It created instant, internationally choreographed unity for thousands of people, a public outcry: ‘NO’ to the heartwrenching reality of abuse and violence perpetrated against women and girls. Millions of women are bonded through their mutual wounds and oppression. It could take decades to attend to the necessary collective healing and their subsequent transgenerational traumas. In unity there is strength.
‘Unity is power, without unity women cannot fight for their rights anywhere’ –Nawal El Sadaawi, 81 yr old Egyptian writer, doctor, human rights advocate, political activist, feminist.
I marched alongside 250,000 people in San Francisco protest against the first Gulf war. People from every walk of life, from grandmothers pushing babies in prams to Vietnam veterans in wheelchairs, from lollipop licking first graders to university academics, every size and style and shape of shoe marched in unison on that same bitumen street. The power of solidarity filled the narrow spaces between the protestors. I looked up and sensed the same solidarity amongst the thousands of armed riot police frozen like chess pawns atop the steel and glass office buildings. Comraderie. It seems people are more likely to unify against issues, rather than for values, causes or concrete propositions.
When I work with teenage girls I encourage them to find their authentic voices, to uncover their inner passions they may have been persuaded to edit or socialise away by well meaning conformists. We use dance, movement, deep breath, and shameless permission to explore our inner power and outer boundaries. We begin by activating the NO word, deconstructing the pleaser, the nice girl, putting HER momentarily aside to awaken the often unwelcomed female stance of resistance. Although we may perceive teenage girls to be expert at defiance the girls approach this exercise timidly, usually followed by laughter and cajoling to sedate the latent roar that rumbles in their bellies. Facilitators offer guidance, “Dig deep. Find that NO! Find that inner protectress who will battle with anyone who challenges her freedom!’
Now feet and hands take on a visibly more solid appearance, faces mature in an instant, the air becomes crisp.
‘Say NO to whatever may be unjust, socially repressive, oppressive, politically morally ethically WRONG, from in your belly, NO to killing our ancient forests, from the power of your female thighs, NO to harming of children, NO to anyone trying to harm our beloveds.’ With patience, persistence, and lots of primitive sounding examples, girls elicit primal grunts for soul survival, collectively they birth and witness the growling, frothing, undeniable protective nature that lives in all women. Some use a meekness shield to cover their fear of HER. But they are entranced. NO is loud and clear. They do not take their eyes off HER. SHE who will not be tamed. Others taste HER and literally grow before my eyes. A remembering flickers across their faces, the sleeping tiger is not bravado, SHE a humbling force to carry.
After we have echoed across the valleys and stretched the parameters of acceptable comfort, burned through antiquated social fences that make girls fear their peers and their own power, we move the theme slightly to the left of centre. We change the trajectory of this energy and direct it towards a more slippery word, YES.
The inspirational power of YES: to unwaveringly hold a vision, an enduring dream, the determination and ceaseless charge of a lioness once she has emerged from the scrub toward the herd of gazelles. A YES that’s unstoppable.
But just when I thought we could harness and wield this resistant NO and transform her towards a positive force, something unexpected happens. The fire dies down. The wind of excitement leaves the sails hanging in the lethargic doldrums. Somehow culturally YES is not as enticing as NO. Not as urgent in a culture of prosperity. Not as unifying. YES requires the open arms of faith. YES is what women in labour are encouraged to shout to ease the baby’s crowning, NO is what women often scream in transition. NO is a common stage in any labour, but YES will birth the baby.
Each time we raise the dynamic heat of NO in these girls and begin to redirect it towards YES, something fizzles, the expanded balloon becomes limp and faded, like a distant memory of the colourful primal carnival that NO once was. I wonder at this collective uncertainty. I ask the girls to reflect: if we are unified AGAINST what we fear, what is it we are fighting FOR? Where is the ferocious fire in our bellies that says YES to our lives? We are against war, but what does peace look like: in your household? Or in your heart? Or in your wildest dreams?
What are we modelling for our young people, what do we stand FOR not just AGAINST? Is it impossible for us to imagine? Perhaps we have no reference point after centuries of battles for dominion.
YES is a calling in, a welcoming, a faithful surrender to the next moment as yet undefined. YES trusts destiny in a choreography defined by our internal compass.
I can say YES to dignity, to love, to life itself, to death when it is time, to laughter and tears. YES is what we say during orgasm, not NO. YES to a world where women are free to make their own choices about their bodies and their destinies. YES to health and education for every child. YES to humanity actively caring for Mother Earth and eachother.
Today I want to say YES to the raw and powerful language of Rosa Parkes, Arundhati Roy, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Nawal El Saadawi, Vendana Shiva, Germaine Greer, the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, Starhawk, Wangari Maathai, Getrude Matshe , Maya Angelou, and my mother, just to name a few of my Sheros. YES to the barren and stark tundra of my womb who needs her hot voice heard. Amidst gravel and dusty winds I dance for the rush and embrace of YES.
“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”