Global girl power
Who can forget the way the fairy-tale romance of Rihanna and Chris Brown went wrong? This time last year, the media was abuzz with details about the once-picture-perfect young couple: after an argument, Brown was arrested and charged with assault and making criminal threats against his girlfriend. Photos of the songstress, bruised and battered, circulated online and in print.
Not surprisingly, the public outcry was widespread and deafening. OprahWinfrey devoted an entire show to the issue of domestic violence, dedicating it to “all the Rihannas in the world and all the young men who would think of hitting a woman.”
But according to the Boston Public Health Commission, nearly half of the 200 teens the group surveyed about the controversy— 46 percent— said Rihanna was “ ‘responsible’ for what happened.” The organization also reported that “a significant number of males and females in the survey said Rihanna was destroying Chris Brown’s career” by speaking to the press. Celebrity mania and romantic fantasies apparently make the horrifying topic of abuse perplexing to teens, especially young women.
The dark side of love is one of many topics Eve Ensler, author of the legendary Vagina Monologues, addresses in her new book, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (Villard/Random House). Ensler created about 30 fictional monologues— written in poetry and prose— based on conversations she had with girls during her travels over the past decade or so. In the pieces, she assumes the voices of young women the world over— sex slaves, factory workers, victims of rape and genital mutilation, anorexics, and suburban American high-school girls— expressing the obstacles, threats, and pressures they face and attempt to overcome. Amid the monologues, Ensler inserts enlightening, sometimes frightening “Girl Facts” gleaned from sources such as the United Nations, including that approximately 3 million African girls are at risk for genital mutilation every year, that half a million girls under 18 are victims of sex trafficking, and that 40 percent of teenage girls say they know someone their age who has been physically abused by a boyfriend.
In a production directed by Jocelyn Jansons scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, young New Mexico women read selections from I Am an Emotional Creature. Performances by Moving People Dance Theatre and Pomegranate Seeds (an after-school program of Pomegranate Studios) will be woven in with the readings, and Ensler will speak. Proceeds from the performance will benefit the Santa Fe Mountain Center as well as V-Day, Ensler’s global movement to end violence against women and girls. She founded the nonprofit organization in 1998, and she says it has raised more than $70 million to date.
The nonprofit Santa Fe Mountain Center strives to promote social change and personal discovery by offering team-building experiences for children, adults, families, and other groups. “We use adventure and other empowering methodologies to create rich and transforming life experiences,” executive director Sky Gray said. She noted that 40 percent of the individuals the organization works with are women and girls, and the center provides several programs focusing on female-specific recovery and healing.
“We are so pleased to be the recipient of this benefit,” Gray added. “We have provided services for vulnerable and underserved populations for 30 years, and to be included in this event alongside talented, brave young women and Eve Ensler is such an amazing honor. We stand in solidarity with Eve and V-Day to stop violence and build strong voices.”
“Eve historically has always brought awareness up,” said Diana McWilliams, executive director of the Santa Fe Rape Crisis & Trauma Treatment Center. “She does a great job, because she does it with heart and humor,” which “helps normalize the healing. It’s important that she comes at it from the perspective of younger eyes.”
Teenagers should be reminded that “we’ve come a long way” in terms of human rights and dealing with violence, McWilliams added, “but we still have a long way to go. That shouldn’t be forgotten.”
“So many of the women I have met through The Vagina Monologues and… V-Day are still trying to overcome what was muted or undone in them when they were young,” Ensler writes in her introduction to I Am an Emotional Creature. “They are struggling… to know their desires, to find their power and their way.”
She told Pasatiempo, “It’s rough out there for a girl.” The problems girls face in different cultures vary, she said, but what connects them is “a general cultural mandate for them to please, to do what somebody else — parents, boyfriends, friends— wants them to do.” The intent of Ensler’s latest work is to inspire girls everywhere “to speak up, follow their dreams, and become the women they were always meant to be.”
Ensler and V-Day recently launched V-Girls, designed to engage and ignite the enthusiasm of young women and to educate and nurture them as activists. Ensler has big plans for I Am an Emotional Creature, which is still in its early stages. The production may become a play that communities across the country and around the world can produce to raise awareness and funds, as they did with The Vagina Monologues.
Both V-Girls and I Am an Emotional Creature create a platform for girls’ voices, Ensler said. “Girls are an amazing resource,” she insisted. “I think the more young people get involved, the more the possibility for change.”
Playwright Eve Ensler with two women outside Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, in eastern Congo