Feminism’s Rituals

We have to plant the seeds or tomorrow’s harvest will never come.

 

By Amy Gray

History is crowded with forgotten rituals. When times were unpredictable, communities would conduct elaborate affairs to bring a good harvest. These were big events and everyone would turn up, knowing they would all benefit.

On the surface, we don’t have a place for many rituals today. Crops are engineered to never fail, and science continues to cast light on the shadows but the need for rituals remain.

The recent “Reclaim the Park” in honour of Eurydice Dixon and 29 other women killed this year was an example of a purification ritual. People came to a place tarnished by a horrific crime and paid their respects, feeling warmth and community among strangers. It’s an important ritual that transforms a site that has shocked the community, reminding it of our vulnerability, to one of strength and positivity.

But, as Jenna Price asked in a recent editorial for the Age, these are rituals for the statistical anomalies – fatal violence against women is rarely from strangers on isolated streets but by people they know in isolated homes. Those women get no vigils, there is no congregation to light candles for them.

Even then, what comes after the ritual? Today’s white feminist practice can often place huge importance and social worth on a personal performance rather than a community one – a case of “I went to the vigil” instead that it happened – a one way broadcast simulcast across social media rather than a collaboration.

It’s a collaboration that is needed as both Ruby Hamad and Nayuka Gorrie have noted that these flashpoints are often racially biased towards white women, while women victims of colour are ignored by the commentariat.

As Hamad also said on Twitter, those same commentators may unwittingly seek to leverage these tragedies and focus for professional and political gain, no matter what side of the political spectrum they may lie. It takes on a literal turn when you see Turnbull and Shorten lit by the vigil’s candlelight; able to say they were there but unable to show what they do to protect women.

These rituals are impressive but they don’t cover the many women continually killed by men, men who are often protected by political inaction, or the garbled use of funds that will bankroll a new domestic violence initiative but not welfare or safe housing. It’s a moving vigil but about as politically potent as a depressed woman hanging up a “Good Vibes Only” poster.

Here’s the thing about those old rituals: the farmers may have prayed for good harvests but they still planted the fields. Not only that, they focused on the entire crop, rather than one rare plant. They still did the work of tending grounds and using the knowledge they had because they knew the ritual was only one part of a long process.

This does not mean women should be saddled with more unpaid labour to prove some measure – men are more obligated to challenge the systems and abusers who surround them, some of whom also attended vigils. But it does mean making gender equality a measurable path that spans more than news cycles and social media trends.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied often finds a way to balance visibility and action, marshalling action and momentum via social media. When the long campaign to repeal Noura Hussein’s death sentence was successful, Yassmin noted “Never let anyone tell you that an action is too small and that it won’t make a difference”. Even still, she took the time to ask others to support SEEMA Centre which worked on the ground to support Hussein. There’s a ritual, but it is backed with meaningful work and support.

This is the early morning hard graft, of making women’s safety a political priority, one that has agency and freedom at its core. Far too often our knee jerk response to protecting women is to restricting rights rather than expanding space and liberty. If one tragic park can fill with 10,000 people, imagine if that turned into sustained political campaigning? What if 10,000 people demanded increased funding for actual services to protect women? Like the farmers, putting in a season or two of sustained work, imagine what we could grow.

There are many doing the hard work of planting crops for tomorrow’s women. But we can’t let them labour alone. It’s time to do more than appear

We have to plant the seeds or tomorrow’s harvest will never come.

 

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Amy Gray is a Melbourne writer whose work focuses on feminism, culture and parenting. She tweets via @_amygray_

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