteronormativity to it for me. I minded less the people around me, very straight yes, but I wasn’t overly surprised by that. The performance we were asked to follow on stage was so strange. The ‘athletic’ and ‘strong’ bodies, very much women and men (no in between) by this time leading the audience. By this stage we stopped being autonomous participants, as we were asked to follow into a culture I despise, one which makes me invisible and many of the people in the crowd, very violent to women ironically. I really hate aerobics actually, body negativity, it’s enforced heteronormativity – i never understood that as a young person, but I never felt at ease in those spaces. I mean I was there moving and laughing at it’s ridiculousness, what the hell had we come to? VERY fucking weird.
    I think you put it so well… it’s really not enough to bring that message to a public space without a greater social analysis that will truly move us forwards. Sigh.
    Anyways.. thanks for getting me thinking more about it x

  2. I can say with absolute certainlty that you are not old school, narrow minded or rigid!! The video is horrible (designed to insight emotion) and it leaves one feeling both overwhelmed at the effort that went into creating scenes of horror and underwhelmed by the lack of effort put in to offering a “solution”…. of course there cannot be *one* “solution” because the video mixes up horizontal, vertical, class, race and gender violence all into one. Ugh.

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