ETA: You can see me discussing OBR, The Vagina Monologues, and Eve Ensler with Mikki Kendall, Myisha Cherry, and Kristen Burzynski on HuffPost Live here.
Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence and racism. A note on the content of this post: this post will mostly be a collection of excerpts and links to posts from women of color. I do not want to silence them, and I think it’s important to highlight their own voices and allow their words to speak for them. It is not my place to put words in their mouths. I am here to be an ally and stand in solidarity with them.
I have never risen with Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign. The campaign takes place on February 14th, referred to by the campaign as V-Day. The One Billion Rising campaign grew from Eve Ensler’s popular play, The Vagina Monologues. Despite it’s lack of queer and trans* representation, the Vagina Monologues was groundbreaking and important in a lot of ways. However, there is the monologue that presents what sounds a lot to me like the rape of a minor by her older neighbor as a liberating experience that I think is absolutely horrifying.
“Afterwards the gorgeous lady teaches me everything about my Coochi Snorcher [vagina]. She makes me play with myself in front of her and she teaches me all the different ways to give myself pleasure. She’s very thorough. She tells me to always know how to give myself pleasure so I’ll never need to rely on a man. In the morning I am worried that I’ve become a butch because I’m so in love with her. She laughs, but I never see her again. I realize later she was my surprising, unexpected and politically incorrect salvation. She transformed my sorry-ass Coochi Snorcher and raised it into a kind of heaven.”
This from someone who purports to want to end violence against women? An older woman getting a vulnerable teenage girl drunk and taking advantage of her? And in the decade since Ensler first performed the Monologues, her cissexist, white savior feminism has become exceedingly apparent. And as I’ve made abundantly clear, I do not and cannot support that kind of feminism.
Last year, the campaign claims that one billion people “rose” to fight violence against women around the world through dance. The campaign also found it’s first controversy with non-white women when it disrespected and silenced Indigenous women in Canada. I encourage you to read Chief Elk’s Open Letter to Eve Ensler, but here is an excerpt:
This all started because on Twitter, I addressed some issues that I had with V-Day, your organization, and the way it treated Indigenous women in Canada. I said that you are racist and dismissive of Indigenous people. You wrote to me that you were upset that I would suggest this, and not even 24 hours later you were on the Joy Behar Show referring to your chemotherapy treatment as a “Shamanistic exercise”.
Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women. You repeatedly in our conversation insisted that you had absolutely no idea that these events were already taking place. So then, what were you spotlighting? When Kelleigh brought up that it was problematic for you to be completely unaware that this date is important to the women you’re spotlighting, your managing director Cecile Lipworth became extremely defensive and responded with “Well, every date on the Calendar has importance.” This is not an acceptable response.
When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.
When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. This is also part of the pattern which is a problem: Indigenous women are constantly trying to explain all of these issues, and are constantly met with “Why are you attacking me?!” This is not being a good ally.
You asked me what would it mean to be a good ally. It would have meant stepping back, giving up the V-Day platform, and attending the marches and vigils. It would have meant putting aside the One Billion Rising privilege and participating in what the Indigenous women felt was important.
At the end of our conversation you offered me the opportunity to join V-Day. Offered me money. Offered me to become a spokesperson for Native American women. These are things I am not interested in. I do not want to be part of the white savior industrial complex, and I never want to duplicate saviorism and colonialism within my own organization, Save Wiyabi Project, and I’m surely not interested in selling my soul and integrity for a bit of cash and perceived prestige.
Last year I was vocal about the fact that I stood with Indigenous women and WOC and could not support a campaign that did not support them. And then this year it got worse. Oh, it got so much worse.
An excerpt from her new memoir was released, and I will not be sharing it here because it is absolutely abhorrent and harmful to women of color and women who have been survivors of horrific violence. If you want to read it for yourself, the link is here. What I will share here is the brilliant and articulate responses from WOC bloggers as to why the hell this is so messed up.
A great place to start in response to Ensler’s piece is Mikki Kendall’s Storify. Seriously, go read it.
Then read Everyday Victim Blaming’s Eve Ensler and “Congo Stigmata.”
We are going to highlight a few of the major concerns we have below:
The appropriation of the experiences of Congolese women to promote her campaign.
The use of medical procedures as a form of entertainment.
Consent: both in terms of wondering if Ensler had consent from the woman whose operation she witnessed and the appropriateness of consent considering the implications of power imbalances.
The glorification of the damage caused by gang rape to the bodies of Congolese Women.
The dehumanisation of Congolese women.
We will not end male violence against women and children by resorting to the same White Saviour constructions that have caused irreparable damages to billions of people across the world. We cannot end violence against women and children until we recognise the humanity of all of us; this article reduces Congolese women to bodies and holes. That isn’t recognising their humanity; it is replicating the same power structures of the White Supremacy.
And finally, read this piece on Prison Culture: One Billion Rising, Eve Ensler and the Contradictions of Carceral Feminism(s). It addresses concerns that Eve Ensler is promoting the involvement of government and the state in lives of survivors, when we know that that can often be more damaging to survivors than not reporting at all. It also examines her co-opting of Congolese culture as the inspiration behind One Billion Rising in the first place, including this anecdote from Natalie Gyte about what a Congolese woman shared about what she thinks of Ensler:
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.
There is so much more where that came from at the Prison Culture piece, and I highly suggest reading the entire thing.
And to come full circle back to Chief Elk, she shared a reminder that February 14th is reserved in Canada, as the day for the Annual March for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. You can also find information on where to find marches throughout Canada on February 14th.
A friend of mine who has participated in V-Day for over 10 years decided that this year, she can no longer participate due to all of this. I urge you to consider doing the same. If you claim to be a feminist and you say that your feminism supports women of color and other marginalized groups, I don’t see how you can support an event that is so harmful to so many women and so many communities. If you’re thinking about rising, I’d hope you reconsider.