Updated: Jan 10
Anne van der Linden is a postgraduate student at Leiden University, studying Asian Studies with a minor in Gender Studies. She is also working on the Orange the World campaign, a global project to bring awareness to violence against women and girls. During this campaign, buildings in Leiden are lit up in orange lights in support. We sat down with Anne to discuss her involvement in the campaign and what this means.
Manon: Could you tell us what Orange the World is?
Orange the World is a worldwide campaign that raises awareness for the problem of violence against women and little girls. So it mostly deals with gender related violence. Each and everyone can contribute to the campaign in any way they want. However, in Leiden there is a small group of women who are very involved in the cultural agenda of Leiden, and they have been doing this for a couple years trying to find people who would like to join and do something for the campaign. So the last couple of years the campaign has involved the Academy Building turning the lights orange, and they got some other buildings on board as well. But they are trying to make it bigger, to get other people to help with this problem of violence against women and little girls.
Manon: How did you get involved?
The women who’ve been doing this longer got to my part-time job, which is for the platform ‘Things that Talk’. It’s a platform that allows students to write stories about objects through the lens of the humanities. We believe that the material world can tell us a lot of stories that haven’t been told enough, and we mostly focus on certain objects or even public spaces. I work as an editor for this platform and my boss thought ‘you do gender studies, you think this is interesting, you identify as an intersectional feminist, would you like to pick this up?’ and like, of course I would! So this was a way to contribute to the already existing campaign.
Manon: What will you be doing?
I thought, how can I contribute? I was really interested in the material world and myself as a woman have always thought about ‘how can I protect myself?’. I’m not the tallest person, and obviously not the strongest person either, so I kind of think on my feet, what can I use to protect myself? My keys, or if I have deodorant in my bag. Or if I would avoid certain places like train stations or being by myself in the dark. And even though violence against women is not always perpetrated by strangers - it’s mostly people you know - it’s still this feeling, this dread you have. Most women will know what I’m talking about. You still sort of shape your life around this feeling of ‘maybe I shouldn’t do this’, or ‘I should keep this with me’.
I asked a bunch of students through my own little network if they had stories like this. I collected these stories, about the train station, a park bench. I wrote some stories on keys and deodorant spray, but there’s also stories about taking a walk in the park or women-only gyms. These stories will be put on ‘Things That Talk’ sometime next week. We thought, how are we gonna get this into the larger public? How can we encourage people to think about this?
Manon: Why is talking about these experiences so important?
For instance, my boss, who is a forty-year-old man, said, ‘wow I’ve never looked at it this way’, and he was shocked. He’s never looked at keys that way, for example. And then I thought, this is what we need. So we are doing a Human Library, which means that we will fill a space at the library in the Nieuwstraat, BplusC, with tables, each with a person sitting there. This will be on December 9th, between 11:00 and 15:00. They will be the ‘book’ that you are going to read. They will tell their stories. It’s very personal, so I’m not forcing anyone to do it, but some of the authors will come. The library will also contribute by actually adding books in the Human Library so you can find literature as well.
Manon: The Orange the World campaign runs from the 25th of November to the 10th of December. So what is exactly happening within those dates and why is it this date exactly?
The first day specifically raises awareness for violence against women, and then the campaign ends on the 10th of December because that’s the International Day for Human Rights. It’s every year. There’s a lot of contributors in Leiden, but it’s a worldwide thing as well, so there are going to be events in Amsterdam but also across the globe.
Marco: The whole campaign bring awareness to this issue, and I’m wondering if you have thought about what, in your mind, is the leading cause or one of the leading causes, of violence against women? At least in the Netherlands?
Yeah, there’s so much to say about it! Well, I just sort of always think about what happens when you try to discuss subjects like this. Because, a lot of people and especially a lot of men will feel like you are blaming them personally and say, ‘well, not all men’. The interesting thing is that most of the violence against women but also against men, is perpetrated by men. I personally think it is something in the way we are raised. I highly believe in the nurture part of it and not as much in the nature part of it because I think that’s ridiculous. I mean, a baby is not born trying to sexually harass someone. So, I do think that in recent years, the discussion of consent has become a more normal topic, but it is not enough. I always think about romance movies from the 2000s, where it’s very normal for men to be quite pushy, and then it's supposed to be romantic as the girl starts to think ‘oh I’ll just give in, it's the love of my life!’ When you see that as a girl, you learn to do that.
But I see a small shift happening. It’s very slow. Especially because we are not talking about it enough. Which is why these campaigns are so important. So, in a small way, I’d say it’s how we are raised, our education, how society is still functioning right now, the way we look at the gender norms we still have in the binary system of what we see as a ‘man’ and as a ‘woman’.
Manon: It is a systemic issue. And like you were saying before as well, about how, as women, we look at things like keys as a possible defense too, it’s sort of like the responsibility of protecting yourself is pushed onto the woman. And the theme for this year's Orange the World campaign is Prevention, right? So, would you say that prevention is viewed as a woman’s duty and pushed onto women, and how does the campaign counter that?
I certainly think it’s pushed onto women, but I don’t think it should be our responsibility because we are not the ones committing the violence. And in this campaign, the Prevention part - the reason I started to think about the material world and looking at how women do try to prevent this kind of violence, is to show how futile this is, because we can’t really do anything about it.
There are so many ways we are trying to avoid possible danger, but it still happens and there’s a lot of victim blaming going on. I hope in this way it shows that prevention can come from several directions and not just from women. By asking people who do not identify as women, ‘Have you thought about it? Have you thought about the fact that if you walk behind a woman in a dark street close to her, in the same direction, that she will start to feel anxious, that you can cross the street or maybe take a slower pace or pass her, show in some way that you are not going to do something’. Small things like that could help women feel like it's less their responsibility to feel safe, and that we can all contribute to this.
One of my favorite institutions is ‘Emancipator’.It's a group of men who are trying to involve other men in gender issues like this, trying to show them how they can contribute. The stories that students and I have written can also show men, like, you will never have to think about this but maybe now you can.
Manon: The pandemic has also sociologically affected women a lot. Domestic abuse has skyrocketed.
It’s even more important now than it was before to talk about things like this. Especially during the COVID pandemic there was so much focus on other stuff and we are finally getting the space again for this topic.
Marco: Now you are participating in this campaign this year. Where do you see the future of Orange the World going? And the conversations about this going?
It’s a worldwide campaign, it’s quite large. But I see it less in the Netherlands. I also think in the Netherlands there is not a lot of space to talk about stuff like this, because when people do and the topic of gender comes along, there’s this polarizing effect, where either you are really on board or you distance yourself from the politics saying ‘there are no problems here’. I do see it more in the Netherlands where people easily say there are no problems, not for the LGBTQIA community, not for women. ‘We are progressive since we were the first ones to legalize gay marriage, so there are no issues here’.
We are ignoring the statistics that are already available, in that way, putting the responsibility on women to solve the situation. So I hope to see the conversation going towards where we can start to believe what we already ‘see’, because it’s already there, just some people choose to look the other way. I hope Orange the World, and other campaigns too, can eventually grow the conversation. I feel like it’s always small groups of feminists or some men adding to it, but those are the men who are already feminists themselves or they have people in their environment that are really involved in feminism, so I hope we can involve a larger public.
Marco: You've talked about the difficulty of approaching and talking about this problem in the first place, as the conversation often isn't happening. I'm wondering if you have an experience yourself of one time when you did broach the topic with someone who was either doubtful or against some form of change, and actually managed to convince them or had a positive experience?
I have conversations about stuff like this pretty much each and every week. In my environment, I'm the raging feminist. [Laughter] I carry that proudly: my mom calls me a Dolle Mina, who were very important radical feminists in Dutch history during the 1970s. Some people use it as a derogatory term, but she uses it as a compliment, like: "She's my personal Dolle Mina and she's doing the good fight!"
I do come from a more conservative home, which is sort of ironic. I have these conversations with my parents and brother all the time. Sometimes it is a struggle to try and convince them of issues that I believe are there. Well, I see that they are there: I do my research on this, I read a lot of academic research, I myself do research on it. Each and every time I have to convince them, but slowly but surely I see that they are getting more open to it; they ask me what I think about things they’ve read on the topic sometimes. It has taken a lot of patience but I do get more and more positive experiences now. There's always this obstacle of trying to convince them, but as soon as you're past it and you've earned credit... I do feel like I always have to earn the credit to be believed, but with some people, I have earned the credit now. Do I always convince them? Obviously not, but sometimes I do.
Visit Orange the World for more information and ways to get involved, see Things That Talk to explore Anne’s platform and https://thingsthattalk.net/en/zone/hidden-in-plain-sight for the stories pertaining to this campaign.
By Manon Sintes and Marco Segantini