tThis is a line in the accountThe latest book by V (formerly Eve Ensler)where she shares her frustration with making people understand what abuse, especially rape, does to women.
“I experimented with data, detachment, passion, pleading, and existential despair,” wrote the author best known for her 1996 play. The Vagina Monologues. She wonders if language might emerge yet that would “outshine the piercing wail.”
the account, a collection of V prose and poetry from the past along with new pieces, round out this howl. She describes what she witnessed in Croatia, in the Congo, on the streets of New York City. She talks about seeing a price list for women held in the ISIS sex slave market and about women in Oklahoma City lining up to tell her their stories of rape after a performance. The Vagina Monologues.
The details are not easy to read, nor should they be. Among the most common results of rape are fistulas, holes between the vagina and the bladder. “A hole from rape or an instrument being pushed inside her vagina. A hole in her body. A hole in her soul. A hole where her confidence, her respect, her soul, her light, her urine seeps.”
Particularly prevalent was the fistula at the Congo hospital where V volunteered at the invitation of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for his work caring for victims of what V calls nothing short of “femicide.” However, it is not the only consequence of sexual violence. Simple deterioration is more common. Girls from 1 to 9 on the ISIS list are twice as likely as women from 20 to 30, while women over 50 have no market value at all. In New York City, V encounters a near-death woman who tries to talk about her former self. V’s monologue, “I was a funny person once,” is inspired by the woman’s story. “I was funny. I wore silk clothes. I read complicated books,” the monologue reads. Now, the words hurt. “They remind me that I’m dirty.”
While V criticizes people who don’t hear a woman’s experience, she also understands their reticence. In “Dear White Women,” an essay she wrote in 2018 during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, she addresses the women who laughed when Donald Trump mocked Christine Blasey Ford, who claims Kavanaugh once assaulted her.
She writes, “I know the risks many of you take when they tell you that you believe in women over men.” “If one in three women in the world has been raped or beaten, it means that some of you have had that experience. Believing another woman means having to touch the pain, fear, sadness and anger of your own experience and sometimes that feels unbearable.”
Y does not focus solely on the pain and marginalization of women. 1991 playexceptional measuresMany of the poems are about men who died during the AIDS crisis. “Suddenly like a huge hole in the cultural ozone, they’re gone.” The most recent virus, COVID, has led to “disastrous patriarchy.” Paraphrasing Naomi Klein’s phrase “disaster capitalism,” V says the pandemic has “unleashed the most severe setback for women’s liberation” in her life, with lockdown creating “the perfect storm of abuse.”
V’s own experience is an inspiration for her work. She says her father repeatedly raped her as a child and beat her when she was in her teens. Her mother, who had no marketable skills and no means of leaving V’s father, later admitted to “sacrificing” her.
V’s father died before she could come to terms with him. Her book of the year 2019, apologiesOffer penance that you did not receive. says in the account that writing apologies – which her father himself imagined – changed her life, which led to the change of her name. This also got her thinking about what might constitute a genuine apology, an “excavation” that “holds the potential for transformation and liberation”. She writes that a true apology should consist of four steps: an investigation into one’s history and what led to the offensive actions, a detailed acknowledgment of what was done, an emotional understanding of the person injured, and taking full responsibility. It is part of the “computation” process.
the account It is redeeming in the end, despite its haunting subject matter. In her final chapter, “V: A Dream Vision of My New Name,” she describes the “V” people in her dreams as humble, non-hierarchical, and prophetic. In describing it, it presents possibility, even if it seems like a fantasy.
After all, she wrote, “The whole world is a story someone made.”
For more local writer coverage, please visit Chapter16.orgAn online publication of the Tennessee Humanities.