(Trigger Warning: Rape, Assault)
“When my father was dying, he called my mother to his bedside and told her ‘Whatever Eve tells you about me, just know that she’s liar.’”
A collective gasp rose from the auditorium as Eve Ensler told us about the years of sexual and physical abuse her father had put her through during her childhood. The award-winning author of “The Vagina Monologues” and creator of One Billion Rising—a global movement to end violence against women and girls—was in New Delhi speaking about her newest book, “The Apology”.
It was incidents like these that Ensler had hoped her father would apologise for, and never did, right up until he died 31 years ago. Incidents that she hadn’t understood were rape, assault, and emotional abuse until she was much older. Incidents that a 2018 National Family Health Survey found happen to 1 in 3 women in India. The incidents that our families, peers and courts bury day in and day out. And that’s why Ensler decided to give herself what was owed to her.
“The Apology” is a book written entirely from her father’s point of view, recounting every horrific thing he had done to her. And it’s a long time coming. She said, “In 16,000 years of patriarchy, not a single record of a man’s apology for sexual violence!” She continued, saying, “To be an apologist is to be a traitor to men.” There’s no better example of this than the aftermath of #MeToo—men was gripped with the fear of being called out, rather than examining their role in systemic violence against women and girls. And the more graphic the accounts, the harder the pushback.
But it’s the searing detail that we really need right now. According to Ensler, experiences of violence are reduced to a one-line news report that doesn’t convey a fraction of the vileness of these acts. “The Apology” is deliberately and devastating detailed in its record of sexual violence.
Ensler’s commented on what sexual violence does to a person’s sexuality. In her own case, she talked about how wrongness and danger became fused with sexuality, and how often survivors can and do love the person abusing them. “It changes your sexual chemistry. Rape becomes what turns you on.”
A hard pill to swallow, but necessary to our understanding of just how much damage violence against women and girls causes. Post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide attemps, and substance abuse are just some of the effects of sexual violence, as listed by RAINN. A study by University College London says “Four out of five teenage girls who have been sexually assaulted are suffering from crippling mental health problems months after their attack.”
Can there ever be any healing from something like this?
The imaginative process that went into the book, Ensler told the audience, was as a release. It was an opportunity to explore what she calls the “Alchemy of an Apology”. There are four tenets to it, in a tight sequence.
You might write this off as an impossible task. And with all the impunity that society bestows on men, I wouldn’t blame you. But here’s the thing. Through “The Apology”, Ensler provides a “blueprint for men”. An advocate for restorative justice, she shifts the onus away from survivors, and shows perpetrators (specifically males) how to take responsibility for their actions. Because that’s how we can move move forward.