'It is the wound that determines our life'
Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler on her new book
For American playwright, feminist, and activist Eve Ensler — whose play The Vagina Monologues has been enacted across theatres in Mumbai for the past decade — most of her life had been about the apology she never received. In a conversation with mid-day at the Royal Opera House on Wednesday afternoon, she spoke about how she "went into a trance" while penning her latest book The Apology.
The book itself can be viewed as a physical manifestation of the longstanding apology Ensler's father Arthur owed her — for sexually abusing her ever since she was five years old, and then, in her teenage years, when she became "defiant," of physically abusing her, to the point of almost having murdered her on two separate occasions. Arthur passed away 31 years ago, without apologising to his only daughter. The Apology is his unspoken repentance.
"For most of my life, I had this fantasy that my father would one day come to his senses and see the error of his ways and apologise," said Ensler, who has spoken about violence against women on a global scale. "One of the ways we often save ourselves is by reaching out to others who are in worse shape than we are."
'Calling in the men'
She enumerates all the things her efforts at ending violence against girls has achieved. "In all this time, we've changed laws, broken the silence and with the MeToo movement, more women have come forward boldly to tell their stories but in all these years I have never heard a man, who has committed sexual or physical violence, make a public apology of what he has done." She added: "We've called out the men - now we need to call them in."
Speaking of her book, Ensler elaborates, "Maybe I wanted to hear the words (of apology) in order to heal myself and get free. It is an apology to myself – from my father – in his voice," she said. "We have a profound relation with the dead. They are all around us, they need us to communicate with them since they are stuck in other realms. My father was present (with me) throughout the writing of this book. I was in a trance. I stayed in a room for four months, writing; till date I don't know who wrote it (the book), me or my father."
Coming to terms with her wound
Describing her father Arthur as "the adored one," who was born 15 years after the then-youngest sibling in his family, she said that step one of the "architecture of an apology" is self-interrogation and a look into the abuser's childhood. "Boys being robbed of their tenderness at an early age, and then later, being given enormous privilege and power – that is a lethal combination. When I was born, I was his first daughter; he felt overwhelming feelings of love for me. But he did not know how to process it. What he did with it is he sexualised it."
She also talks about her mother in the book. "She came from a generation where men have all the power. I often saw her as the fourth child (of my dad). My mother didn't protect me. She absolutely knew the violence that was happening. As a child, I hated my mother. But when I was older, I sat her down and spoke to her, it was the hardest thing in my life but she came to admit a lot. She told me that when my father started being a monster, she had three children and no job so she 'sacrificed' me. It was a chilling thing to hear."
She also admits that although writing the book was "excruciatingly painful," it had helped her to heal. "Every human has a particular childhood wound, it's what determines our life. We're often taught, in our respective cultures, to not touch this wound. But when we do that, it is the wound that controls our life. Once you come to terms with it, it cannot control you anymore."
Was it her 2013 memoir In The Body of The World the beginning of coming to terms with the wound then? Ensler responded, "When I had cancer ten years ago, it was the beginning of me coming fully into my body. I got much more connected to my memories and was much less fragmented. I had no idea that I was going to write an apology for my father." She added: "As survivor's, we are angry for such a long time, it becomes our identity. I didn't want to be that for the rest of my life."
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