Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Oh Eve, is it all really about you? Or am I too tired to get it?

Two TED talks this morning to fire up my brain. Linkies one and two

I find engaging with the rapid fire Eve Ensler challenging but I know others really love her so thought I'd give these talks a go. My reactions to her feel instinctive (perhaps, she would say, ironically) which makes it hard to articulate why I'm annoyed. Watching Ensler, I swing like a pendulum. I admire her passion and energy, her righteous words and sway over the audience. For a minute I find her fabulous. I too want to say I love love love being a girl with all that goes with it. At the same time I'm confused by the 'girl cells', the scientist part of me is trying to work that out, while the poet says, let it go, Jude, she's not being literal, just go with it. I know they're not really cells (duh) and of course I understand she isn't talking about girls but about an abstraction, a set of feminised values and emotions that belong to all of us; but there's something uncomfortable under this. Maybe it feels like there's a touch of the old essentializing trope that if women ran the world there'd be less violence and stupidity... Oops, she's moved on... Never mind.

While I agree with a lot of what she's saying, and god knows there's a need for greater compassion and all the rest of the girl cell stuff in the world, there's a dense set of issues in here she skips across. Generally I enjoyed the first talk but there's much jumbled in there I haven't unpicked yet. At this point I'd like to engage with her work more but I don't think I have had enough sleep to do so intelligently. I feel like the kid in There's a Wocket in my pocket who's whiplashed watching the Zall zip past him down the hall. What happened? Or as Elly would say, why does he have so many eyes? You try explaining that to a three year-old. Also, I feel awful about the Congo. And a bit ashamed I put that sentence after one about Dr Suess.

Still, Martha is happy on my lap so I click on the next one. Then the pendulum swings and I find myself agreeing with those who say she seems self-obsessed. Are all the worlds' woes really analogous to Ensler's personal experience of cancer? Intellectually I understand what she's saying but something repels me about this part of the second talk. Is it self-centered to talk this way, almost implying that all of the terrible things you've seen around the world have helped with your journey of self-connectedness? But this makes me pause, for isn't this the thing we say about women, call them selfish? Ensler herself mentions this in the first talk when she says we've taught girls their most important verb is 'to please' and how she wants us to replace it. And isn't that how intelligent people live in the world, reflexively, making connections? How would you expect her to react to the god-awful things she's seen done to women in dozens of countries? Or what she's been through herself? So I swing back to thinking of her words less literally, and remember also that the only way we can engage with the world is through ourselves. I liked that she explores the concept of being out of her body, or should that be not of her body? and her journey back into it. Also, why the hell shouldn't she be angry? I'd be angry if I wasn't so tired.

It's hard not to get swept along in her hurried and excitable prose. At the same time the part of my brain that values structured analysis is distracted by the leaps her narrative makes from one story to another, while part of me is still inwardly arguing with what she was saying two paragraphs ago, now we're onto something different. Slow down, Eve! I've missed the logic train and stand annoyed on the platform as she puffs into the distance.

But what a performer she is. Mostly I like that Ensler is the kind of talker I find my mind returning to later to chew over something she said. Also, I felt oddly guilty for admiring her boots. Is that a kosher thing to do when one feminist is supposed to be listening to another? Probably not.

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