Looking around the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, where she's discussing her new book — The Apology — on a November evening, Eve Ensler referred to the venue as a "gilded vagina". The word 'vagina' continued to resound through the hall during the course of the evening, a quite liberating exercise.
Ensler, the creator of the epochal play The Vagina Monologues was in Mumbai to promote her new book, The Apology. As relevant as ever in the age of #MeToo, Ensler's examination is an imagined letter from her dead father, also her abuser from the ages of five to 10. It's what Ensler describes as a dream in which her father would somehow wake up, acknowledge his degeneracy, and finally apologise. Thirty-one years after his death, she exorcises her pain in doing what he did not: allow himself to be held accountable, apologise and atone.
Fourth-wave feminism has reached a unique cultural pinnacle, primarily due to the internet. However, it has also brought forth the non-apology among other maladies, which substantially sets back not just the momentum of the feminist movement, but also healing. "In 16,000 years of patriarchy, have we ever seen a publicly recorded apology from a man guilty of abuse, harassment, violence or incest? The fact that there hasn't been any might be central to why we're continuing on in this incredible war between men and women," said Ensler. Therefore, with her memoir, she provides a blueprint for men who may have trouble understanding the architecture of an apology.
One of the most excruciating parts of revisiting her childhood for Ensler was coming to terms with how well she knew her father, which she realised is common when the perpetrator of abuse is someone you know. "When women are violated by someone they know well, the perpetrator occupies you and gets inside you. I had to know my father well in order to protect myself from him." To write the apology that she wanted to get from her father, it became imperative that she studied the culture around abuse. She explored the territory between a justification and an explanation with the book. "Survivors are often haunted by 'Why?' Going into that 'why' is critical to transforming consciousness. I wanted to examine the conditions that created my father because I do not believe boys are born monsters," she explained.
Ensler's observation also exposes the irony of cultural conditioning which is reflected in how comfortable women are with apologising for the slightest of anomalies. But the book offers a compelling explanation of why men find it difficult to acknowledge fault in a particular chapter in The Apology, wherein her father says to her: "To be an apologist is to be a traitor to men." However, being "proud gender traitors" has been Ensler's message to young men around the world, who often ask her how they can contribute towards the feminist cause. "I travel the world and only meet who aren't abusing anyone, which is amazing because one billion women in the world have been raped or battered. But I ask them if they are breaking the male code and standing up for women who are being abused.'"
As someone who has politicised gendered violence and integrated it into the public sphere, Ensler believes that the "fascist reality"of the present day, requires men in powerful positions to self-interrogate. According to her, the politics of the current times, headed by strongmen, is furthering a masculine idea of leadership. An ideology like that is bound to attack the idea of feminism and equality, as seen in the US where there suddenly "good immigrants and bad immigrants". This 'fascist darkness' is familiar to Elsner because she was abused by one — her father. "One of the tricks my father knew — we are seeing it play out all across the world — is the divide and conquer tactic. You see it in the way our countries are being divided. It is a tactic that isolates us [minority groups] and makes us feel like we are alone."
Ensler's analogy between fascism and the lack of faith in gender justice is a grievous blow to the idea of a free society, but the answer lies in her book: when influential men normalise apologies and the admission of guilt, power structures will dismantle on their own.
The event was conducted by Akshara Centre, One Billion Rising, and Avid Learning.
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Updated Date: Nov 18, 2019 09:50:28 IST