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August 2, 2014

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Activists’ performance aims to combat sexist imagery

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Brian Nordli

A group of women dance during a performance art piece in downtown Las Vegas on Feb. 14, 2013. The event was held to bring attention to the objectification of women.

The performance started on Fremont Street outside Neonopolis just after 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Seven women with painted masks over their eyes began thrusting and gyrating behind the backdrop of signs that read “No outfit is not an invitation to rape.”

The routine started out sexual. The women wore snow-white fishnets, skirts, tied T-shirts to show their bellies and shorts. They danced nonstop with choreographed moves nicknamed "pump it," "suck it" and "birth." They lay on their backs and thrust, and went onto their stomachs to do the same.

“Hump ladies, hump,” dance leader Olivia Jane ordered.

A group of men showing their support in white skirts over their jeans provided the beat; clapping to a four-count rhythm after the speaker, which played Gwen Stefani’s overtly sexual song “Crash,” broke. Some people stopped and stared, others walked past with a discrete glance and grin.

As time passed, however, the dancers’ clothing became smudged with the filth on the ground. The women gasped for air, and their paint masks began to run. What started out as sexual became oppressive and desperate.

It turned into a message.

The performance art piece, which was organized by Yasmina Chavez and Jane, was held on Valentine’s Day as part of the One Billion Rising Movement to prevent violence against women. The dance was designed to convey the toll society’s pressure on women to be sexy takes on them, and the sexual violence it causes.

“It has a little shock factor, but we want to raise awareness in our community,” said Chavez, who also works at the Las Vegas Sun. “We don’t know what the end result we want is, but we know what is out there is not good enough.”

Jane, who is an undergraduate student at UNLV, came up with the idea to hold the demonstration about six months ago. She was listening to Stefani’s song “Crash” and realized it was about how oversexualized women were. The message clicked with her.

“I’ve been harassed since the age of 12 just because I have a naturally curvy body,” Jane said.

Chavez and Jane had started a women’s awareness campaign called #NOTJUSTABEAVER to highlight the fact that women are more than just objects of sexuality, and decided the performance dance would be perfect for their first event.

Initially it was to be just her and Chavez performing alone, but then they discovered One Billion Rising. They posted their event on the website, and others joined in. Nonprofit group Clitoraid, which helps women who were forced to endure female genital mutilation, and GoTopless, both took an interest in the event.

“I was very surprised and really happy (they joined),” Jane said. “I’ve been searching for organizations and found other women who support causes I support.”

Erin Cullinane said she joined after she read about the dance on the website.

“Violence against women is an epidemic that goes unnoticed,” Cullinane said. “It’s an issue we need to bring attention to.”

The women initially planned to dance outside the D casino, but were moved because it was private property. Still, they grabbed the attention of plenty of eyes outside Neonopolis.

Few dancers lasted more than an hour before they became too exhausted from the sexual moves.

It wasn’t pretty, but that was the point.

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  1. "I've been harassed since the age of 12 just because I have a naturally curvy body," Jane said. . . . ."Violence against women is an epidemic that goes unnoticed," Cullinane said. "It's an issue we need to bring attention to."

    First off, good for these ladies. Takes huevos to do this kind of thing!

    About Jane, it's the way nature wired all of us. I have to wonder about the flip side -- how many times in her life has she taken advantage of it to get what she wants?

    And about the "violence against women" thing, few are aware what a loaded term that really is. The functional meaning has all too often become a handy club against men whose only real offense was to be there when a woman needed someone to blame.

    My daughter once worked in New Orleans French Quarter. It was in the wee hours of Mardi Gras' last night. As she was leaving work she was shouting at the leftover drunks on the street to go home. A topless young woman approached her shouting back at her. She held a big felt-tip market and others had been writing on her torso. My daughter snatched the marker out of her hand, wrote "VICTIM!" across her breasts then left.

    She made her daddy proud!

    "...there are three things men can do with women: love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature. I've had my share of success and failure at all three." -- Stephen Stills in a 1971 interview in Rolling Stone Magazine

  2. "KiilerB" - The topless woman in New Orleans was not a "victim" as she chose her participation. On the other hand, what your daughter did was, by the books, chargeable assault.

  3. "The topless woman in New Orleans was not a "victim". . ."

    James_P -- opinions vary. Of course I'm not all objective when it comes to my kids.

    "You don't know anything about a woman until you meet her in court." -- Norman Mailer

  4. "Using the phrase "not just a beaver" furthers sexist stereotypes."

    missd -- no it doesn't. It's a brave example of in-your-face free speech! Get real!

    Q: "What is the burning question on the mind of every dyslexic existentialist?"

    A: "Is there a dog?"

  5. Jane -- not sure why you directed your post at me, but it was a good one. My daughter being the fierce female she is has taught me a lot about some of what you wrote. Though I don't agree with you on everything, we need opposing views here.

    About the indecency thing, Freud had some enlightening ideas. That's the seed of a very good Discussion somewhere, sometime.

    "She had given herself completely to the hitchhike because heretofore she had nothing else nor any hope of else. Ah cha cha, but now there was a choice. Or the possibility of a choice. She was pretty. And a pretty girl can always make her way in a civilized society." -- from "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues"

  6. It was about a bunch of silly hipsters (who fancy themselves as artists and intellectuals) wanting attention.