Walk into any grocery store, pharmacy, or Target superstore, and you are inundated with red plush hearts, boxes of chocolate, teddy bears, balloons, and dozens of products molded, rolled, or somehow forced into the shape of a heart. Even Spongebob and Batman have been indoctrinated, each wearing cupid wings or flanked by phrases like "Be Mine," "Kiss Kiss" and "Forever." Valentine's Day has long been associated with romantic love. It has provided an opportunity to be someone's secret Valentine, to gush, to share your love. It symbolizes sweetness, love, innocence and promise. We have all participated in this exchange, whether going out for the midnight run to pick up a box of Valentine cards for our children or cutting out and handwriting well wishes in grade school.
So, why does this anticipation and excitement about love at times get so twisted and perverse?
We are two weeks out from Valentine's Day, which is also the 15th anniversary of V-Day. V-Day, founded by Eve Ensler, is a global day of recognition and protest, as millions demand a stop to violence against women and girls. Eve Ensler is also the force behind the One Billion Rising campaign, which will include participants across 187 countries this February 14, 2013. A global revolution will take place on this day. Women, men and children will be taking to the streets of Santa Monica, the alleys of Chicago, the dirt roads of Nepal, the trails of Patagonia, and the mountains of Switzerland, dancing, marching, and singing in protest.
Having suffered violence as a child and young adult, I will join my sisters and brothers in this declarative act.
Before I ever received my first Valentine's card, in first grade, my innocence had already been shattered. My brother told me he was going to teach me "what girls need to know," as he raped me. He called it love. I felt betrayal. Shock and burning surged through my body. The knot in my throat stole my voice, and bile in my stomach rendered me paralyzed. His sweet lure of "I will be your loving big brother" quickly turned. He pinned me down and suffocated me as he tore through my innocent body. I was five.
I spent my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood struggling with the question "What is love?" and "What do I call what is happening to me?" I longed for the sweetness and safety behind the promise of American Greetings and Hallmark. I wanted to be the recipient of Charlie Brown's affection. I wanted to be someone's Valentine. Instead, I was a secret of someone's violence. The illusion never left me; I held both the longing for love and the poison of the secret. The hope did not extinguish the pain from years of continued sexual trauma, but relief arrived when at last I broke my silence, at age 13.
One Billion Rising is the amplification of all those crying out against the ritualized abuse of women in the name of religion, culture, and a perverse sense of power. It has been only a few weeks since the brutal gang rape and eventual death of a young woman in India. We watched as women, men and children stormed the streets in protest. The beat of this movement, the pounding of the pavement, the vibration of the unified voices will make the earth tremble. (And make people tremble with awareness.) This day will bring hope to the hopeless and solace to the inconsolable by together asserting "NO MORE." On this day, I will hold the collective power of these men and women who rise up for me and all the others like me in the world. I am one story out of one billion.
My work started at age 13, when I uttered the words "incest" and "rape." February 14, 2013 is a call for all of us to rise up to love and reject the "boys will be boys" attitude. It is a pledge to refuse to participate and condone violence against women. Love and violence are not synonymous; they are not opposite each other. Love is about safety, trust, and freedom. Violence is the result of cowardice, insecurity and fear. Rise up.