Saturday, March 26, 2016

In Defense of Eve Ensler

Come one, come all! Watch as I completely destroy any credibility I once had as an anti-feminist! There's popcorn and soda by the door, so get comfy and watch the shitshow.

Now this is something that I think needs to be said, because we can't have it both ways. For those of you who don't know, Eve Ensler is the writer of The Vagina Monologues, and in one particular scene of this book an older woman plies a teenage girl with alcohol and rapes her, and one of the most famous lines from the play, "If it was a rape, it was a good rape," talks about this scene in the story.

The reason I'm writing this post is that I am also a fiction writer, something which through no fault of your own you may also be unaware, and as a fiction writer I know that all writers should be perfectly able to write whatever they want. The scene described above from The Vagina Monologues is an uncomfortable scene. It's hard to read, and describing it as 'a good rape' seriously calls the character of the author into question for a lot of people. That's understandable, as the rape of a minor is something that every right-thinking person should find totally abhorrent.

But I also know that the views of characters within stories in many and perhaps most cases do not, under any circumstances, align with the views and values of the author. The scene from Monologues is written from the perspective of the character who was raped by the older woman, and they were looking back on what had happened to them and viewed it as a positive experience. This is the perspective of the character, and not necessarily Ensler herself. To my knowledge she has never condoned anything of the kind, although if someone can show me where she did such a thing I will change my tune on her particular case immediately. But regardless of whether or not she actually endorses women raping girls, which I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and say she very likely doesn't, the overall point of this post still stands.

The point is that we have to allow authors freedom to write whatever kind of fucked up shit they want or think they have to. Stephen King is a popular example of this, and he talks about it in his semi-autobiographical work On Writing. In one of his novels, I want to say Cujo but don't hold me to that, he writes a bad guy character who is a traveling salesman. The way this character is cemented as an obviously bad guy (as so many bad guy characters are), is he attacks and kills a creature weaker than himself. He shows up to a house while the family is away, but their puppy is out in the yard and won't stop yapping at him. Eventually he gets fed up and frustrated and kicks the puppy to death in the yard and leaves. For decades King got all kinds of hate mail for that characters actions, despite the fact that he never in any way condoned that kind of behavior.

The thing that makes writing something like what King wrote, and indeed what Ensler wrote, is the suspension of disbelief. This is especially important in books that are set in what is ostensibly the real world. The actions of a certain character, given a certain upbringing and life circumstances, have to be plausible. You have to be able to picture a human doing that. And honestly what Ensler wrote is not beyond the pale. There are people out there who think that it's perfectly okay to kill other people, so a person who was raped as a teenager looking back on the experience as a positive thing later in life is not outside of the realm of possibility. There is very likely a human out there right now who had that happen to them and thinks about it in the same way Ensler's character does. This is completely plausible.

Now, the thing about this is that many anti-feminists, MRA's, MGTOW's, and other various non-feminists and manospherians have attacked Ensler, calling her character into question because of this scene in her play and using it as an example of why feminists are horrible people. "She described the rape of a child by a woman as 'a good rape' in her fictional story from the perspective of the character! She's obviously a bad person and by extension so are most other feminists!" is the implication here. And while I can perfectly understand thinking that someone is eighteen kinds of fucked up in the head for describing an adult raping a minor as 'a good rape,' that was the character talking. Not Ensler.

Like many feminists, I'm dead certain that if you dig deep enough into what Ensler has said publicly about her own opinions and positions on issues, and avoid quote mining or other intellectually dishonest tactics, you can find a plethora of things to fucking despise her over. You probably won't even have to go very far.

But attacking someone over what a character in one of their fictional stories did is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical, especially in light of recent controversies. Thousands of writers use cold-blooded, methodical, pre-meditated murder in their stories every single year. You can hardly throw a rock in one of the good, entertaining sections of a bookstore without hitting at least five books that have one of the characters committing murder. If you're going to run around saying that Eve Ensler supports women raping children because of this one scene in her book, then you have to turn that around and declare that every author who writes a character, any character, performing a distasteful action thereby endorses said distasteful action. Otherwise you're being hypocritical.

And no, Ensler's case is not special. We are talking about fiction, here. And as many people who are anti-censorship and don't want to hold people like Stephen King responsible for views their characters (who are, again, fictional people) hold or actions their characters took, fictional characters and situations are not real. We have to belabor this point because there are so many people out there who take a scene as declaration of intent or agreement from the author/creator, and they have to be reminded that nobody was actually hurt and it may turn out the author finds that view or action just as distasteful as you do. Just because a character in a movie hits a woman doesn't mean the creator of the movie is a misogynist, and just because Ensler's character described this action as good when any person with a functioning pre-frontal cortex and moral compass would find it outright horrendous, does not mean that Ensler thinks that action in the real world with real people is a good and right thing to do. And until I see concrete evidence that Ensler thinks that this kind of action in reality is just honky-dory, that is going to be my position on the matter.

If you're going to attack Eve Ensler, attack her for something she actually said or did. Not for something that she wrote in a fictional story. If people take it too seriously and start agreeing with her, that means that they're stupid, not that she has a responsibility to not put that kind of thing in her book. Creators must be free to create, this is something I will never back down on. 

People write fictional things that you don't like. Get over it. Don't try to use it as a moral referendum on the author when you don't know whether or not they actually endorse that kind of thing. Because this kind of behavior puts you firmly in the camp of the book burners and those who cry, "Ban this sick filth!" And we all know how well that went. But if you don't, I have a book for you to read.

I now look forward to the shitshow in the comments and on whatever site(s) this may be posted to.

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