I have been thinking for days about a response to the editorial cartoon featured in the March 5-11 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet about the Skirt Rally that took place on UC Berkeley’s campus.
One can get lost in the speedy momentum of life, and I eventually did. Because of my jobs as a student and an intern, I kept pushing the idea of responding to the side, making it more of an idea rather than an act.
But I finally realized that this response is necessary.
It is necessary because the content of that cartoon needs to be addressed. It is necessary because the discussion on sex and violence needs to continue. It is necessary for this article to serve as a reminder to everyone that mentalities and actions need to change.
In the cartoon image, womyn are wearing skirts and holding protest signs; among them is a man, but he does not exist in the image in a display of solidarity. His hand looks as if it is ready to lift up the skirt of the womyn he is next to. A thought bubble exposing his thoughts hovers above his head: “They call this a protest?!”
So, to answer the character and the artist’s question: YES, it was a protest. In fact, the protest continues.
Once again, our “behavior” for wearing those skirts was not an invitation or an opportunity. It is everyone’s right to wear whatever she or he wants, whether going to class during the day or coming home from a social event at night. Period. Womyn’s skirt-wearing should not gain any attention at all. It is the act of violence associated with these skirts that deserves to be scrutinized and discussed. Even if every single womyn at Berkeley and elsewhere were to stop wearing skirts (good luck getting me to stop!), sexual violence would still occur. It is obvious that wearing pants is not the best solution, or even a solution at all.
The skirt rally was not only a protest, but a conversation starter as well. It is not until we acknowledge violence that we can even begin to address the problem and call ourselves to action. So I demand that we all start talking about the real issue—sexual violence—and not what people are wearing.
One event on UC Berkeley’s campus that helps to continue the conversation is its annual “Take Back the Night” event, which will take place on April 16, 2009. It exists as a reminder to end the silence as well as acknowledge how sexual violence has impacted us as individuals as well as within our community. A portion of the event is open-mic when people are encouraged to share their stories during the candlelight/flower vigil. This helps to put names and faces to those in our lives who have experienced something that unfortunately is extremely pervasive.
No community is immune to this type of violence.
Sexual violence does not happen only at frat parties on a Saturday night or walking home from them. It happens at co-ops, in the workplace and inside our homes from people we know. According to the National Violence Against Women Survey in 2000, about 25 percent of women said they were raped or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, a cohabiting partner or a date in their lifetimes.
That is why I had decided to turn this “idea of responding” into an actual response. Hopefully more responses will occur, appropriate action will be taken and the way we look at sexual violence will be transformed: from a focus on the victim or survivor to the real issue of sexual violence itself.
Betty Green is a senior in Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley, and SHAPE Finance Coordinator, Advocate & Peer Educator, Gender EquityResource Center.