During my usual rounds on Twitter, I came across tweets that mentioned one name, Eve Ensler. I noticed that every tweet with her name in it had a negative tone. Obviously, she did something wrong. I also saw that most tweets came from women, especially black women. So, putting two and two together, I concluded that Eve Ensler did something to earn their resentment. But first, I had to find out who this woman is.
Eve Ensler is a feminist, activist playwright, performer and award-winning author of The Vagina Monologues. She the founder of V-Day a worldwide movement to end violence against girls and women, and also the founder of One Billion Rising, a campaign to encourage survivors of interpersonal violence to report rapes and assaults to the authorities. The latter movement is – according to the website – a call for survivors to “break the silence and release their stories – politically, spiritually, outrageously – through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right.”
Did I mention she’s a white female feminist? Yea. That’s important in this topic.
It would make sense from an artist’s point of view to express his or her pain through artistic mediums like painting, sculpting or writing. And being active would likely call for people – other creative types – to express their struggles in a aesthetic way through inspiration.
However, Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign was inspired in a way that would reopen conversations about cultural appropriation, the white savior industrial complex and overall insensitivity to the plight of women of color to appear center stage in an attempt to speak on their “behalf” without full knowledge of the issue she’s focused on. It is illustrated in full view in her gross undermining of Congolese women in her article entitled The Congo Stigmata. I must warn you that what you will read is stomach turning.
But instead of seeing their struggle with an open and advanced lens, Ensler’s only solution to the women in that area is to dance their way to freedom!
Natalie Gyte at the Huffington Post explains:
I recently listened to a Congolese woman talk in a speak-easy setting of radical grassroots feminists. She was radiantly and beautifully powerful in her unfiltered anger towards the One Billion Rising movement, as she used the words “insulting” and “neo-colonial”. She used the analogy of past crimes against humanity, asking us if we could imagine people turning up at the scenes of atrocities and taking pictures or filming for the purposes of “telling their story to the rest of the world”. Take it one step further and try to imagine a white, middle class, educated, American women turning up on the scene to tell survivors to ‘rise’ above the violence they have seen and experienced by…wait for it…dancing. “Imagine someone doing that to holocaust survivors”, she said.
Prison Culture takes it a step further taking some info from bell hooks’ analysis of mainstream culture’s lust to “eat” or commodify the other, something that is very common here in the West. It deviates from the reality that indigenous women have been vocal and rebelled against gender violence without the means of white saviors:
She is also not unique in centering herself within other people’s struggles…Ensler’s language basically masks a Western Liberal project of “giving voice” to the oppressed. But as Arundhati Roy has said, “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Millions of women across the Globe are and have been organizing for their own liberation. They’ve used their voices for that. Even if the formulation of ‘giving voice’ wasn’t problematic on its face, we should be troubled that Ensler et al. seek to ‘give voice’ to incarcerated women, for example, without offering a substantive critique of the prison itself as violence.
And gender violence is way more complicated than just promoting prisons as both the problem and inevitability as Prison Culture continues:
Even within a supposed critique of prisons as sites of sexual and physical violence, the prison is still positioned by Ensler as inevitable and immutable. There is no acknowledgement that prisons are violence in and of themselves. There’s no mention in the campaign recently promoted that women who use violence against their perpetrators often find themselves trapped within these same prisons. It’s as if they are invisible in the campaign…
When I read this, I think about one woman in particular who’s in this predicament, Marissa Alexander. I wonder if the campaign knows who she is. I wonder if they know her situation, that she’s serving 20 years in prison for firing a gun in the ceiling as a warning shot to protect herself against her abusive husband. She’s currently released on bond while her case is pending, Still, she has a tough road ahead along will countless other women, including women of color, who are in the same boat.
The core of the issue of Eve Ensler’s campaign is her desire to “save” women of color by overlooking their humanity in the process due to Western standards to not consider women of color as “real” women. Women of color face gender violence worldwide. But mainstream feminism doesn’t seem to fully recognize the problem. That is, unless a white woman tells it.