Why Are Feminists Calling the Writer Of 'The Vagina Monologues' a Racist?

ByDanielle Paradis

Indigenous women in Canada and the United States are speaking out against Eve Ensler, the writer of The Vagina Monologues, for her part in the V-Day organization and the One Billion Rising event. Indigenous women are saying that the events like V-Day and One Billion Rising are taking away from events which already exist for these women rather than helping the community. In intersectional feminism, as in coalition politics, women need to learn to be allies to other women of different ethic backgrounds or religions as their own. A lot of what is considered narcissism of the small differences comes down to feminists being poor allies to one another.

Lauren Chief Elk wrote an open letter to One Billion Rising explaining the significance of February 14th for indigenous women, and the problematic nature of colonial movements that speak over already marginalized voices. In an email interview Lauren Chief Elk stated of One Billion Rising:

"... they silenced the voices that were expressing concern, and decided to respond to my open letter with dismissive excuses and making me and the other Indigenous women the bad people. If V-Day was not interested in the MMIW memorial events and the grassroots work that had already been happening, then what exactly were they 'spotlighting'?"

There has been a response to Chief Elk's letter from Tanisha Taitt, national coordinator for One Billion Rising from the Canadian region. She responded to the open letter and expressing that women of color  have "spearheaded around the world by women of ALL races, extending themselves in community and in love to other women. I headed OBR in this country. I am a black Canadian of Caribbean descent."

The issues between indigenous women and Ensler's organization are highlighting a lot of the frustrations that coalition advocates find themselves in when balancing race and privilege. February 14 already holds significance to indigenous women, including memorial events originating in Vancouver such as the "Annual Women’s Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women." The event is held on Valentine's Day each year to honour the memory of women from the Downtown Eastside who have died due to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence. Organizations like Battered Women's Support Services in Vancouver work in solidarity with No More Silence and Native Youth Sexual Health to assist with the Memorial for Missing and Murdered women. There are numerous Toronto organizations and agencies who endorse the event, which has been ongoing for eight years. 

Other cities (14 across Canada in 2013) also hold memorial events on Feb 14 like in Toronto, where No More Silence has been organizing a strawberry ceremony at police headquarters for the past eight years to honour missing and murdered indigenous women. In recent years, other community groups such as the Native Youth Sexual Health Network have assisted and the event is endorsed by numerous Toronto organizations (unions, agencies, churches etc.).

Says Chief Elk, "I am hoping that at some point Eve Ensler and V-Day take some personal responsibility and accountability for this. Based on some responses I've received to my open letter this is not unique to Canada. Women from all over the world, including Africa, are feeling like V-Day is only interested in making inroads off of the backs of other women and is not actually interested in amplifying the work that has already been happening. This is very much colonial and racist behavior."

Even Ensler has posted a response as well, regretting that V-Day did not hear of the Women's Memorial Marches earlier and insisting that they did attempt to find a compromise but failed. With continued communication, the groups may be able to reconcile what has been a long-standing issue within feminism.