The Current

Men need to stand up and apologize for sexual abuse, says Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler

Playwright Eve Ensler's new book is an apology, written as a letter to herself, from her abusive father. Find out why she chose to write from her deceased father's perspective and how it helped her cope with the trauma of the past.

Author's new book is an apology, written in the voice of her father, who she says abused her

Eve Ensler at the CBC in Toronto. She thinks that the work of #MeToo must push to the next level of demanding accountability from abusers. (Padraig Moran/CBC)
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For decades, playwright Eve Ensler has watched survivors of sexual assault tell their stories and break the silence around abuse. But she says one thing has always been missing.

"I have never heard one man make a public, thorough, authentic apology for sexual abuse," said Ensler, who is best known for her play The Vagina Monologues.

"Maybe not even in 16,000 years of patriarchy have we heard that," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Ensler has written a new book, The Apology, that seeks to correct that omission in her own life. The book is written in the voice of her father, who she says sexually abused her as a young child, and then physically abused her in the years that followed.

Eve Ensler wrote The Apology as a way of exploring the words she always longed to hear from her father. (Bloomsbury)

She told Tremonti that writing the book in his voice was a way of changing a narrative she has lived with her whole life, as "perpetual victim to his perpetrator."

She also began to think that a lack of apologies may be "central to what is keeping patriarchy in its place."

"I thought: 'Well, why don't I write my father's apology? Why don't I write the words I need to hear? Why don't I see what an apology is?"

To apologize is 'to be a traitor to men'

Ensler's father began to abuse her when she was five years old, visiting her room late at night.

"It was so confusing that this person who I adored was invading me, was touching me," she said.

"It was horrifying, it was pleasurable, it was terrifying, it was wrong. ... It was all those things, and I think as that went on, I began to realize this is weird and this is wrong."

After the sexual abuse stopped, her father became violent towards her. She believes he was trying "to destroy evidence of what he had already destroyed."

Her father died more than 30 years ago. Charges for the abuse were never filed.

Eve Ensler says her father sexually abused her, and that it turned into physical violence. 1:21

She explained that when someone molests you, they become embedded in you, and it can take years to rid yourself of their presence. But she thinks an apology can be a step in that process.

"My father says to me in the book to be an apologist is to be a traitor to men," she told Tremonti.

"It's like, once one man admits that he knows what he did is wrong, it's like the whole story of patriarchy begins to crumble," she said.

"We need the brave cadre of men who are going to come forward to begin to be traitors."

What does an apology look like?

Following the success of The Vagina Monologues, Ensler launched V-Day and One Billion Rising, two international campaigns aimed at ending violence against women and girls. 

While promoting The Apology, she met many men who want to apologize for things they've done in their past, but don't know how.

To her, an apology should be a "humbling" experience.

"It's making yourself vulnerable; it's an equalizer," she explained.

Eve Ensler talks to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. (Padraig Moran/CBC)

According to Ensler, it's important that perpetrators feel what their victim felt, and understand the impact that their actions had on a victim's family and the wider community.

She also warned against apologies that are vague on the details, or let the abuse be obscured by official or academic descriptions.

"Exactly where did you put your hands? Where did you put your fingers? Where did you put your body? What did you do?"

Acknowledging the specific details allows "the tentacles of that memory, of that poison, [to] get released."

The #MeToo movement has put a spotlight on women's stories of harassment and abuse, often at the hands of men in positions of power.

Ensler says the movement needs "to go to the next level" and demand apologies, "reckoning and accountability" from the perpetrators.

Without that accountability, "we will not survive as a human species," she warned.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Karin Marley.