Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vagina warriors: Speaking out

I've written before about one of my favorite scenes in the documentary "America the Beautiful," where Eve Ensler, famous for her feminine strength, "The Vagina Monologues" and V-Day tells about her travels to Africa. There she met a woman who was absolutely in love with all -- ALL of her body. When Eve complained about parts of her body she was less than thrilled by, the woman pointed to a tree and asked, "Is that tree beautiful?" Of course, Eve answered. The woman then pointed to a different tree. "Is that tree any less beautiful because it is different? ... I am a tree. You are a tree. Love your tree!"

Loving my tree comes not just by accepting my physical being, but embracing my voice and being confident to speak out.  It's becoming easier to do the older I get.  Right around 30 I realized I didn't care so much what people thought.  I still have moments where I worry too much. In fact, most days I feel the world really is a stage, and I have to play and look my part perfectly. (This could come from life in Hollywood, surrounded by actors and wanna-be's.) But with each day of being more aware, and with each birthday, I feel a little more free to dance to my own rhythm.  To learn the freedom of being me, of saying no to what doesn't fit with who I am.

Just a few weeks ago I joined the online community PulseWire, and have already found encouragement and inspiration from strong women speaking out, sharing their personal journeys. 

After I admitted being a born people-pleaser, whose goal has been to keep the peace, no matter what the cost, Julie, who works for International Development Exchange (IDEX), sent me this message:

"I think we as women are often conditioned to, just as you say, 'keep the peace' in the short term, regardless of the violence and deception that it can generate for ourselves (and others) in the medium and long term. I'm trying to condition myself to think in terms of exactly who keeping the peace serves, and at what cost. And yes, it has certainly been a lifelong struggle to recognize that my voice is worthy of being heard, and that getting it beyond the confines of my own mind in fact reinforces my values and resolve to do good in the world."

At what cost, indeed?  Looking back, my keeping the peace never resolved an issue, but covered it up.  It's a lifelong process and a journey of learning to let go of that scared little girl tiptoeing through life, and instead to be a presence, to speak my truth.

Reading Ode magazine's April issue, I came across Eve Ensler again.  In the short piece "Breaking the Silence," writer Carmel Wroth asks the question, "How does anyone find the courage to speak out against unspeakable crimes?  Eve Ensler's answer: Mobilize a movement to support the victims and stand by them while they tell their stories."  In speaking out against the brutal rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ensler says "I've seen the power of vagina warriors all around the world to transform their situations and become great leaders in their communities.  The women in the DRC are so fierce and so ready.  With a little bit of support, there are so many powerful women there who are ready to emerge."  "I am speaking today so that women who have been raped can come out, so they can be taught how to live," said one survivor.  (Read the entire story at Ode.)

In Glamour, Ensler struggles to tell us what she witnessed in the DRC, to make personal the horrifying statistics.  To "tell the stories of the patients (Dr. Mukwege) saves so that the faceless, generic, raped women of war become Alfonsine and Nadine—women with names and memories and dreams. I am going to ask you to stay with me, to open your hearts, to be as outraged and nauseated as I felt sitting in Panzi Hospital in faraway Bukavu."  (Read the entire story at Glamour.)

She also provides ways to help:
  • Write a letter addressed to His Excellency, the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila Kabange; demand that he take action to stop the attacks on women. Send it to U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, P.O. Box 3862, New York, NY 10163, and it will be delivered to Kabila.
  • Donate directly to Panzi Hospital through vday.org.
Money donated to Panzi also goes to establish a City of Joy, a safe haven for the healed women, where they’ll learn to become political leaders.

I want to help women share their stories, find confidence in the truth and to speak out, but I know that the first step begins with my confidence to speak my voice.  It might sound different than yours, but I want to add to the choir of voices raised.  It might not even be loud, quiet action often speaks louder than yelling.  Sometimes it's a leap, and sometimes it's baby steps to the megaphone, to the march, to join in the dance. 

(Photo: Eve Ensler at Panzi Hosptial in DRC, courtesy V-Day.) 

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