Author Talk: Eve Ensler
Eve Ensler has been fighting violence against women and girls for more than 20 years. Founder of V-Day and One Billion Rising, both global campaigns to end sexual violence against women, the Tony Award-winning playwright and activist lives in upstate New York, where she practices no religion, although her father was Jewish.
Why did you write The Apology?
We’ve done a good job over the years getting women to tell their stories, but I feel we have to go to the next level. In all the years I’ve been doing this work, so many men have been called out, accused, some men have gone to prison, some have lost jobs—but I’ve never heard a man write or speak a public apology where he went into the details of what he had done and talked about the harm he had caused someone. Looking at his own history, investigating the roots of patriarchy and how it impacted him, taking responsibility—and apologizing. It was a semi-revelation. I suddenly said, “What if I actually wrote an apology for my father, through his mind, and said the words I needed to hear so that we could actually see what that looks like?” To feel it, to have the experience of it. That was really the motivation.
What was the hardest thing about writing the book?
I had to really go to a place I’d never gone to before, which was to feel my father’s pain, to climb into his history to see what had shaped him, feeling where he was broken. It would have been much easier to be revengeful, to be righteous. I’ve certainly had those stages in my life. But one of the most amazing things about writing this was I realized how deeply our perpetrators live inside us, and that we hold them in some ways more centrally than we do ourselves until we get well. And I realized that we can change how they live inside us. We can turn them from being abusers to apologists. From being monsters to people who admit where they’re broken.
How can the book help other women?
First, let me talk about men. It doesn’t matter if you tell yourself as a perpetrator that it’s not affecting you. It is affecting you. Anybody’s bad deeds—and my father really taught me this in writing this book—contaminate us and determine us. Women spend their lives recovering from sexual violence, and men spend their lives covering for it. Unless men become accountable in a real process of reckoning and self-interrogation, we’re going to be here in another 50 to 100 years still fighting violence against women.
For men, I think accountability is the path to freedom and a new way of being in this world. And for women, if they can’t get an apology from a perpetrator, whether because they’re dead or refusing, writing an imaginary letter to themselves from their perpetrator is an incredibly liberating experience. Apologies are the most powerful tools for transformation and the most difficult thing.
Joanne Sydney Lessner is an author and playwright. Her musical, Einstein’s Dreams, premieres Off Broadway this fall.