We spend the hour looking at the movement to end violence against women across the globe. We spend the hour with playwright and activist Eve Ensler and prisoner rights activist Kimberle Crenshaw. Ensler is creator of “The Vagina Monologues”–the off-Broadway show that has grown into an international movement to end violence against women and girls. She helped kickoff a two-week festival last Monday in New York City called “Until the Violence Stops: NYC.” Events include theater performances, spoken word pieces, art shows and international panels–all created to bring the issue of violence against women front and center both nationally and internationally. Crenshaw is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School. She specializes in the areas of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory and racism. We also play clips of Rose Perez performing “The Vagina Monologues,” Glenn Close reading the words of prisoner Cynthia Berry, Hazelle Goodman reading the words of Kathy Boudin and Selma Hayek speaking about her own experience with physical and mental abuse. [includes rush transcript]
- Eve Ensler, award-winning playwright and creator of “The Vagina Monologues” which has been translated into over 45 languages and is running in theaters all over the world. She is the driving force behind * V-Day*. Her other plays include “Necessary Targets”, set in a Bosnian refugee camp and “Extraordinary Measures.” Eve has just completed a tour of her newest play “The Good Body.” “The Good Body” addresses why women of all cultures and backgrounds feel compelled to change the way they look in order to fit into society.
- Kimberle Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and at Columbia Law School. She specializes in the areas of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, racism and the law. She is the founding coordinator of the Critical Race Theory Workshop, and the co-editor of a volume, Critical Race Theory: Key Documents That Shaped the Movement. Kimberle is the Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellow at the ACLU.
- Rosie Perez, in a production of the play “The Vagina Monologues” in Harlem from the documentary, “Until the Violence Stops.”
- Glenn Close, reading the words of Cynthia Berry from the documentary “What I Want My Words to Do to You.”
- Hazelle Goodman, reading the words of prisoner Kathy Boudin from the documentary “What I Want My Words to Do to You.”
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour looking at the movement to end violence against women across the globe.
ROSIE PEREZ: But seriously, I want to go on a personal note. We did fight hard, because it meant so much to me. When I first met Eve in 1996 — '95? — I was doing The Vagina Monologues since then. And it wasn't until 2001 at V-Day, Madison Square Garden, I finally stood up and admitted that I was abused. And I just want to tell everybody here however long it takes for you to tell your story, take your time. Take your time, take your breath, take your moment. It’s your story, nobody else’s, until you’re ready to release it. Then it becomes the world’s. And I hope all the women’s spirits come into our hearts and into our bodies and come up through our stomach, the pit of our stomach, pit of our vaginas, and touch every woman as much as the Monologues have touched me in my life.
Tonight, we begin to heal all the women of Harlem, as well as all the women of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Actress Rosie Perez in a production of the play, The Vagina Monologues, in Harlem. The clip is from the documentary, Until the Violence Stops, which chronicles how The Vagina Monologues has grown from an off-Broadway show into an international movement to end violence against women and girls. This is Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues, from the same documentary.
EVE ENSLER: When I first started performing The Vagina Monologues, I did it in these small, little venues all around the world. And after every performance, women would literally line up to talk to me. And what they were talking about was the fact, usually, that they had been raped or battered or incested, and they really needed to tell someone. It began to be a very daunting experience. So in 1997, we got a group of women together in New York, and I said, “How could we use The Vagina Monologues to stop violence against women and to serve this?” And we came up with the idea of V-Day, which is Vagina Day, Valentine’s Day, Anti-Violence Day, Victory Over Violence Day.
We invited all these great women to come and perform The Vagina Monologues to raise money, and we did this incredible first V-Day, which really blew the roof off the theater. You could feel it was more than a play that night. You could feel that something genuinely different had happened in the alchemy of things, that there was something being born or trying to be born.
AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues and the engine behind V-Day, the global movement to stop violence against women and girls. She helped kick off a two-week festival here in New York called “Until the Violence Stops: NYC.” Events have included theater performances, spoken word pieces, art shows, international panels, all created to bring the issue of violence against women front and center, both nationally and internationally. Tonight, there will be a major performance of Any One of Us: Words from Prison at Alice Tully Hall in New York.
Eve Ensler joins us now in our Firehouse studio, the award-winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues, which has been translated into over 45 languages. Eve’s other plays include Necessary Targets, which is set in a Bosnian refugee camp, and Extraordinary Measures. She has just completed a tour of her newest play, The Good Body. It addresses why women of all cultures and backgrounds feel compelled to change the way they look in order to fit into society.
We’re also joined by Professor Kimberle Crenshaw. She is Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School. She specializes in the areas of civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, racism in the law; founding coordinator of the Critical Race Theory Workshop, and is co-editor of the book, Critical Race Theory: Key Documents that Shaped the Movement. Kimberle Crenshaw is Executive Director of African American Policy Forum and an Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellow at the ACLU.
And we welcome you both to spend the hour here on Democracy Now! Well, let’s talk about what is happening here in New York City, but which you are hoping to replicate around the country and the world. Talk about the whole V-Day movement, Eve.
EVE ENSLER: Well, V-Day began essentially almost nine years ago. When I started doing The Vagina Monologues, at the beginning, I kind of was brought to very arbitrary places; just brave people would bring me to their communities. I performed in these kind of warehouses with light bulbs over my head. And what would happen, invariably, after those performances is, women would line up to talk to me.
And at the beginning, I thought, “Oh, great, they’ll be telling me about their wonderful sex lives.” And, in fact, what 95% of the women were lining up to tell me was some story of how they had suffered abuse, whether they’d been raped or gang-raped or incested or beaten, and they had never told anyone before. The play had kind of opened that up and just kind of released memories and thoughts.
And after about five cities, I started to think, “I can’t do this. I can’t —” I felt the way a war photographer feels when you’re witnessing something terrible and doesn’t intervene on a person’s behalf. So, in ’97, I got a whole group of activist friends together in New York, and I said, “I have this play. You know, what could we do? How could we use this play?”
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the play based on? Where did you get your material?
EVE ENSLER: Well, The Vagina Monologues was based on — I did probably about 200 interviews with women, and then I would kind of sleep on them and let them simmer in me, and then I would write literary pieces that were based on little pieces or threads of the interviews I had heard, but I had been interviewing so many women, and there would be themes that would connect or ideas that would repeat themselves, which would give me an idea for a particular monologue. And when I started to perform those monologues, suddenly women were hearing their own stories, and I think that was bringing up memories or times or thoughts or feelings they had never shared with anybody.
So when we created the idea of V-Day, we suddenly thought, “We have this play. We have this thing that’s obviously churning some kind of political feeling in people. What if we did this play and tried to raise money and raise consciousness around ending violence?” And we thought we would do one performance in New York City and raise money for local grassroots groups, and that would be it. But we did this performance eight years ago in the Hammerstein Ballroom, and 2,500 people showed up, and all these amazing actors, from Whoopi Goldberg to Susan Sarandon to Rosie Perez to Lily Tomlin to Glenn Close, and it really did blow the lid off the theater. And we knew that night that something major had been born. You could just feel it. It was just this energy, this kind of movement, this catalyst.
And it has spread, crazily and mysteriously to some degree. I mean, obviously there’s a political engine that’s going through it and a need and an urgency, but there’s also something else that’s at work here I don’t fully understand. But in eight years, it has spread to 88 countries, which means that every year at a certain time, people in all these countries and cities and villages and towns do productions of The Vagina Monologues to raise money for grassroots groups that work to end violence against women.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to be back talking about this movement in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue to look at the issue of violence against women. I want to turn to an excerpt from the documentary, What I Want My Words to Do to You. This is actor Glenn Close.
GLENN CLOSE: For every day I think I killed a 71-year-old man, a man who couldn’t have harmed me, a man I didn’t want to harm, a man who, in one minute, saw and received all my anger and lost what was not mine to take: his life. Mom, the truth is, I’m guilty of my refusal to face myself, to not grow out of the walls of my pain, and all the choices I made. The truth is, I killed him. And for the rest of my life, that truth will haunt me. I will never believe there is an explanation or reason for what I’ve done, until my last breath leaves my body — like my victims did.
AMY GOODMAN: Actor Glenn Close, reading the words of Cynthia Berry, a prisoner at the Bedford Hills correctional facility. Glenn Close was performing at the prison. The clip is from the documentary, What I Want My Words to Do to You, which goes inside a writing workshop at Bedford Hills that is led by our guest today, Eve Ensler. The workshop is made up of 15 women, most of whom were convicted of murder. This is another clip from the documentary. Prisoner Betsy Ramos reading her own work.
BETSY RAMOS: What I want my words to do to you. I want my words to touch you in ways you never knew existed, for one minute, to put yourself in my shoes, to see me as a human being who truly made an error in judgment, who thought with her heart instead of her head and is now paying with her life. See me as the daughter who yearns to be with her mother, the woman who dreams of having a child grow in her womb. I wish with my words to give you glimpses of the life I’ve lived, of the life I am living, so that you will know me, and therefore, be able to judge me on the merit of who I truly am.
AMY GOODMAN: Betsy Ramos, in her own words. Next in the documentary is actress Hazelle Goodman reading the work of prisoner, Pamela Smart. We will go to that in a minute. But before we do, Eve Ensler, talk about this workshop at the prison, Bedford Hills.
EVE ENSLER: Well, I went to prison about — I went to Bedford Hills about eight years ago. I went there initially because Glenn Close had invited me to do a movie about an extraordinary woman named Sister Elaine Roulet. I don’t know if you know who she is, but she was really one of the first pioneers who believed that women should be with their children in prison, and she created programs that allowed women who were incarcerated to have their babies with them and to have relationships with their children in prison.
And when I went to interview the women, I became completely — I just became obsessed. I couldn’t believe these women. I couldn’t believe how smart they were and how hungry they were for a way to process what they had done and what had been done to them. And so, we started a writing group, which I thought, again, would go on for a few months and has literally lasted eight years. And during the process of that group, what I very quickly discovered is that most of the women in the group had at some point in their life been radically abused — not a little abused, radically abused — and that violence had had a complete, direct impact on the violence they eventually caused or perpetrated.
And in the course of the writing, what began to happen was this process where women were able to begin to articulate their guilt and thinking and just all the complicated stuff that was around their crimes, but also, the history of that, the story of that, like when that crime really began, how far back it went in their own history, in their own family, in their own community, in their own story, and in the course of it, we decided we would do a performance, so I asked all these actors to come and perform their work for the women in prison.
And there was a wonderful superintendent there who was very progressive thinking, and I said, “Why don’t we do a performance for the whole prison?” And I remember they had never turned the lights out in the prison before, and I said, “You cannot do theater without turning out the lights,” and we actually got her to agree to turn out the lights in a maximum security prison for 800 prisoners, and they did this performance, these great actors, and it was amazing. And a woman came and saw it and said, “We need to film this process,” which led to the filming of the group and the documenting of it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, this is actor Hazelle Goodman reading the work of prisoner, Pamela Smart.
HAZELLE GOODMAN: I want my words to make the past go away. My past hovers over me, fangs bared, skulking in and out of my vision. It lurks, waiting for openings to pounce like a jackal. I am its prey.
I want my words to make the past go away, the deaths unforeseen, unwanted, the anguish left behind.
I want my words to make my past go away, so that I don’t spend the present looking back over my shoulder, asking myself over and over again questions that strike me over and over, like darts flying rapidly on a video game.
I want my words to make my past go away, to erase the moment when I said, “Yes, I will go,” instead of “No,” to wipe out the sounds when guns began to shoot, to bring back those who died.
I want my words to make the past go away. I want my words to be a herd of horses tramping over the past, so that it is buried under the parched autumn leaves, then buried deeper by the ice of winter, so that the past will be like the earth made over each spring, raked and hoed, made ready for new planting.
AMY GOODMAN: Actor Hazelle Goodman reading the words of Bedford Hills prisoner, Pamela Smart, and this is all from the documentary, What I Want My Words to Do to You. Eve Ensler has led the workshop at Bedford Hills for years. We’re also joined by Kimberle Crenshaw, Professor of Law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellow at the ACLU. It’s very good to have you with us, Professor Crenshaw.
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the connection between violence and women in prison, something you’ve been doing a lot of work on?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: Yes, well, you know, one of the things that’s so remarkable about this event and what Eve is bringing to our attention is the relationship between violence and incarceration. I like to call this a tale of two movements, because, frankly, there’s been an anti-violence movement that really hasn’t dealt with the consequences of violence for women who are incarcerated or how incarceration is often a precursor to violence, so that whole relationship hasn’t been explored. There’s also an anti-incarceration movement that more or less just focuses pretty much on men, how men wind up being incarcerated, some of the consequences.
So this is an opportunity to actually look at women who fall between the cracks of both movements, who are the women who are both victims of violence, but also are victims of state violence, namely, because they have been subject to rape, battery, incest, a whole range of other things that happen to women in society, are more likely to be incarcerated, right? And once they are incarcerated, they’re subject to a whole range of consequences that are sometimes particular to women, so this is bringing attention to women, to issues that really haven’t come up on the agenda of either the anti-violence movement or the anti-incarceration movement, so it’s a dramatic radicalization of both of these movements.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about women who murder and their own backgrounds?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: Yes, well, a lot of the statistics tell us a couple things. Women who are incarcerated for murdering men, 90% of those women have been victimized by those men in the past, so this is basically the last step in a very long process leading up to the particular act that led those women to prison. But even more broadly than that, most women who are incarcerated, not simply for homicide, but for any other kind of crime, have been subject to violence in the past.
You add to that that the majority of women who are incarcerated are, number one, primary caretakers for children; number two, most of them have had some history of not only violence, but drug abuse of some sort. What we’re beginning to see is a whole picture of all the ways that women are subject to a whole range of violent factors in society, and this is the final step for them, or at least the step that leads them into prison.
Part of what Eve is doing in the writer’s workshop is making sure that that’s not the final step, that they can come to terms with the ways that they’ve been subject to a whole range of things before they go to prison, but that prison isn’t simply another violent movement for them, that they can come out of that experience, recognizing how they’ve been situated, and also taking responsibility for what has happened to them.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the racial dimension of who goes to prison?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: The racial dimension is just incredible. First of all, we have eight times as many women in prison today as we had in 1980. It is the fastest growing group of people who are incarcerated. You wouldn’t know this just by listening to the anti-incarceration movement. So that’s one of the things we really want to draw attention to. But then the rate of increase for African American women, 888% increase in the rate of incarceration of African American women in the last 15 years. So it’s a huge, huge thing. We know in the anti-incarceration movement that there are racial effects, but we don’t know how those racial effects distribute across gender. So part of what we’re trying to do is bring women to that conversation, understand what are the particular ways that women are caught up in the war on drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: The war on drugs and how women end up in prison. In New York, where we’re broadcasting from, there’s the Rockefeller Drug Laws. It’s what brought me to Bedford Hills, as well, to talk to women who had been imprisoned for — what? — 25 to life, some of them plea-bargaining because they were terrified that this is the kind of sentence they’d end up with, though believing at that time — not knowing if they would get out or not, and often people who were innocent. Eve?
EVE ENSLER: Well, also I have two women in my group, one of whom just got out who was there for 16 years under the Rockefeller. And I think one of the things that we’re really seeing and that really disturbs me is, I think we’re living in a country now that has really come to accept these high, high amounts of time for drug crimes. I mean, what do we have? 2.1 million prisoners now in America, the highest prison population in the world. It’s a small country. We’re talking about a small country is virtually in prison.
And people in this country have some idea — it’s again back to that whole kind of black-and-white thinking, you know, that people are kind of born murderers or born killers. You know, there’s a long journey, there’s a descent that brings one to prison that’s very connected to poverty and racism. We can just — and sexism, and really about violence. And I think part of what we’re trying to do in this evening is to say, “No, no. We’re all in this together. We’re all connected to that process. It’s any one of us. Any one of us.”
And, you know, we were reading yesterday the script of the women, and we were just, you know, pruning it, and I can’t — you can only publish a piece of each woman’s story. It’s too painful. You can’t tell the whole story. You can’t tell the multiple violence, the multiple abuses, whether it’s, you know, you’re raped by your father while you’re living in a house that has no water. You know, we can just go on down. How many multiple layers of humiliations and degradations can you take before something snaps in you? And I think we are trying to look and say, “Let’s bring light to this.” It’s not accidental. Women don’t accidentally end up in prison, do you know?
AMY GOODMAN: One of the things I noticed when watching these sessions at Bedford Hills that you have been facilitating is the horror of the women trying to live with their own actions, and then as they go back and they peel off the layers, how to live with the original violence against them, and the mourning over what they’ve done.
EVE ENSLER: It’s excruciating. I always say, the bravest — in terms of reflection and being willing to face your kind of inner darkness, being involved in the process with women in my group has been the most incredible process I’ve ever been involved in. I mean, the depth of honesty, the willingness to face the truth, and it’s grueling. I mean, I’ve sat there —- I remember the group where Cynthia Berry came to terms with stabbing her john 22 times and having no memory of it after the first two times. And literally going -—
AMY GOODMAN: She was a prostitute. Then she —
EVE ENSLER: She was a prostitute. She had been raped when she was younger by, I think, every man in her life. She had been beaten; she had been abused; she had — and finally, one day she was with a john who humiliated her and insulted her, and then she snapped. And her journey in prison, her willingness to encounter the darkness and her self-hatred and the — I mean, just witnessing that has changed me forever.
That is not to say I celebrate people committing crimes or celebrate people perpetrating murder, but I do think that if you look at somebody’s journey and you look at humiliation upon humiliation upon humiliation and degradation, on every level, whether it’s racial or economic, what do we think people are going to do eventually? Just sit there and take it and take it and take it, until they’re diminished? You know, something’s going to happen eventually.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, it goes to the resources also, Kimberly Crenshaw, in society. Women who have murdered, so often having murdered someone who abused them, how often are they reaching out? How often are they turning to the police or reporting what’s happened, and yet not been helped?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: And for all of these women who eventually wind up behind bars, there’s usually a very long record of them reaching out to the authorities, either the police or social services and not being well served. And this is one of the things that contributes to who the women are who are behind bars, because while it’s true that all women are particularly vulnerable to gender violence, the reality is that some women have less access to services and resources and are more available to police for surveillance and, ultimately, incarceration.
So, for example, a majority of women who are homeless have had a history of violence, and then being homeless makes you vulnerable to violence. It also makes you vulnerable to the police, so the police encounter you far more often when you are violent and as a — when you’re a victim of violence, and more consequently of that, they end up being in jail.
More particularly, when women get out, the consequences, the collateral consequences of having been incarcerated are profound. Women who’ve been incarcerated because of drug crimes, for example, can no longer get any other kind of public benefit. They can’t get public housing. They can’t get education grants. They can’t get resources to raise their children. So we’re basically marking them with, like, a permanent letter that says, “You can no longer contribute to society anymore.”
These are issues that need to be talked about, and we need to understand the consequences to them as women and also, quite frankly, because they are women, that’s one of the reasons that they come under criminal surveillance and don’t have information to negotiate. I mean, a lot of these women who are incarcerated played very, very small roles in drug conspiracies. Sometimes the kingpins end up negotiating down their sentences, and they go to prison for far less time than the women who were basically the mules or the women who didn’t pass on a phone call or something like that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, how often the police make the deal that say if you turn over someone, so the higher level person will turn over people that perhaps were set up and didn’t even know what was happening.
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: And the men will many times turn over the women, and the women will not turn over the men, either because they don’t have any information, or women just don’t tend to do that, right?
EVE ENSLER: They’re loyal. They’re loyal, yeah. I also just want to say, in terms of that, too, like, I always laugh about this term “correctional” facility, you know? “Correctional.” That does sound look a verb, like we’re doing something to change, and my impression of correctional facilities is that they’re hardening facilities. You know, they’re places that freeze people and keep people exactly who they were or worse than when they came in.
And I think we all have to be looking at a prison system that is now holding 2.1 million people. What do we want our prisons to be doing? Do we want them to be offering programs and resources to people to transform their realities, to examine the realities, to reflect on their lives, to get education, so that when they come out, they can function and serve and have productive lives, or do we want to punish people and hold them until we release them in exactly the same state or much worse because of all the brutality and violence they’ve incurred in prison?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Eve Ensler, award-winning author of the play The Vagina Monologues, among others. Kimberly Crenshaw, Professor of Law at both UCLA and Columbia Law School. I don’t know how you do it, both coasts. But we will be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: As we continue our discussion of violence against women, this is actor Salma Hayek from the documentary, Until the Violence Stops.
SALMA HAYEK: Fear and guilt are the two strongest weapons to take away your power and your spirit, and I think this is why it’s so important for me to do this, because I come from that place and because I have come a long, long way, of physical abuse, mental abuse, and spiritual abuse, which is the worst kind.
My short skirt, it’s about discovering the power of my lower calves, about cool autumn air traveling up my inner thighs, about allowing everything I see or pass or feel to live inside. My short skirt is initiation, appreciation, excitation. But mainly, my short skirt and everything under it is mine. Mine! Mio!
ROSARIO DAWSON: What we need is to adopt a new standard for ourselves that we choose, that we’ve given voice to, and I think it’s really hard to find that in yourself sometimes, because you’re not even taught how to do that.
YVETTE DAVILA: Culturally, we’re just victimized. How do you get out of that cycle? How do you capture the power? You don’t know you have it.
HAZELLE GOODMAN: The price you pay is such an extraordinary price. It is only now, and we are in 2002, it is only now that women are finally taking that power, because for so long, because of the church and because of the arranged marriages in our societies, in our cultures, in our governments, we couldn’t speak. So now we are beginning to.
AMY GOODMAN: A clip from a Harlem discussion. Eve Ensler, can you describe after Salma Hayek spoke, what this discussion was about?
EVE ENSLER: When we did V-Day Harlem, there was a real desire to bring a lot of different women from the community and actors and artists together to talk about this issue. So, as we were doing the process of the show, there was a real attempt to really look at the issues it was uncovering, and Salma Hayek and Yvette Davila and Rosario Dawson and Susan Taylor were all there with a whole group of women, talking about violence. It was a really fantastic discussion, which we ended up filming.
And what was really wonderful — I was actually in Harlem last night, because they’re part of the festival, and they were doing a screening of a new film about children who suffer from violence, and the Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer, was there talking about violence and really making domestic violence a central part of his new office. And it was very moving to be back in Harlem. You know, we really have a V-Day presence in Harlem that has been building and building.
Kim was part of the first event. She did her famous — well, what is it? It’s called “Respect.” But we all call it “My Black Vagina,” because — its subtitle, which she actually did Monday night. And Kim and Salma and Rosario are all major women in the V-Day effort and have been for quite some time. Salma actually was with us in Juarez when we did a huge event in Mexico City for the women in Juarez.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of women in Juarez, in Mexico, immigrants here in this country, Kimberle Crenshaw, can you talk about immigrants, women and violence?
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: In fact, one of the — what we’re doing tonight is we’re providing a whole range of narratives about women to try to put some of these statistics in a context. You know, all the frame, people tell us — you can tell people all the statistics you want, but you have to put it in a story.
One of the stories is about immigrant women, and it focuses on the fact that immigrant women are among the most vulnerable to violence, in large part because women who come here, particularly those who come here to marry American citizens, have to stay properly married to them for two years before they can petition for permanent residency status. Many of these women are subject to violence. The last thing these women want to do is call the authorities in, because they’re very concerned that they’ll lose any opportunity whatsoever to make the United States their permanent home. So we found many women were severely abused, and some were even killed, because of the double effect of the sort of anti-immigration laws and policies that really put people in a position of vulnerability and because of the violence that they experience at home.
So I call this the intersection of oppression. You’ve got one thing, you’ve got another thing. And when movements aren’t aware of how these things come together, when the immigration movement doesn’t really think about, “Well, some of these people are women, and some of these people are subject to violence,” and the anti-violence movement doesn’t think, “Well, some of the women who are victimized by violence are also immigrants,” the particular way that they end up being caught between these two different forms of discrimination isn’t often recognized. So they’re more or less falling between the cracks.
One of the best things coming out of this is we can tell stories like this to make people understand that there are some women who are falling between the cracks, so that our interventions, our policies, the things we advocate for include all the women who are subject to these issues, not just the few that we can immediately think about.
EVE ENSLER: And in relationship to that, you know, people say all the time, “Why focus on violence against women?” I think the reason is that it’s the center of everything. If you really look at what’s happening to women’s bodies and what’s happening to women who are the resource of life, you can’t but look at poverty, AIDS, racism, immigration, empire-building. You know, even the environment. All these things come together that are really enacted on women’s bodies.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about war. I want to talk about Iraq for a minute and talk about violence. One of the women you had coming — and by the way, for tonight’s events, one of the women who will be speaking is Kathy Boudin, who earlier when we heard Hazelle Goodman, she was actually reading the words of Kathy Boudin, is that right?
EVE ENSLER: Yes, and her work will be read tonight. She’s not actually speaking there.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah, she’s not.
EVE ENSLER: Yeah, her work is going to be read.
AMY GOODMAN: Her own experience.
EVE ENSLER: Yeah. Yeah. And words from her. Actually, there’s a new piece by her that’s really quite wonderful about having been out of prison and what that’s been like.
But, you know, it is really interesting. We just did a panel on Tuesday last week of women in conflict and post-conflict zones, and we were scheduled to bring women here from New Orleans, because I absolutely see New Orleans as a conflict zone. If you look at any of the definitions of a conflict zone, whether it’s humanitarian crisis or ethnic cleansing, it is exactly everything that’s going on in New Orleans today.
We were also trying to bring a woman, Hannah Ibrahim, from Iraq, who’s an extraordinary woman who is doing very outspoken work to try to keep women alive and keep women together and fighting for women’s rights constitutionally in all kinds of ways, and is very outspoken against the war, obviously. The bombs are dropping on her head. She went to Damascus to try to get a visa into this country, and she actually wrote in her email that she was treated by the masters like a slave, humiliated once again, degraded once again, and made to feel horrible for even asking for a visa. And they told her to come back like the day before she needed the visa, which would have made it absolutely impossible for her to come into America. We are talking now about a country which is essentially not allowing in people who disagree with our foreign policy. And when that happens, you know, where are we? You know, where are we?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to read from an explosive U.S. government document about the situation in Iraq that was recently leaked to the Washington Post. It’s an internal memo from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that describes the situation in the Iraqi capital.
This is from a subsection titled, “Women’s Rights,” and it says, “Two of our three female employees report stepped-up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shia who favors Western clothing was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighborhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. She said some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran, even at its most conservative. Another, a Sunni, said people in her neighborhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones. She said the taxi driver who brings her every day to the Green Zone has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a head cover. A female in the cultural section” — this is in the U.S. cultural section — “is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.
“The women say they cannot identify the groups pressuring them. The cautions come from other women, sometimes from men who could be Sunni or Shia, but appear conservative. Some ministries, notably the Sadrist-controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing females to wear the hijab at work.”
Now, again, that’s from an internal memo from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and at the end of the memo, it’s the name of the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Khalilzad. Your response. You have gone to Afghanistan repeatedly. In fact, we last spoke to you on a mountain in Afghanistan. But can you talk about this?
EVE ENSLER: Well, we have been supporting women — Yanar Mohammed, we’ve been supporting, who’s running the women’s organization in Baghdad. We have been in touch with women now for the last three years, and everything we’re hearing about the situation of the women in Baghdad is just — it is shocking, and it actually really mirrors what happened in Afghanistan. It is the Talibanization of Iraq. And if we look at the fact that sex trafficking has escalated, honor killings have escalated, women’s security is abysmal, we are talking about the reversal of women’s rights, in terms of Sharia law being reintroduced into the constitution.
What most people forget is the status of women in Iraq during Saddam Hussein was actually far better off than many women throughout the region. It has now been completely undermined. And we have this illusion in this country that we have freed women in Afghanistan and freed women in Iraq. Every report we’re getting now from Afghanistan is that the situation is terrible and that warlords are everywhere, and the Taliban is completely present.
As a matter of fact, Sarah Chayes, who is in Kandahar, who I think you may have had on, recently wrote to me that there is so much activity happening with the Taliban that 74% of the people living in Kandahar actually believe that the U.S. and the Taliban are in cahoots. So we are seeing no real security having happened for women and them being absolutely used to justify this war, used to say we need to go and free the women of Afghanistan, when, in fact, that is not happening.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you see will end the violence? And do you have hope? You’ve been doing this now for years, Eve. You’ve been studying this for a very long time, Professor Crenshaw. Where do you see the hope?
EVE ENSLER: Well, we had 2,700 productions of The Vagina Monologues last year in 1,150 places. I have seen shelters open, you know, and houses open in Africa to stop FGM, and girls are literally not being cut.
AMY GOODMAN: Female genital mutilation.
EVE ENSLER: Yeah, I’ve seen the rate of rape be reduced in all kinds of places. I’m insanely hopeful, in spite of an insanely crazy world. And I think it comes from the transformation of consciousness. It comes from us all understanding that ending violence is possible. We could actually do it, if we keep going. And that doesn’t mean things aren’t terrible, because they are. But the more women and the more men who actually begin to change this paradigm and this way of thinking, the more possible it is to actually end the violence.
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: And I guess I want to say something about the importance of Eve’s work and organizations like V-Day, because in reality, we wouldn’t know most of what’s happening to women in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in other places, if we had to rely on the commercial media, and if we had to rely on government. So we need organizations like V-Day that can reach into these various contexts, reach women, and tell us what’s happening.
We know that the most important ways that movements actually grow is from knowing that what’s experienced here, what’s happening to me, is not just about me. It’s about who I am, and it’s related to what’s happening to women all over the world. So it takes an organization like V-Day. It also takes organizations — we’re doing this tonight, together with the ACLU, that have the stature, the status, the reach, the clout, the political access across the board to tell these stories. So that’s what’s going to happen tonight.
AMY GOODMAN: Is this happening outside of New York?
EVE ENSLER: Well, what’s really exciting is we’ve created this whole festival, and the dream was that it would be replicated, just like V-Days are. And I’m very proud to say that Mary Morton, a wonderful organizer in Chicago — they wanted to bring it there, and that the governor — I believe it’s the governor — has just allocated half a million dollars to make Illinois the first safe state in the world for women and girls. And a woman was here from Paris and is going to bring it to Paris. We already are getting really many requests to replicate the festival. So our hope is within the next, you know, two to five years, this festival will spread just like The Vagina Monologues, so V-Day will be happening all the time, every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about the price of women speaking out. I mean, you have famous women, like we played excerpts of Salma Hayek or Rosie Perez. And Rosie said she was in The Vagina Monologues back to 1997, but it took until 2001 for her to talk about her own experience, to speak out. What about the price of the famous women and the not-so-famous, when they do acknowledge what has happened?
EVE ENSLER: Well, you know, Jody Williams was in our event Monday night, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and she told a story of having been gang-raped by an El Salvadorian death squad. And she had never told that story publicly before. And I called her last night, and I said, “How are you doing?” She said, “I’m good, Eve. I’m good. It’s done. Now I can go and help other women by telling this story.”
And I think, you know, we have a word in v-world which is vagina warrior. It’s a woman or man who has suffered enormous violence or witnessed it, and rather than getting an AK-47 or a weapon of mass destruction, they transform it, they grieve it, and then they allow it to drive them to devote their lives to making sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else. I think when you can speak out and talk about what’s happened to you, it’s the beginning of your life. And it actually, in many cases, fuels women to become extraordinary activists who are unstoppable after that.
KIMBERLE CRENSHAW: And if I can just add one of the consequences for women of color of speaking out is, often they’re told that they’re traitors. I mean, do we remember what happened to Anita Hill when she spoke out? One of the worst things that happened to her was many people in the African American community felt that she was being a traitor. So a lot of women of color have to deal with the fact that, when they’re speaking about violence, they’re largely speaking about violence that has occurred from somebody in our own community. So we’ve got an additional obstacle to overcome, but it’s important to do it, because we realize the consequences of violence in our community, not only to the women, but to children, to families, to the well-being of the overall community.
EVE ENSLER: And that women have to stand by women. It was the same thing that just happened in South Africa that, you know, we all have to make what happens to women as important as any other issue, and not the last thing we think about.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Any One of Us: Words from Prison is going to be performed tonight at Alice Tully Hall in New York. And we’ll see how many other places in the country and the world will follow this movement. If people want to get more information, where can they go on the web?
EVE ENSLER: Well, they can go to www.vday.org. The tickets are sold out tonight, but if they come, there probably will be a few leftover tickets, and there’s many more — there’s a wonderful event that’s going to be an evening of Def Poetry at the Brooklyn Museum, which will be listed on the website.
AMY GOODMAN: And we will certainly link to all of that. So, Eve Ensler and Kimberle Crenshaw, I want to thank you very much for being with us.