‘One Billion Rising’ Up FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Artists Perform for Feminist Issuesby Noah Chen
Oprah’s speech at the January 7 Golden Globes signaled a cautious optimism for the future of women in Hollywood following the ousting of film producer Harvey Weinstein and the aftermath of many other instances in which women said men in power had abused them.
“Ladies, you have the bad guys scared,” said the comedian Dave Chappelle in his recent Netflix special, before cautioning that “fear does not make for lasting peace.”
What, then, might? The answer may lie beyond the inspiring Hollywood activism that so often dominates the news cycle. Campaigns such as the #MeToo movement rarely occur in a social vacuum; they are often the product of slow cultural change.
While celebrities make waves in the news, artists and grassroots organizations that have been active for years continue to spread positive messages of inclusion and human unity.
Lisa Parsons has been working with the Atlanta branch of one such group, One Billion Rising, for the last three years. One Billion Rising is a global entity that takes its name from a World Health Organization statistic: One in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Created in 2013 by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, One Billion Rising continues her work of using art and performance to create social change.
As a member of Ensler’s organization, Parsons has helped amplify the voices of many socially conscious artists taking a stand against the abuse of women.
“One Billion Rising’s premise is to end violence against women and girls, and that also interfaces with every other social justice issue that’s going on,” Parsons says. “That was the one area I saw where people on both sides of the party lines being in agreement.
“My role has been that when something in Atlanta is going on that affects the issues with women and girls,” Parsons continues, “I can amplify that by getting the One Billion Rising people behind that.”
This might entail spreading the word about relevant legislation being voted on, or supporting events thrown by organizations such as the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Much of One Billion Rising’s work focuses on hosting or supporting artistic shows and performances. Parsons views the arts as one way to empower women to speak their truth.
“One Billion Rising tries to look at things from the grassroots up, to let people who don’t have a say in things be encouraged to speak their experiences and do something about it,” says Parsons.
One such annual performance, which has made international news, is the flash mob: a planned dance that breaks out in a public place designed to amuse or inform bystanders.
Chris Wood, founder of the Atlanta work space and venue Elevator Factory, attended the flash mob last year at Ponce City Market.
“The nature of it, of course, is to try and get the element of surprise so people take notice,” Wood said. “Flash mob is one thing that gets a message to people out there who might say no” to an event dedicated to forwarding and protecting women’s rights.
Every chapter of One Billion Rising puts on its own flash mob on February 14, V-Day, or the date The Vagina Monologues debuted. At the first One Billion Rising flash mob, in 2013, “There were 7,000 people who came to Woodruff park” for the event, said Parsons.
Witnessing such a large turnout made Parsons proud, she said, and she stuck with the work.
Assisting with the flash mobs and frequently partnered with One Billion Rising is Hu-MAN Up, an organization seeking to change the culture of masculinity out of “The Man Box.” Adele Ulrich is co-director for Hu-MAN Up, and for her the reason behind abuse of women is clear cut, if not simple.
“I think we need to look at the way we’re raising boys,” said Ulrich. “A lot of what we’re at with this whole ‘Me Too’ thing, with male sexual entitlement, masculinity, with all these white male terrorists shootings,” she paused, “I think this is all tied back to how we are raising boys.”
Ulrich sees many boys as having “been taught to put on this armor, and to not be vulnerable, and taught to not express themselves.”
To counter this, Ulrich sees the arts as imperative to confronting one’s own emotions truthfully and healthily.
“We really do feel that art is the way” said Ulrich, referring to Hu-MAN Up’s philosophy. “You can get in a lot further with theater and movement and art.”
Hu-MAN Up works to empower men specifically to look into their feelings and be honest with their emotions. Ulrich recounts a show Hu-MAN Up put on last year in collaboration with One Billion Rising called, fittingly, Welcome to the Man Box. She described a moment in the show where three men read a spoken word, accompanied by a dancer. The speakers “made contact with each other, just kind of interconnected, while the dancer was dancing,” forming a type of living sculpture.
“It was incredible how many people came up to us sobbing after the show, saying it was life changing to see men touching each other like this,” said Ulrich. “It wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t slamming each other on the back with a bro hug, but actually being nurturing and tender with each other.”
Hu-MAN Up and One Billion Rising will present The MANologues, as well as the End Rape Culture Fashion Show, on February 10 and 11 at The Windmill Arts Center.
Atlanta’s flash mob will take place February 14, and though the exact time and place is not pre-announced, readers can sign up for it at OneBillionRisingAtlanta.net.