"At a very young age, the trainers capture young elephants in the wild and bring them to a forest camp. One of their feet is bound with a chain so large that there is no possibility of escape. For a while, the young animals struggle to free themselves, but very quickly learn that it is futile and stop trying. They eventually grow accustomed to being bound and to the presence of the trainer.
As the elephant grows, the trainers exchange the large chains for small ropes. Although they are now held only by a small strand that could easily be broken, the elephants never try to escape. Why? They believe that they can’t. In their mind, they believe they are still bound by unbreakable bonds and that struggling is useless. Although the real barrier has been taken away, it is as real as if it were still in place. For the elephants, freedom is literally a gentle tug away, but it might as well be on the other side of the universe." - from a recent email, no author given
For many, February has become a month synonymous with love and all things cupid. It's a time when Hallmark and every flower and candy shop tell us that true love is celebrated with cards, roses, and chocolate. When I was in college, February 14 came to represent something very different for me. I was a part of a group called the Carolina V-Day Initiative. The goal of this group was to support community organizations that focused on ending violence towards women. So why Valentine's Day? And what on earth could this have to do with elephants? I'm getting there . . .really.
Bur first, a little history. There are many legends surrounding the date and name for Valentine's Day. Most concur that the name was chosen to commemorate a priest who performed secret marriages when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men in the third century. So that's why this is a celebration of love. But what about the date? Most scholars believe that the date was chosen by Catholic priests to align with a pre-Christian Roman celebration of fertility. This celebration was held on the Ides of February or February 15. So there you have it, a holiday about love and lust celebrated in February, and it's made Hallmark billions.
So why the scorn in my tone? Isn't celebrating love a good thing? I would say, absolutely! As long as we're celebrating real, healthy love. The unfortunate truth is that 1 of every 3 women in the world will be the victim of violence, both physical and sexual. Statistics also show that 3 in 4 of these women are victimized by people they know and often love. So what kind of love are we celebrating? Until 1975, all 50 states in the US had a spousal exemption in their rape laws, meaning it was legally impossible for rape to occur in marriage. It took 20 years for all 50 states to remove this exception, and even now most states charge the offending spouse with a charge less than rape. Is that what love is? Just a few weeks ago, Congressman Chris Smith introduced a bill to change the definition of rape in abortion laws to "forcible rape." This definition would not include rape in which drugs or fear were used as coercion and an already difficult topic would become impossible. Whether you support a woman's right to chose or not, this redefining of rape is frightening.
In college, I was horrified when I learned these statistics, which led to my involvement in V-Day. This group empowered women around the world to say enough is enough, it's time for the violence to stop. As part of this organization, we staged two performances of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. I remember being awed by the response. People lined up starting at noon the day of the show to get tickets for a 7 o'clock performance - on Valentine's Day! Seven college age women came together and made a difference in our community. It was amazing! And filled me with such hope. I began to feel that people really did care about these issues.
That was almost 10 years ago now. I've been "back in the real world" long enough to realize that activism on college campuses is much different than activism in the rest of the world. I've heard so many times in response to stories about abused women who are killed by their partners or who kill their partners, "Why didn't she just leave? If my husband ever touched me like that I would leave." And you know, most people in these circumstances would leave. But for some women the idea of leaving wouldn't even come to them. They are like the elephants in the email I received. They have been bound with the unbreakable bonds of fear for so long, they don't even know what options they have. Abuse doesn't start out like an explosion. It's more like a slow leak, where the air is slowly released until you realize your tire is flat and you don't have a spare. You're trapped. Men who abuse don't start out beating their wives - no one would stick around for that. Men who abuse start small, isolating women from their friends with their jealousy, slowly taking over the finances of the family, convincing the woman that her place is at home.
Some of these things start off as "cute." Women often see jealousy as a sign of how much their partner loves them. Many women were raised in a family where the male dealt with the finances. These things can seem normal, until they're not, and the woman finds that she has lost all of her support, both emotionally and financially, and doesn't even have an excuse to leave the house anymore. Freedom might as well be on the other side of the universe. That's why for me, Valentine's Day may be a day to celebrate love, but it is also a day to remember that we have a long way to go in making sure every woman and girl experiences true love.
V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women.
V-Day is a vision: We see a world where women live safely and freely.
V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery must end now.
V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.
V-Day is a catalyst: By raising money and consciousness, it will unify and strengthen existing anti-violence efforts. Triggering far-reaching awareness, it will lay the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.
V-Day is a process: We will work as long as it takes. We will not stop until the violence stops.
V-Day is a day. We proclaim Valentine's Day as V-Day, to celebrate women and end the violence.
V-Day is a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community. Join us!