Three weeks ago, I had a freakish accident in the parking lot of my local Trader Joe’s. My shopping cart hit a pothole and overturned, and somehow the momentum took me with it, as my body catapulted over the cart and slammed into its metal bars. I wrote about the accident in a previous post, so I won’t rewind to describe details of my night in the emergency room and the generous people who helped me. But the post-accident experience was equally challenging, in part because of the physical pain, but also because of my mottled appearance. Right after the accident, my nose swelled to around three times its size, and by the next day, I also had two black eyes. Over the course of several weeks, the bruising migrated down my face until my entire face was covered in streaks of black and blue, and then green and brown and yellow. When I went to a plastic surgeon on the advice of my primary care doctor, to see if my nose was broken, he said I had experienced “major facial trauma”. 

For the first week, I was just absorbing the shock of the accident and didn’t leave my house very much. But as I re-entered public spaces, I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable. Okay, part of that is vanity, but the other part is social perception, or how others were seeing me. What does one think when looking at a woman with “facial trauma”? You got it. She must be abused. Every inch of the way, practitioners asked me if I felt “safe”, which was code for, “are you being abused?” I am glad that they asked, because for some women who looked like me, the answer is resoundingly, yes. But even though the source of my battered face was a weird accident, I believe I got some insight into how women who are physically abused are further isolated because of the stigma of being a victim, a woman not in control of her destiny. 

In the first few days after my accident, a couple of friends made so-called jokes about how they didn’t know my partner was abusive. It was supposed to be funny, because he is the polar opposite of aggressive. But it was not funny, and I made sure the jokes stopped. I thought about Nan Goldin’s 1984 self-portrait, called, “Nan, One Month after Being Battered”, in which she stares out at viewers with two swollen, blood-red eyes, surrounded by bruises, wearing bright red lipstick. It is shocking to see her honest portrayal, with her eyes providing a window into a relationship gone wrong. 

Once again, this issue is front and center in the public sphere, as the 1994 Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization. This bill is critical to fighting domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, because it funds shelters and legal support for victims of abuse, regardless of their sexual orientation or immigration status. After an initial version of the bill breezed through the Senate, it hit a wall with the House Republicans who want to limit the rights of undocumented immigrants. Now a new Senate bill has been introduced which limits the number of special visas, called “U-visas”, provided to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. House Republicans also want to block current U-visa holders from applying for permanent residency after three years, which is a critical provision that encourages women to contact law enforcement without fear of deportation. Check out this January 28th op-ed in the New York times: 

It’s time for this bill to pass. 

As this bill is up for a vote, we have an opportunity to bring attention to the issue of violence against women in a very public way, at the national and global level. Every year, on February 14th, Eve Ensler, the author of Vagina Monologues, urges women to call for an end to violence against women. This year, she has founded, “One Billion Rising”, a global movement of “women and those who love them to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to this violence”. All over the world, women will be gathering to dance a simple, but beautiful dance together, in public places, as a public statement to support the end of violence, and to express collective strength and solidarity across borders. In Massachusetts, youth groups, domestic violence programs, community centers, and more are banding together to dance in celebration of women, and to protest against a culture that condones rape and accepts violence against women and girls as a given. These gatherings will be multiplied all over the U.S. and throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. 

Ensler says, “One billion women dancing is a revolution!” It’s just one day, but it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of this still pervasive problem. If you’re interested in joining in, there are many events being planned on February 14th, as well as days before and after, to challenge violence against women:

Find a rising near you!

A global strike An invitation to dance 
A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends 
An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers 
A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given 
A new time and a new way of being