Samantha Emily Evans
On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2015, the Feminist Society of the University of St Andrews hosted One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising is a global movement founded by Eve Ensler – the playwright and activist known for her play The Vagina Monologues – to end rape and sexual violence against women. It started in 2012 as part of the V-Day movement. The ‘billion’ refers to the UN statistic that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime, or about one billion.
The One Billion Rising event in St Andrews was organized by Jo Boon, and it included a variety of different speakers, discussions, and events on topics about sexual harassment, loving, healthy relationships, eating disorders, sexual health, body positivity, and rape and abuse support. Jo Boon worked extremely hard to organize One Billion Rising at St Andrews because she believes that St Andrews needs to talk more about these issues. From surveys she distributed, she became aware that people are sexually harassed in St Andrews, and she wanted people of all genders to talk about these issues to create awareness and aim for prevention. The event was very effective in bringing up topics that are taboo in St Andrews, yet are crucial the safety of men and women alike.
The first event, the ‘Male Feminists Conversation’ focused on how to get more men involved and interested in feminism and to help them realize that feminism is relevant to men. We discussed how a lot of men say that they are feminists, but in action they are not. One man brought up how he needed to be told by another man that he was a feminist in order to accept and identify himself as such. It was a very informative conversation that brought to light the issues and gaps in the male contribution to feminism in St Andrews.
The second event, the Ann Summers talk, which you can listen to here, was led by Gemma, who talked about how her job empowered her and gave her independence. It also emphasized the importance of body positivity, being including, and sexual comfort and confidence – I found the talk inspiring.
The third event was a talk by Emily Grant, a fourth year IR student whose academic focus and interest is in the politics of the body. She discussed her work on eating disorders in the US military – specifically the disconnect between the ideas of eating disorders as a feminine issue and the military as a masculine institution – as she questioned the reasons for statistical evidence suggesting that eating disorders are significantly more common in the military than in the civilian population. One of the women who saw the talk said that it was Grant was her favourite speaker of the event. Her talk was engaging as well as logically organized into a strong argument that provided in-depth, critical analysis about eating disorders in the military from a gendered perspective.
The fourth event of the One Billion Rising event was a talk by Sheila Newcombe and Jasmine from Rape and Abuse Support (R.A.S) based in Aberdeen. R.A.S. is a female voluntary organization run by and for women that provides vital support and advocacy to female survivors of rape and sexual violence. They also challenge attitudes towards violence against women. The provided great sources and information to find out more: http://www.thisisnotaninvitationtorapeme.co.uk/ and http://www.whoareyou.co.nz/. ‘Who are you?’ is a film that shows the moments leading up to a rape, and it emphasizes the importance of bystander intervention – stepping in and helping a person who looks like they are in a risky situation. They believe that by spreading awareness and education we can prevent rape and sexual violence.
The fifth event was an LGBT+ led discussion about labels and healthy relationships. It was led by Kate Owen, Patch Reynolds, and Amy Seaman. Amy Seaman spoke at the lgbTed Talks about labels. She shared with us some of her research: that labels are very powerful and – while they do limit sexuality – they are also important in social validation. She then described the different sexual labels, as LGBT is no longer representative of all the different categories for sexuality. It really emphasized to me that there is more than just ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ as labels, and there is more than one way to love.
The last talk of the day was by the Women’s Officer for the National Union of Students (NUS). The speaker, Vonnie Sandlan, discussed the role of lad culture in student life, and how gender can shape your time at university and your safety. She said that her role as women’s officer was to work to make sure that every women could experience student life – and life in general – as a free and conscious human beings. Lad culture, which exists in St Andrews, destroys the recognition of women as free and conscious human beings, turning females to sexual objects. She was very supportive and reassured us that women are being represented in the academic system.
One Billion Rising event on Valentine’s Day was a very impactful. While Valentine’s Day has been commercialized into roses and chocolate, One Billion Rising created a perfect forum for exploring what Valentine’s Day is actually about, celebrating healthy, loving relationships, and for counterbalancing Fifty Shades of Grey – along with its hotly debated attitude towards sexual violence and rape – which was released that same day.
Samantha Emily Evans
Photo credit: Terry Lee