“Oh. Wow.” Long pause. “Oh. Wow.” Another. This went on for another few minutes. Me “Oh, wow-ing.” Silence on the other end of the line. She told me I didn’t have to give them an answer yet. I could think about it. I didn’t have to. The answer was yes. With a stipulation, of course. “As long as we’re all clear that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”
She told me I would be fine. I feel like I’ve heard that a lot, that I’ve said that to a lot of women and men over the last decade or so. It’s always a leap of faith. It’s always true.
About a decade ago, I walked with a woman into the bathroom at UCSD during a rehearsal break from The Vagina Monologues. She seemed distraught. Upset. As she stood at the sink washing her hands, I recognized something. She avoided her own eyes in the mirror. Her own reflection. The woman looking back at her. I knew how that felt and what it meant. I put my arms around her. We stood there for a good 15 minutes. I spoke to her softly. I told her she would be fine. I kept telling her until she could look into her own eyes. Really look at the beautiful woman in the mirror looking back at her. Then, I held her while she cried. It is a heartbreakingly lonely moment to be unable to meet your own eyes in a mirror because of the shame you feel that should belong to someone else. There is a feeling that exists that is beyond being alone.
A year or so before that, I attended a production of The Vagina Monologuesfor the first time. I did not stand at the end when they asked survivors to stand. I wasn’t ready. But for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel ashamed. There were stories like mine. There were women willing to tell them. Sometimes you have to let someone else tell your story before you can tell it yourself. Sometimes you have to tell someone else’s story before you’re strong enough to tell your own.
I believe in the power of our stories. I believe in the power we have to see each other through our toughest moments. To be each other’s strength in moments of despair. I believe in the power of art and theatre as a social movement and tool for advocacy.
I believe in the power and necessity of a safe space.
Over the last decade, I have seen women’s lives saved. Watched women without voices learn to speak their truth. Seen husbands stand with their wives for the first time. Cried as women told their stories for the first time. Held broken women as they made themselves whole.
I have seen the looks on women’s faces the first time they stand in the audience after a show for the first time. I have watched the startled realization on the faces of their loved ones. I know those looks so well. Too many of my friends have survived violence or sexual assault.
One. In. Three. Women.
The fact of the matter is that you know someone who has been raped or abused. You love someone who has been raped or abused. Now you know one more.
My name is Rhiannon. I am 35 years old. I am a woman. I am a survivor. I am a mother trying to raise a boy to be a good man. I don’t have a clue what I am doing. I do it anyway.
This year is V-Day’s 15th anniversary. I am honored to be entrusted with the souls of the amazing women in my cast on such a memorable year. To be given the chance to create a safe space for them that did not exist before. It is humbling. It is hard. It is worth it.
I have been involved as an organizer and/or castmember of V-Day for over a decade. I cannot stop. The woman looking back at me in the mirror in the morning would never let me. This movement saved my life. And my soul. It gave me back all my safe spaces and taught me how to create them for others. It has done that, in different ways, for hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world.
I will never stop until we live in a world in which there is no need for the term safe space because there are no unsafe spaces. I ask you to join us. To stand with us. To dance with us.
Look around. You know us. You love us. Listen. Speak. Become part of our stories. Help us write new ones.
February 14th, 2013.
Rhiannon Jones will be directing InnerMission‘s production of The Vagina Monologues next year in San Diego and will be dancing on February 14, 2013.