Eve Ensler Calls for a Billion Women to Strike Against Sexual Violence
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Her own experience of abuse, she says, "is deeply interlinked in what motivates me. I felt caught before in the rage and the drama and the proving myself and fighting my way out of [being] that 'victim', and that's over, that's not what's driving me any more. When you're raped, you are made to feel bad because you often absorb – literally – your perpetrator, and it becomes 'your' badness. It has taken me years to exorcise that." A little later she says, in a quieter voice, "I realised that if I continued to live thinking I was a terrible person and had to prove that I wasn't, I would die."
Ensler has big plans. For the 15th anniversary of V-Day in 2013, she wants to get a billion women – the figure comes from the UN's estimate that one in three women will be raped or assaulted during their lifetime – to come together, "to walk out of their jobs, to walk out of any situation where they have been violated, or just to walk because they were violated, and to join with whoever. If women could see the numbers, how many women we are who have been through this experience … " She calls it a "general strike on life. If women stop, the whole world is going to stop – who is going to take care of patients, lead classes, run companies, lift things in the field, carry the children?"
Has she missed out on anything as a result of the life she has led? She sometimes thinks about what her love life would have been like "if I hadn't been cast as a radical, scary feminist. Then I think, well so be it, I had a great love life." After her marriage ended, she had a long relationship with Ariel Orr Jordan, an artist and psychotherapist, but is single now, and this seems to suit her and her nomadic lifestyle – she has places in New York and Paris, but spends much of the year travelling.
She doesn't hold back in her predictions of what violence and abuse of women could lead to, likening the effect to global warming. Rape, says Ensler, has become "the modern weapon of warfare. When you destroy a population, once femicide happens, we're going to see the end of humanity, because I don't know how you sustain a future without vitalised women. We are seeing practices on the planet that are so horrific we can't even imagine."
And yet she seems so cheerful when she talks of a "woman spring" in the making. "On my good days," she says with a sideways smile, "and there are many, I can see that it really is in sight. It was really the Egyptian women who led the uprising. We're seeing all kinds of women activists across the planet. I look at Agnes [Pareyio, director of V-Day Kenya, who started two safe houses for girls escaping female genital mutilation] – she was exiled in her community, and she's now running for parliament and has a very good chance of winning. Look at Dominique Strauss Kahn – it's a terrible situation, but 10 years ago that would not have been front page news, he would not have been dragged off a plane. That's huge. That is tangible change. We haven't ended violence, but we have built the mechanisms to begin to combat it. The next step is ending it, going the distance. I look at women in Libya who are now organising to find ways to come into power, I look at the Liberian women who have elected a woman president." She starts to gather her things. "There are signs everywhere you look."