Ensler: V-Day Focusing on Iraqi Women This Year

by Howard W. Hewitt

February 14, 2005

Eve Ensler, the Obie-Award winning playwright of the Vagina Monologues, spent a half hour with the press Feb. 13 before the play’s debut at Wabash College.

She covered a range of issues but spent a good portion of the time discussing the War in Iraq and gender issues. Ensler is the driving force behind V-Day, celebrated each year on Valentine’s Day and designed to bring heightened awareness to violence against women.

In recent years the V-Day movement has highlighted a particular group of women as it educated the public and raises money for programs across the world.

The following are excerpts from Ensler’s press conference:

Why focus on the women of Iraq this year?

"One of the things I’ve learned is if any woman in the world is impacted in terms of violence it impacts all of us. If Afghanistan didn’t tell us that more clearly on Sept. 11l then I don’t know what does.

"One thing we all have to wake up to is there is a systematic undoing globally of women everywhere – it’s called patriarchy and it exists in every different culture. It has different cultural forms  i.e. there is acid burning in Pakistan, date rape in America, there’s sex trafficking, but it’s the same story – it’s the systematic undoing and undermining of women as a gender.

"This year we all thought it was really crucial to think about what’s happening to the women in Iraq, particularly because there is an illusion put out by this particular government that there has been some sort of freedom that’s happened in Iraq and democratization and liberation and in fact the opposite is true. The condition of women in Iraq since the United States’ bombing has rapidly, rapidly deteriorated.

"Since the U.S. bombing and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which has been the direct result of the so-called demise of Saddam Hussein, we have seen the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. That has been the Talibaninzation of the women of Iraq. So in these recent months what we’ve seen are abductions, probably 70 a month, women who are being raped and sold, an incredible rise in honor killings. (Honor killings) is part of Islamic tradition – stoning and killing of women for flirting or dating or walking around being uncovered."

What’s the difference now than when Saddam was in power?

"Women weren’t covered in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Then we have the fact that women who were highly educated in Iraq, doctors and lawyers, under the current non-regime and lawless state that’s been unleashed by the irresponsible, irresponsible war on this country, are staying in their homes.

"We as a world, especially this country which is directly responsible for the desecration and rights of women in Iraq, need to be standing up for our sisters there and saying, what can we do?’"

Obviously, you do not support the administration’s decision to go to war, are you saying women were better off under Saddam Hussein? Could this country have done anything different?

I do think the women are worse now than they were under Saddam Hussein. We don’t know Iraq. We don’t know the structures of Iraq. The fact the neoconservatives had this fantasy they would be welcomed in the streets of Irag is a clear indication they don’t know Iraq. They don’t know the years of tribalism, the years of wars between Sunnis and Shiites and the Kurds. First of all, I’d never pretend to assume what other people would want. I barely know what I want.

"For me to assume that I know what the people of Crawfordsville need would be a highly ridiculous assumption. I don’t know the ways, the customs because that’s what happens in Crawfordsville. For the U.S. government to first of all have the arrogance to think they would know and then the stupidity to never develop a plan … "

"Basic common sense would tell you if you’re going to go and drop bombs and destroy a country and annihilate the leadership, don’t you think you’d think about what would come next? Don’t you think you’d think, ‘Umm, ok, after Saddam Hussein goes what will be the next people who will rise up?’ It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it was going to be Islamic fundamentalism.

"So what it indicated to me is a sloppy, random rapist mentality. It’s like ‘I want it, I take it, I get it, I dominate it, I occupy it, and I let the chips fall where they will. I don’t care about your body after I take it. I don’t care what happens to the land after I violate it. I don’t care what happens to the people after I get my way with it."

And the result of these attitudes?

"I believe we’ll look back on this period of time and will see it was when the whole Earth changed. Not only has it been a very bad war on the level of destroying the infrastructure of Iraq but it has alienated and absolutely multiplied terrorism in the Arab world – which in theory was exactly the opposite of what we were trying to do."

Much has been written and said about the Vagina Monologues. Many have even suggested someone should write The Penis Monologues. Your reaction?

"Wouldn’t it be redundant? I think we’re living in a penis monologue far as I can tell. And what would you say that isn’t being said every minute of our lives. Let’s just take a look at the shape of our buildings. Do we need more penis shaped buildings? (she asked rhetorically with a laugh).

"Seriously, I would be interested in men writing pieces about what it means to be tyrannized, to have to perform with a penis, for having always to be worried about your penis. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to have to hold that banner and be fraught all the time that you’re having to prove you know everything - that you’re in charge, that you can’t cry? I’d be totally interested.

"I’ve talked to a lot of men in my life who have been really fraught with performance anxiety and fraught with proving how strong and tough and hard and cool and defensive they are for every minute of their lives.

"We live in a culture, particularly in terms of literature and art, which since the time I was born has been dominated by white men – that’s not good or bad, it’s their point of view, their politics, their way of thinking, being, dealing or not dealing. It’s what has created our pathology and our thinking. So for a woman or anyone who moves through the world with feelings – that is always seen as second class. Emotions are still seen as less than thoughts; we still don’t value them equally. That’s a male idea, that comes from patriarchy. Until you understand emotions and thinking are equal partners, we are living in a penis monologue."




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