"Whenever there is economic distress, we know that women are always on the front lines, and we know that women's rights are always pushed back," playwright and activist Eve Ensler told Eight Forty-Eight's Alison Cuddy on Thursday. "I think that if we're going to get through this, it's going to require all parts of us, both our hearts and our brains." Her new book I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World focuses on encouraging girls to become more vocal and active in their own lives.
"When you're young and developing that emotional part of you, you're taught that that is the part of you to shut down," Ensler said. In girls, she believes it comes from a patriarchical mandate to please that it taught to all women. This emphasis on putting the needs of others before oneself tunes girls out from their true selves. This isn't just isolated to women; Ensler believes boys are forced to ignore their emotional side, and that this ignorance has huge ramifications. "I think what we do to boys is sometimes even worse than what we do to girls," Ensler said, implying that society is raising boys to participate in rape culture by allowing them to become dissosociated and removed from themselves. But, "if you were feeling what another person is feeling, it would be very hard to rape or beat them. We have to bring them up to be human."
Ensler also spoke about her surprise and delight that people were still performing her play The Vagina Monologues, which tackles women’s struggles with issues ranging from body image to rape, and was first performed 14 years ago. But her impact is not limited to that play; the V-Day movement she started works to stop violence against girls and women around the globe, counts 900 colleges participating, including some in the Chicago area. Sharmili Majmudar, Executive Director of the Chicago group Rape Victims Advocates, also spoke to Cuddy about the work RVA does at college campuses in the area, especially during April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Majmudar spoke of the mythology that surrounds sexual assault, as well as the "hunger for information" she sees from young people. Though one in eight women are raped during college, only 11 percent of perpetrators in Illinois are arrested (the national average is 22 percent). A large part of the conversation until now has been focused on saying "No means No," but "consent isn't a light switch that goes on and off," said Majmudar. To RVA and other advocates "Yes means Yes" is a better phrase, and one that ties in to the more sex-positive dialogue they're hoping to continue.
There has been progress; the Illinois Gender Violence Act for one, but Majmudar explained that looking at laws and how they reflect our institutions is an ongoing project. She believes that we should aim for young people to be "enthusiastically consenting" to their partners, not just merely consenting. Ensler agrees, emphasizing the importance of educating our children at a young age to share their emotional self. Because in her experience "These girls are fierce!"
Ensler will read, discuss and sign copies of her book I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World Sunday, April 10, at the International House at the Unversity of Chicago.