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EVENT REPORT // “I am done waiting!”

written by Gregor Christiansmeyer
photo by Vanja Čerimagić

What happens if a victim of sexual abuse turns their victimhood into agency? V is an impressive example of a strong woman making vulnerability a strength. Insights into an evening.

 

A pleasant Thursday evening in Sarajevo, but US-American author and women’s rights activist V and moderator Rada Borić shake their audience up during a reading at Bookstan Festival 2022: But how does a talk starting from literature become so emotional? The short answer: because the event is discussing both V’s experiences of being sexually abused and learning how to actively cope with this horror as impressingly documented in her youngest book “The Apology” (translated to Bosnian as "Izvinjenje") and sharing perspectives on past and present forms of violence transformed into women’s agency.

As a child of only five years, her father started to abuse V. An experience that has not only shaped her life and activism but continues to do so. “I grew up in a very violent family”, V remembers, referring not only to the sexual abuse but also other forms of physical, verbal, and mental violence she was forced to live through. One could see V’s “career” as an activist for women’s rights and against violence after escaping this environment as her way to overcome these traumas. But even this life-long fight was not helping her to liberate herself from the always present past. “I was still waiting for his letter, even thirty years after his death”, she tells Rada Borić and the intently eavesdropping audience regarding an apology that never arrived.


An intense and disturbing writing process

Therefore, V decided to write her fathers apology letter on her own, trying to put herself in her fathers’ shoes. “He was with me”, she recalls, “I don’t know who really wrote the book”. One could get trapped thinking that this kind of writing and making her vulnerability so public is a kind of “soul striptease”, but when listening to V’s words, it gets clear that her letter is everything but about this. By writing “The Apology”, V does no longer feel captured by her father’s control. She is liberating herself and at the same time giving others an example how to liberate themselves.

When asking her audience, whether there is anybody not waiting for an apology: Silence. “But apology liberates all of us”, V is convinced. At the same time, she acknowledges that real, deep apologies are very hard to reach – especially when expected from men. V argues, that this is due to the fact, that an apology is not only about asking for forgiveness but making yourself vulnerable. Based on this understanding V suggests her audience four steps, that she also took on behalf of her father who during his lifetime never apologised.


For steps to real apology

First, the perpetrator needs to examine who they are, what made them as a human being? Based on that V considers an honest, detailed, and specific review of the wrongdoings of the perpetrator as key. Which should be followed by an acknowledgement of the long-term consequences the violations of all kinds they did to their victims. Only at the final stage apologising in interaction with the victim is at turn – showing the victim both the process to apology and a credible commitment not to perpetrate again, being a changed person.

After doing this hard and intimate process on behalf of her father in a literary format, V says of herself that she feels free now – as she stated to several media, this is also one of the reasons, why she does not want to carry her old name ‘Eve Ensler’ anymore but loves to be just called ‘V’.

V is a letter, an abbreviation and now a name to the author that has influenced her career as an activist after publishing “The Vagina Monologues” in 1996 and consequently starting the “V-Day” movement to end violence against women and girls.


Moving on

Her activism is it also that connects V to Bosnia and Herzegovina: In the 90s she was frequently travelling the region in order to engage with women activists. Latest since then, she states “Bosnia lives in the centre of my heart and always has”. Calling on women’s agency back in the wars and today, V wants to engage her audience with all its vulnerability and injuries to stay on track and engage towards a better, more just and more female future. A future of honest apologies and global solidarity – because V considers it impossible to fight for women’s rights and dignity without thinking the global climate crisis or class and ethnic struggles.

Regarding these issues, it is seemingly not only V, that says “I am done waiting”: The standing ovations and the emotional involvement of the audience as not only visible but almost touchable throughout the evening show their further commitment to act.

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