Imagine standing up in front of a crowd of people, both friends and strangers, and sharing some of the most intimate, emotional, and even traumatic experiences of your life. Well, two days before Valentine’s Day, that is what 22 women did when they shared their own personal stories, and the stories of contributors who opted to stay anonymous, through poetry, verse, and song at Women Writing for (a) Change (WWf(a)C) to raise awareness about the reality of gender-based violence.
WWf(a)C is an amazing organization based in Cincinnati, OH that encourages women to embrace their individual voices through writing and other creative outlets through writing classes, conscious feminine leadership training, book groups, and various other events. V-Day is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against gender-based violence, and this was the fourth year that WWf(a)C lent their support by organizing a special event.
This year, WWf(a)C asked women from the Cincinnati community to share their stories of sexuality in ‘Homegrown Monologues: Voices from our Village.’ Not only was the event held to honor local women’s stories, it also raised money for Cincinnati YWCA’s programs helping victims of domestic violence.
It is SO important that we talk about this.
Gender-based violence is any sort of physical, mental, or sexual violence or threat that targets someone based on their gender or sex. This type of violence may come in the form of physical or emotional abuse between domestic partners, sexual assault, sex trafficking, infanticide, female genital mutilation, and (unfortunately) more. Most often, though not exclusively, women and children are the targets of this kind of violence. However, it is important to note that gender-based violence isn’t just a “women’s issue.” This type of violence also impacts both men and women, as well as those in the LGBTQ community.
The statistics on gender-based violence are startling:
1/3 of middle and high school students have been involved in physically violent romantic relationships.
61% of transgender people have experienced physical assault, and 64% have experienced sexual assault.
Between 85% and 90% of college women who are raped know their assailants, but an estimated fewer than 5% of these rapes are ever reported.
1 in 5 women will be a survivor of rape in her lifetime.
It’s not enough to be aware. We must also bear witness.
So on Friday February 12th, 2016, 22 women shared 24 stories of their experiences, and those of other women who were not present themselves, to raise awareness about this type of violence. The personal perspectives these women shared on sexuality were very broad. They included real accounts of women experiencing sexual abuse, stories about self-acceptance, sexual harassment, discovering and accepting one’s sexuality and coming out, the experience of aging, a beautiful love letter written for a same-sex couple’s unborn (but on the way!) child, and even a poem about social media’s role in feeding the need, the addiction, for attention. Following a brief intermission, the audience was treated to a beautiful (and impressive!) a capella performance of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” during which I half expected the crowd to get up in their chairs and dance, reminiscent of the trio from ‘The First Wives’ Club.’
Women ranging from their 20s to their 70s, from different backgrounds and with diverse experiences, shared stories from every part of life from childhood to postmenopause. I was struck by how many of the stories of sexual abuse involved women who knew the men who had attacked them — not always very personally, but in one way or another, those men had been in the women’s lives before the attack. This mirrors the statistics on sexual abuse that show that a majority of rape victims/survivors are raped by someone they know. It is one thing to read the statistics, but to hear it play out in personal stories reinforces the chilling reality of those numbers.
The true stories shared were raw and unfiltered, some making the audience want to laugh (which we did) and others, cry (which we also did). Every emotion was represented through these stories: sadness, happiness, joy, humor, fear, shame, anger, embarrassment, frustration, hope. But, no matter how unsettling or uplifting the stories may have been, that last emotion, hope, was the main takeaway for the night. Although many of the women who spoke are still figuring out how to deal with things from their pasts, the fact that they stood up in front of a group of people and could be so open demonstrates incredible personal resilience.
For more information on WWf(a)C visit their website at: http://www.womenwriting.org/. If you live in Cincinnati, I highly recommend taking one of their writing classes or attending the wide variety of events that they offer!
If you are interested in participating in future V-Day events, contact Laurie Lambert at WWf(a)C by calling (513) 272-1171.
Learn more about the One Billion Rising campaign to read about the work that they and their partners are doing to end violence against women.