Global girl power

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

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

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