- Eve Ensler
award-winning playwright and creator of The Vagina Monologues and V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.
- Christine Schuler Deschryver
Congolese human rights activist with V-Day. She is the director of City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu.
When President Trump signed his first executive order in January to temporarily ban refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim nations, he said it was needed, in part, to protect women. A little-noticed part of the executive order reads, “The United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred, including 'honor' killings, other forms of violence against women.” Some observers have noticed the irony in the executive order. Both the man who signed the order, Donald Trump, and the man who drafted the order, his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, have in the past been accused of committing violence against women. During the presidential campaign, Trump famously boasted about sexually assaulting women and grabbing them “by the pussy,” in a leaked video recorded by NBC’s “Access Hollywood.” Eight women have now come forward and accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment. And Trump is not alone. Stephen Bannon was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996. Trump’s first pick to be labor secretary, fast-food giant CEO Andrew Puzder, was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, who even went on “Oprah” in disguise to speak about domestic violence. For more, we turn to a recent Democracy Now! interview with Eve Ensler, playwright, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” and Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo.
AMY GOODMAN: When President Trump signed his first executive order in January to temporarily ban refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim nations, he said it was needed, in part, to protect women. A little-noticed part of the executive order reads, quote, “The United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including 'honor' killings, other forms of violence against women,” unquote. Some observers have noticed the irony in the executive order. Both the man who signed the order, Donald Trump, and the man who drafted the order, his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, have in the past been accused of committing violence against women.
During the presidential campaign, Trump famously boasted about sexually assaulting women and grabbing them, quote, “by the pussy,” unquote, in a leaked video recorded by NBC’s Access Hollywood. Eight women have now come forward and accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment. In the '80s, Trump's ex-wife, Ivana, said during a divorce deposition that Donald had raped her. The author Harry Hurt described Trump holding back Ivana’s arms, pulling out fistfuls of her hair, then forcing her to have sex. Ivana Trump later softened her language to say she felt violated by what happened.
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon was charged with domestic violence and battery in 1996. A Santa Monica, California, police report said Bannon grabbed his then-wife, Mary Louise Piccard, quote, “by the throat and arm” and threatened to leave with the couple’s twin daughters. Bannon pleaded not guilty to the charges, which were dropped when Piccard did not appear in court. Piccard claimed in divorce proceedings that Bannon pressured her not to testify.
And Trump and Bannon are not alone. Trump’s pick to be labor secretary, fast-food giant CEO Andrew Puzder, was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, who even went on Oprah in disguise to speak about domestic violence.
LISA FIERSTEIN: The most frightening thing was leaving, because once I made that break and once I made it public—and remember, my ex-husband was a public figure. Everyone knew him and knew what he was doing. And once I made that public, he vowed revenge. He said, “I will see you in the gutter. This will never be over. You will pay for this.” I wound up losing everything.
AMY GOODMAN: Puzder’s ex-wife later withdraw the allegations as part of a 1990 child custody agreement, but the abuse claims in the Oprah video helped lead to Puzder withdrawing his nomination last month.
Meanwhile, advocates of domestic abuse victims have expressed alarm over the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. In 2013, he voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, a law which he will now be responsible for enforcing. Tom Price, the new secretary of health and human services, also voted against the law’s reauthorization. There are also reports the Trump administration may eliminate programs that aim to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault.
Well, I recently sat down with two pioneers who have spent decades fighting domestic abuse: Eve Ensler, the playwright, author of The Vagina Monologues, and Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo. I began by asking Eve Ensler to talk about Donald Trump.
EVE ENSLER: Yes, and I think I’ve been feeling this for over two years, that, you know, watching Trump and watching the people Trump surrounds himself with, we are seeing the escalation of rape culture, a predatory mindset, in many respects, but I’ll particularly address towards women. I think—I think, from the very beginning, listening to Trump and listening—how is it possible that a nation of people felt OK with electing a self-confessed sexual assaulter? How is it possible we feel OK with Bannon, who seems to be running the show right now, who is known to have beaten his wife, right? If we look at that as something that’s acceptable—right?—in a general way, then we understand we haven’t really gotten to the root of rape culture in America. Right? But I also think that predatory mindset is affecting everything. Right? We’re gutting regulations on air, on water and on the earth. We’re escalating extraction. We’re seeing the ransacking of laws, a disparaging of immigrants. And this is all part of a predatory mindset, which is really about one person in power who does what he wants without the consent—right?—of the people around him, which is exactly what rape culture is. You seize people’s bodies, you take them against their will, and you do whatever you want to them.
AMY GOODMAN: Christine Schuler Deschryver, you’re coming here from the Congo. How much attention is being paid to the Trump administration in Congo? And your thoughts when you come here?
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Well, we are really following what’s going on in the U.S. And I have to say, we are very shocked. First of all, I remember, like weeks ago, we were talking about “What about if Trump was a black president, who had like three—I think three wives?” The kind of guy that he is, I think things would have been totally different. And today we are talking about the U.S. as the—it should be a model. But right now, it’s like Eve just said. It’s like a rape culture is back. And we are really worried at also the impunity, and it will affect all of us. I think this has to change. And when we were talking, we felt like we have—we also have to march in Congo to stop all this.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you talk about impunity. The women who have come forward and said that Donald Trump sexually assaulting them, Trump’s response, saying they weren’t telling the truth, was, as soon as the election was over, he would sue them. We haven’t heard anything about these suits. Eve?
EVE ENSLER: Well, it’s the tactic of the perpetrator, right? Like you always make—you’re the victim, right? You take it—you reverse it. It’s a mind game, right? You’ll sue the people you’ve already attacked. It’s sort of like bombing—
AMY GOODMAN: But, of course, he hasn’t, because that would mean discovery—
EVE ENSLER: No, of course not.
AMY GOODMAN: —and information coming out.
EVE ENSLER: But there’s—it’s kind of a mindset, too. It’s like we bomb Iraqis, and we destroy people in the countries around the world, and then we refuse to give them admission and safety. So it’s this double thing, right? Not only are you destroying people’s lives, but then you’re refusing them safety and refuge—
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Absolutely.
EVE ENSLER: —after you’ve destroyed them. And that’s the same thing as like after I rape you or after I harass you, I sue you. Right? That way, it takes all the attention off the act that I’ve done, or even the threat of that. You know? And I also want to say, in terms of the Congo—I mean, we’ll get into it, but in the course of all these kind of things that he’s attempting to deregulate for the benefit of corporations, you know, now there is a leaked memo saying that it would free the U.S. companies to buy conflict minerals from Central African warlords, which is something we have been fighting and fighting and fighting to get these regulations on these conflict minerals. And if they’re—if they’re freed again, we will see the escalation of rape in ways that we knew five and 10 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about this, Christine? It’s just now we’re seeing some reports in The Guardian and The Intercept about the possibility of Trump signing an executive order that would deregulate conflict minerals.
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: No, it brings us like 20 years—20 years before. And it really legitimates all the perpetrators and also the rape. So, it will strengthen, you know, like all the dictators we have in Central Africa, because now they will feel free to plunder Congo with all the multinationals. And I think that the violence will escalate much more. And the last three, four years, it started, you know, to go down, but now I think all the dictators will be like so comfortable to continue to plunder the Congo with the international community.
EVE ENSLER: And I think what’s connected to that is we know where there is plundering of mines, you know, where multinationals come in and use proxy militias, in the same way that the oil companies are using state violence in Standing Rock, we know women are always on the front lines of those struggles, and women suffer sexual violence. I was in the Bakken oil fields, for example, where—I was there with, you know, Winona LaDuke. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Of North Dakota.
EVE ENSLER: Of North Dakota.
AMY GOODMAN: Where the fracked oil will come from that goes through the pipeline if it’s ever completed.
EVE ENSLER: Exactly. And the man camps that were set up there, the rate of sexual violence that had escalated there was mind-blowing. Well, this is the same situation in the Congo, once these corporations make deals with warlords, right? The warlords are licensed, and the way they get into these villages, the way they get access to these mines, is they rape, and they destroy women in these communities. They break apart the communities, and then they move in to take the mines. So Trump is not only unleashing rape culture in this culture; he is unleashing it in Africa by, you know, destroying these conflict mineral protections. And to me, that is very terrifying.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go for a moment to a few clips. I want to go back to what was called the October surprise from last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump, well, taking a hit and several Republican lawmakers distancing themselves from his campaign, following the release of this 2005 videotape showing Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women.
BILLY BUSH: Sheesh, your girl’s hot as [bleep]. In the purple.
DONALD TRUMP: Whoa!
BILLY BUSH: Yes!
DONALD TRUMP: Whoa!
BILLY BUSH: Yes! The Donald has scored!
DONALD TRUMP: Whoa!
BILLY BUSH: Whoa, my man! Wait, wait, you’ve got to look at me when you get out and be like—
UNIDENTIFIED: Just remember who set this up. Just remember.
BILLY BUSH: Will you give me the thumbs up?
DONALD TRUMP: That is very funny. Look at you. You are a pussy.
BILLY BUSH: You’ve got to put the thumbs up. You’ve got to give the thumbs up.
UNIDENTIFIED: You can’t be too happy, man.
BILLY BUSH: You’ve got to give the thumbs up.
DONALD TRUMP: All right, you and I will walk in.
BILLY BUSH: Oh, my god!
DONALD TRUMP: Maybe it’s a different one.
BILLY BUSH: It better not be the publicist. No, it’s her. It’s her.
DONALD TRUMP: Yeah, that’s her, with the gold. I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
DONALD TRUMP: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Look at those legs. All I can see is the legs.
DONALD TRUMP: Oh, looks good.
BILLY BUSH: Come on, shorty.
DONALD TRUMP: Ooh, nice legs, huh?
BILLY BUSH: Oof, get out of the way, honey. Oh, that’s good legs. Go ahead.
DONALD TRUMP: It’s always good if you don’t fall out of the bus. Like Ford, Gerald Ford. Remember?
BILLY BUSH: Down below. Pull the handle.
DONALD TRUMP: Hello. How are you? Hi.
ARIANNE ZUCKER: Hi, Mr. Trump. How are you? Pleasure to meet you.
DONALD TRUMP: Nice seeing you.
ARIANNE ZUCKER: Pleasure to meet you.
DONALD TRUMP: Terrific. Terrific. You know Billy Bush?
ARIANNE ZUCKER: How are you?
BILLY BUSH: Hello. Nice to see you. How are you doing, Arianne?
ARIANNE ZUCKER: I’m doing very well. Thank you. Are you ready to be a soap star?
DONALD TRUMP: We’re ready. Let’s go. Make me a soap star.
BILLY BUSH: How about a little hug for the Donald? He just got off the bus.
ARIANNE ZUCKER: Would you like a little hug, darling?
DONALD TRUMP: OK, absolutely. Melania said this was OK.
BILLY BUSH: How about a little hug for the Bushy?
AMY GOODMAN: So, those are the words of the now president of the United States, Donald Trump. The only one who went down over that whole episode, Washington Post releasing the videotape, was Billy Bush, the person who was with him at that time, from entertainment television. Eve?
EVE ENSLER: Well, to me, you know—it was so alarming to me, having worked all these years to get an idea of what rape is and what sexual assault is and what it means for women to have agency over their own bodies, and to see not only a president who arrogantly just grabbed women and felt he had access to women, but also to see Republicans and to see so many people around him normalize that so quickly. I mean, that story was in the news for maybe two weeks before it was normalized, before it was accepted. OK, that’s just what men do, right? And even the talk of, you know, this is locker room talk—remember that whole period. Whose locker room? Like which locker room are you in? Like I know a lot of men who don’t talk that way in locker rooms. But the locker rooms you’re in, they’re having those kind of—and—
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. I saw a poster. Actually, it was a waitress who carries a towel with her that she wrote on so that she can protest anywhere she wants to. She balls it up and puts it in her bag, and it says, “The world is not your locker room.”
EVE ENSLER: Yes, yes. And I think if we look—OK, let’s take the Women’s March, which was an unbelievable outpouring of women demanding, speaking up for and cherishing and knowing what their rights are. What did he do a day later? He destroyed reproductive rights and the support of NGOs who were even offering a discussion about abortion around the world. That was his cynical, violent response to 5 million women and men rising around the world. And that is rape culture. That in itself was an act of rape. It was like, “Really? You think you’re going to have power? You think you’re going to—watch what I’m going to do the next day.” I feel like so many of these executive whatever we’re calling them, orders, as you said, tweets, you know, moments of dementia, are all these kind of violent acts that are saying, in no uncertain terms, “I do what I want, regardless of your needs, regardless of what you want in your body, in your life, and I’m going to continue to do that in any way I want.”
AMY GOODMAN: And, Christine, what does this mean in the Congo, when we’re talking about issues of rape?
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: You know, for me, I want to compare it like, for example, when you talk it’s like they have access to women, women, you know, as a thing, the way they have access to the earth, to the land. And maybe, you know, we also followed in Congo all the grassroots women march for the Standing Rock. And I think it’s exactly the same in Congo, because the way they rape women, that’s the way they rape the earth also in Dakota, when we see all the pipelines, you know, like raping, raping, raping, raping the land. And we cannot dissociate that. That’s also one of the reasons I think all the grassroots women, from all over the world, they have to be—they have to be leaders, and also to protect Mother Nature, because we cannot dissociate both of them. At City of Joy, for example, we—
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what City of Joy is.
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: City of Joy, it’s a place where we receive 90 young women to heal their bodies and minds, and we train them to be leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: They’ve all been raped?
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Most of them, yes. But they are survivors—
AMY GOODMAN: By?
CHRISTINE SCHULER DESCHRYVER: Survivors of gender violence. But most of them, I have to say, they were raped by militias, by the police, by domestic rape. And they’re all survivors of atrocities. And they stay—they stay there. It’s in Bukavu in eastern of Democratic Republic of Congo. And they stay there for six months. So, the program is to transform their pain to power. And after, some of them, they go, because we also have a farm to transform pain to planting. So they work at the farm. So we also—you know, we live with Mother Nature, and we give back to Mother Nature. For example, they learn how to make—to make compost. And I think City of Joy has to be an example, an example for the whole world, because right now I think the women, like the grassroots women, are the ones who paid—who paid the most for everything that happened. Look in Dakota. Look in Congo, everywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of V-Day Congo and the City of Joy, and Eve Ensler, playwright, author of The Vagina Monologues. Eve Ensler is heading to Washington right now on the train for a Women Workers Rising protest this afternoon outside the Department of Labor, where hundreds of women plan to surround the building demanding an end to workplace violence. When we come back, Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Taína Asili, performing at the Women’s March on Washington, January 21st, the day after the inauguration. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.