A couple of days ago I stumbled upon I am an Emotional Creature, which is renowned writer, feminist and activist Eve Ensler’s ode to teenage girls around the world. Ensler, of The Vagina Monologues fame has crafted 36 short pieces and a new campaign around her latest fight for the livelihoods, the empowerment and the hearts of teenage girls who will undoubtedly struggle while trying to navigate what it means to be a girl today.
As a preface to this post, I think it’s important to note that I am exceptionally envious of Eve Ensler who has met incredible individuals from all over the world, given electrifying performances, written shocking but exciting plays, lectured on her work and started the V-day campaign. I would love to do what she does. But there is something that nags at me whenever I cross paths with Eve Ensler’s written work.
I was fourteen when I first heard about The Vagina Monologues. I was swimming with a friend when she told me about “Vagina Happy Fact”, that there are 8,000 nerve fibers located in a woman’s clitoris. I then came across The Vagina Monologues during my freshman year at college, where the play is produced every year with proceeds going to local women’s charities. That year, I saw the show in February and thought it was hysterical and audacious, but I don’t remember loving it. Still, I auditioned for the show the next year and interestingly enough, was chosen to recite “Vagina Happy Fact”. I loved being a member of a cast that was made up of women who were open and funny and not shy about their bodies or their sexuality. I felt like I was a part of a strong community. But the more we rehearsed, the more we began to pick the monologues apart. I wanted to think that the show was a great thing, a wonderful thing, but I began to resent the words I was memorizing. I know that the majority of Eve Ensler’s monologues are based off of interviews, but I could not help but feel that they were so…presumptuous and self-indulgent. I didn’t truly understand how Eve Ensler could imagine what it might be like to be a Bosnian woman during ethnic cleansing or a woman during the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan. I don’t even know how Eve Ensler imagined a vocabulary or a language for these experiences that she hasn’t had.
Unfortunately, the same is true for I am an Emotional Creature. There are multiple pieces about girls living in horrific situations around the world. There’s a victim of sex trafficking in Sofia, Bulgaria. There’s a suicide bomber in Ramallah, Palestine. There’s a girl working in a factory in Kwai Yong, China and a girl who has experienced FGC in Cairo, Egypt and more. Eve Ensler explains her ability to write by noting the following at the beginning of the book:
These monologues are not interviews. Each monologue is a literary text inspired by traveling the world, by witnessing events, by listening to real and imagined conversations. On occasion a monologue was inspired by an article, an experience, a memory, a dream, a wish, an image or a moment of grief or rage.
However, I am not sure if this is enough to substantiate what Ensler is attempting. There simply isn’t enough depth or complexity to these narratives. There isn’t enough nuance or subtlety. It seems like everything you might have imagined about teenage girls you don’t know, becomes truth in I am an Emotional Creature. Yet in actuality, the monologues should challenge our perceptions of what we think teenage girls experience and how they experience them. On the About page of the v-girl website, it claims that the book is “a celebration of the authentic voice inside every girl…”, but herein lies the issue: the narratives are almost wholly inauthentic.
In a recent post I read which reviewed a new scholarly text on gender and violence within the Arab and Arab American feminist experience, the author of the post noted that the text “turns the feminist ‘sisterhood is global’ motto on it’ head, positing that there is no ‘universal woman’s experience”. I feel this is closely related to my criticism of Eve Ensler’s work. Ensler has experienced what it means to grow from a girl to a woman within the United States, and she has had the privilege of traveling the world and seeing, hearing, observing the lives of girls and women and the culture/societies in which they were raised and currently live. But Eve Ensler is not those girls or women. She does not know what their experiences actually feel like. Emotions are so intimately complex and personal, can anybody fully comprehend what it means to work in a factory, to be trafficked, to run for their life when they have never had to? As an extension of this issue I also wonder, why is she telling their stories? Why are women reciting what Eve Ensler has imagined for them when women can actually be speaking about themselves, whether they are actually saying it aloud or writing it down. We are all women, but we are all women differently. We are similar but we are not the same, and we are capable of empathizing and helping one another to the best of our abilities without claiming or possessing each other. We shouldn’t speak for one another, but encourage each other to speak for ourselves, together.
Though I have many a bone to pick with Eve Ensler’s tactics and approach, she does have a gift and a better handle on some of the narratives that are based in the United States. Her piece “Dear Rihanna” does aptly describe criticism of Rihanna post-Chris Brown from the perspective of a teenager who is also involved in an abusive relationship. “You Tell Me How to Be a Girl in 2010” is a fun piece about activism, sacrifice and the problems occurring all around the world, though I believe this piece comes from a fairly privileged (observer versus directly impacted) point of view. Ensler’s epilogue “Manifesta to Young Women” is especially notable, as it is actually Eve Ensler’s advice to girls everywhere, stemming from her actual experiences. Lastly, my personal favorite monologue is a triplet, entitled “I Dance” which I interpret as a piece which explores how dancing is an intrinsic physical manifestation/representation of how we feel in our hearts and heads.
In all honesty, I appreciate Ensler’s work and I do see the merit in it. I would love, in fact, it would make me feel whole, to see Ensler’s hopes for girls around the world come true in reality because I know that there are atrocities being committed every, every day. And speaking as a girl who grew up in the United States, I would also like to stop seeing girls demeaned, sexualized, ignored, harassed and disregarded within my own society. I would like for girls to see past some of the bullshit that is rampant in our male dominated social structure. And as a part of this, I would also like there to be a push for boys to claim that they are emotional creatures too, because we are all emotional creatures with our own forms of self expression and our own stories to share.