After reading and writing about sexual violence in Berlin and Rwanda (see previous two posts), it’s easy to come to think as the whole human race as hateful and ravenous. However, I have been reading other stories that thankfully assure me that this is not the case. There are, in fact, recognizable glimmers of hope all around us, and this hope demands us to take leadership so we can create change in our communities.
First, let’t talk pink. In Hindi, pink is ‘gulabi,’ a word made famous by the fierce Gulabi Gang in Uttar Pradesh, India who fight for social justice while wearing bright pink saris. The Gang, led by Sampat Pal Devi, is a women’s and civilian vigilante organization that fights, among other things, against the oppression of lower castes by upper castes, of women by their rapists, against the would-be husbands of child brides and against corrupted officials and police. Since its official creation in 2006, the Gulabi Gang has trained women and men alike to fight out against their oppressors using ‘lathis,’ long bamboo sticks, which are traditional weapons in India. It has been so successful in promoting change that it has recently grown to four hundred thousand members, including both men and women. Interestingly, they rarely resort to using their lathis to solve problems. Instead, social pressure and dialogue are the primary tactics (though I’m sure the prospect of being beaten with a long, bamboo stick helps).
(More information here: http://www.gulabigang.in/)
Now, let’s talk monkey business. Bonobos are known by many as the ‘make love, not war’ great apes, famous for their frequently frisky sexual tendencies. However, bonobos aren’t just about having fun. They’re one of the best known examples of female-coalitions amongst primates; the solidarity between their female members is said to have “forced males of the species to become more sedentary, helping to prioritize long-term female interest in raising offspring over male’s short-term sexual interests” (Béchard, 42). Bonobos are the only great ape species never to have been witnessed killing another of their kind, and researchers believe this has to do with the strong bonds forged between the female members who gang up on aggressive male members, slowly removing violent tendencies from the bonobo gene pool. Now, isn’t that something?
(Learn more about Bonobo here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/125-bonobos/quammen-text)
So what do we do with this information? How do we take what we’ve learned from the wars in Berlin and Rwanda, about the Gulabi Gang in India and our empowered Bonobo relatives, and translate it into something productive and individually propelled? Perhaps we can’t go full throttle and prevent wars from happening (though don’t let me stop you) but perhaps we can pick some smaller, more accessible battles. Jackson Katz, an expert on violence, media and masculinities, makes some interesting points about the way we use language. He says:
“There’s some confusion about the term gender. And let me illustrate that confusion by way of analogy. So let’s talk for a moment about race. In the US when we hear the word race, a lot of people think that that means African-American, Latino, Asian-American …A lot of people when they hear the word sexual orientation think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual. And a lot of people when they hear the word gender think it means women. In each case the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to. Right? As if white people don’t have some sort of racial identity or belong to some racial category or construct? As if hetero-sexual people don’t have a sexual orientation, as if men don’t have a gender. This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves. Which is to say that the dominant group isn’t challenged to think about their dominance because that is one of the key characteristics of power and privilege—the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about the issues that are primarily about us.”
(More here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTvSfeCRxe8)
I have never been forced to examine my race, sexual orientation and gender this directly, or had my privilege smack me in the face this hard. Katz goes on to say that individual leadership from these dominant groups is a step in the direction of deflating these battles that often grow to unmanageable sizes (note: the aforementioned mass sexual violence in Berlin and Rwanda). We can personally step up to these deep rooted problems by breaking through silence – when faced with words or actions that perpetuate such thinking or actions, we don’t have to stay silent, since our silence is a way to condone and encourage this cycle of violence. We can speak out. I think Martin Luther King captured it best when he said,
“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Béchard, Deni Y. “Sticks and Stones.” Maisonneuve 2013: 36-43. Print.