By Chris Hedges / The Real News Network
The leaked majority draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health—which suggests the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, returning the question of abortion to the states—is part of a broader assault against women. The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has seen an estimated 30% increase in violent attacks against women, along with the curtailment of their rights. This assault, writes author and activist V, is “the most severe setback to women’s liberation in my lifetime.”
Much of this abuse, including an increase in sex and labor trafficking, is driven by the loss of work, further disempowering women. “In the US, more than 5 million women’s jobs were lost between the start of the pandemic and November 2020,” V writes in The Guardian. “Because much of women’s work requires physical contact with the public—restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings—theirs were some of the first to go. Those who were able to keep their jobs were often frontline workers whose positions have put them in great danger; some 77% of hospital workers and 74% of school staff are women. Even then, the lack of childcare options left many women unable to return to their jobs.”
In this installment of The Chris Hedges Report, Chris speaks with V about how the expected overturning of Roe and the attacks on LGBTQ+ rights are part of a global, reactionary, theocratic war for patriarchal domination. V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) is a Tony-award winning playwright, author, and activist. Her new book is The Apology.
Chris Hedges interviews writers, intellectuals, and dissidents, many banished from the mainstream, in his half-hour show, The Chris Hedges Report. He gives voice to those, from Cornel West and Noam Chomsky to the leaders of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who are on the front lines of the struggle against militarism, corporate capitalism, white supremacy, the looming ecocide, as well as the battle to wrest back our democracy from the clutches of the ruling global oligarchy.
Pre-Production: Kayla Rivara
Studio: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Chris Hedges: The leaked majority draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health which suggests the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, returning the question of abortion to the States, is part of a broader assault against women. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an estimated 30% increase in violent attacks against women, along with a curtailment of their rights. “This assault,” writes V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, “is the most severe setback to women’s liberation in my lifetime.” Much of this abuse, including an increase in sex and labor trafficking, is driven by the loss of work, further disempowering women.
“In the US,” she writes, “more than five million women’s jobs were lost between the start of the pandemic and November 2020. Because much of the women’s work requires physical contact with the public: restaurants, stores, childcare, healthcare settings, theirs were some of the first to go. Those who were able to keep their jobs were often front line workers whose positions have put them in great danger. Some 77% of hospital workers and 74% of school staff are women. Even then, the lack of childcare options left many women unable to return to their jobs.”
Joining me to discuss the assault on women’s rights, as well as her new book The Apology, is the Tony Award-winning playwright and author and activist V, formerly known as Eve Ensler. So V, let’s begin with the expected Supreme Court decision with this leak. Number one, were you surprised? And number two, where do we go from here?
V: I was surprised it was leaked, that’s for sure. I just want to say how happy I am to be with you, Chris, to be talking to you. And I was not surprised in that I think we’ve all been waiting to hear that this was coming. I think there are so many feelings that I’m having about this and so many… I just got off a call with many women, who all of whom on that call were clear that this ruling will never be accepted by many, many women across this country. And it is coming out of a theocratic court. It is coming from judges who perjured themselves on the stand when they talked about Roe v. Wade.
It is coming from sexual predators on the court, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, and by people who were appointed to that court by a sexual predator president. So we can’t at all trust them to… Women would not only not want to go near these men in terms of their bodies, but we certainly wouldn’t accept laws from them. And I think one of the things we all need to be thinking about, and I’ve been thinking about this so much this last week, is when our institutions fail us as the Supreme Court is doing, 70% of the people in this country support abortion, support reproductive justice, support reproductive rights.
When our institutions fail us, it’s not just our right, it is our duty to not obey those institutions. And I think what we have to communicate now to the Senate, to the courts, is that women across this country are not going back in the bottle. We’ve been freed for 50 years. We’ve had choice. We will never give those rights up, that’s not going to happen. And we’re not going to accept this, period.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about the Democratic Party, because the Democratic Party had 50 years when it could have codified this into law. You had Jimmy Carter, you had Clinton, and you had Barack Obama, all of whom had majorities, at least at the inception of their presidencies. Barack Obama said, I think it’s called the Freedom of Choice – I can’t remember the title of it – Act that would’ve codified Roe v. Wade into law. It was the first thing he was going to sign when he took office. He said this as a candidate. And then, in his eight years as president, never signed it. Talk a little bit about the failure of the Democratic Party to stand up and do what it should do.
V: Well, I think it’s exactly what the Democratic Party is doing right now. What was Biden’s message that he put out? When this happens, this is what we will do. You don’t lead people into battle already claiming defeat, right? As you’re moving into it, you say, we will stand up and we will fight to make sure this never happens. And I think that attitude, that commitment to women, to people with pregnancies, wanted or unwanted, has never been there in the Democratic Party. It has never been with the rigor, with the devotion, with the commitment that is necessary to codify a law.
And I think we’re seeing the results of that now. And I think one of the things we all have to look at is the people have to be clear that this is not what the people want. And we have to go to any lengths to show we will not accept this as law. We will not. Because I believe, as many people believe, once the chips start to go, every right is going to start to go with him. This is essentially a theocratic Christian right-wing takeover of the courts. And we’ve already seen what it’s done with voting rights. It’s going to keep going one right after another right after another right.
So I don’t even know if it’s about pushing the Democratic Party anymore, because I think we have pushed and pushed and pushed. I think it’s more of people saying, at this moment, the state is no longer serving us in ways that are necessary to protect our basic rights.
Chris Hedges: I mentioned before we went on the air that I covered Romania, where abortion was illegal. It didn’t stop abortions. It meant that those who had resources, the wealthy, the mistresses of the party bosses all had access to safe abortions, and poor women died in back rooms. That’s what happens when you outlaw abortion.
V: That’s exactly right. And we know that the people who are going to suffer most in this country from these laws are Black women, and Brown women, and poor women, and Indigenous women, and immigrants, and people who don’t have access to resources and money. And this will be devastating. And the idea that we think we’re going to go back to those times where women’s bodies are destroyed, or women are forced to have children against their will, this is just unconscionable. It’s not possible. It’s not something we can accept.
Chris Hedges: And we should be clear, Biden supported the Hyde Amendment, which stopped the federal government from paying for abortions. And he supported allowing states individually to overturn Roe v. Wade. So that’s Biden’s track record on this issue.
V: Right. And I think what we need right now, one of the things we were talking about is, we need leadership in this country that has the commitment to women’s rights, and commitment to LGBTQ rights, and commitment to voting rights that are matching the times that we are living in with the energy, with the thinking, with the imagination, with the creativity, and with the commitment. And we see that completely lacking in the Democratic Party. I’m sorry, it’s just not there.
Chris Hedges: Before we talk about the response, why? What is it about patriarchy that is so obsessive about abortion?
V: Well, I think one of the things we have to look at is like a history of going back and back and back to when did the idea of controlling women’s bodies start? In my piece in The Guardian, I wrote, what is it about women’s bodies that make the patriarchy so afraid and insecure and so cruel and so punishing? And I think it has to do with our autonomy. And I think it has to do with our mere existence. I think it has to do with our capacity for pleasure and unending pleasure. I think it has to do with our strength, which is able to bend and carry and birth and lift and isn’t reliant on weapons and violence, but it has an inherent strength. It has an inherent energy of strength.
And I think that patriarchy is insistent that there are certain men that rise, that control, that dominate, that have the goods, that have it all, that that hierarchy is maintained. And I think when women have a right to their bodies and have access to their bodies and know that they can have children if they want them and don’t have children if they want to, if they can have sex when they want to or not have sex when they want to, we’re living in a completely different world. And I think there is a huge pushback against that world because, essentially, the few very, very white men who have the power will be disabled of that power, and they are not giving it up.
Chris Hedges: So where do we go? What’s the response? So you’re right, there’s a kind of fatalism on the part of the Democratic Party leadership that it’s already going to happen. What should we do?
V: I think what we have to do, first of all, is believe that we can do something. My feeling the last few days is talking to people and hearing just this feeling like there’s nothing we can do. I’ve been reading so much about the early days of Germany when they were banning books and the Nazis were beginning to evolve. And there was time in those moments for people to really make change and for people to fight back and for people to say, this is not my country anymore. I don’t recognize this country anymore. And I think part of what we have to do is be willing to be more bold, more daring, go further out to actually shut this country down if it means that all of our rights are entangled in one right.
Like the fact that we keep separating out voting rights from abortion rights from gay and LGBTQ rights, but all of this is the same story. There is an attempt to keep the world that is trying to emerge from emerging. The world where we, for example, reckon with our history and look at the history of white supremacy in this country, and teach critical race theory, and look at what this history of this country has done to Indigenous people, to Black and Brown people. It’s pushing back against gender liberation. It’s pushing back against workers’ rights liberation. It’s pushing back against a deep and powerful concern for the earth and for protecting the world.
All of these things are one for all and all for one. And what patriarchy and what capitalism has brilliantly done has divided us into these silos. So we all think we’re fighting for this issue over here and this issue over here, when in fact this is one story. And when we go out to fight for one issue, we need to fight for all issues. And I think first it’s believing that you can change things and standing up and joining forces and becoming unified with others in fighting that. And then it’s being willing to say, I’m just not going to accept this as law, period. That’s not going to happen. So when I don’t accept that, what’s going to happen as a result of me not accepting that? And I think that’s what has to emerge over these next days.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about what you write about in The Guardian, the COVID crisis being manipulated and used by patriarchy. And you had some staggering figures – And these are global figures – Of violence, disappearance. With that lockdown, with COVID, with the law, with the economic consequences of the pandemic, you’ve also seen a reassertion of very dark patriarchal figures. Speak about what’s happened.
V: Yes, it’s been really, really terrifying. I wrote this piece called. “Disaster Patriarchy,” which was based on Naomi Klein’s idea of disaster capitalism, when capitalists used a disaster to impose measures they couldn’t possibly get away with in normal times, generating more [inaudible] for themselves. And disaster patriarchy would be a parallel and complementary process where men exploit a crisis to reassert control and dominate and rapidly erase the hard-earned rights of women. And all over the world, patriarchy has taken full advantage of this virus to reclaim power on one hand, escalating danger and violence to women everywhere. And then on the other then kind of stepping in as this supposed controller and protector of women.
I have to tell you that working on the front lines of violence against women, we have seen an explosion of violence towards women across the planet, and cisgendered, gender diverse violence, intimate terrorism. I mean, first of all, the fact that people were locked in their homes with partners with their children, no one even considered what kind of violence that would generate when men weren’t working, when no one was working, when people were panicked about how they were going to live, when people were getting sick. We’ve seen unbelievable violence, and we don’t even know what that is yet.
And then of course at the same time, they were shutting down shelters and places that people could escape to, and not lifting up women and protecting women. And I think we’ve seen the spread of revenge porn as the world was pushed online and digital sexual abuse has escalated. I hate to be the bearer of really bad news, but confinement, it was a perfect storm with economic insecurity, fear of illness, and excessive alcohol, all of these combined to make violence disturbing everywhere.
I’m in contact with sisters around the world from Italy to the Philippines, to all across this planet. It is the same thing across the world. The statistics of violence against women during the pandemic are absurdly high. And I think as we come out of the pandemic, what’s being done to support those women? Because so much of those shelters and so much of those systems that would be there for women have gone away because there’s no funding for them. And I think we’ve also seen the rise of rape. We’ve seen the rise of sex trafficking because of poor families around the world.
One of the things that deeply concerns me is how many girls have been out of school and the ending of education for young girls. Because we were seeing a progression of that and a movement forward on that in the world. And to see millions of girls out of school. There’s pushbacks on so many things. For example, if you look at the issue of female genital mutilation. When girls were going to school and they weren’t being cut, they were becoming doctors, they were becoming teachers. They were becoming people who could provide for their families.
And so their families weren’t cutting them anymore, because they were bringing income and they were bringing food back to their family after they’d been educated. Now with girls not being able to go to school, we’re seeing a rise again of FGM. We’re seeing a rise again of families selling off their daughters. A rise again of being pushed into child marriage. And I think this isn’t even being taken up on a scale or being addressed on the scale that it needs to be addressed on, because it’s really happening in real time. And then as you said at the beginning of the show, in the US, more than five million women have lost their jobs.
And because of that, women are now home, they’re back inside the house taking care of children all day long, taking care of their families all day long. We can’t even estimate how exhausted women are as a result of the pandemic and how panicked they are about what’s become of their lives that they had before the virus.
Chris Hedges: Let’s talk about women on the front lines. You write about the nurses, for example. But it is a disproportionate percentage of women who, in the midst of this pandemic, are on the front lines. Talk a little bit about what’s happened to them.
V: Well, I think I really want to talk specifically about both nurses and restaurant workers. As we all remember, at the beginning of the pandemic, no one even thought about what was going to happen to our nurses and to our care workers in hospitals. Remember, women were being forced to wear garbage bags as protective uniforms, and they were reusing masks, which were obviously going to get them sick. The way nurses have been treated throughout this pandemic, who are the fundamental people on the front lines, has been simply outrageous and, in my opinion, profoundly inhumane.
And I did a piece called “That Kindness,” where I interviewed lots of women who were on the front lines to ask them what it was like during the pandemic. And nurses become nurses because they want to heal and they want to make people better. And to put nurses into conditions where they are on these front lines but really cannot help people get… At the beginning of the pandemic, nurses were just flooded with patients. They weren’t able to help anyone. They were doing their best to heal and do this. But with no support, with no backup from the government, from the hospitals.
And that is across the board in terms of women’s work. If you look at women in restaurants who are still fighting, most of them are making $2.13 an hour, and are fighting for the basic fair wage. Those women have been forced to work in restaurants where there’s even a new development called “maskular” harassment, if one can believe this, where, when you’re serving a man, they were asked to take down their mask so the man could see if they were pretty enough to get a tip. And obviously this puts women at high risk of getting sick. It puts them at risk of… Obviously it’s humiliating.
It’s degrading. But there was nothing women could do to fight that, because there was no one backing them up during the pandemic. And I think the more we erode women’s rights in the workplace, the harder it gets for women to stay well, to do their jobs well, to even keep those jobs because they’re so working against their basic human rights.
Chris Hedges: You write about women farm workers as well, pesticides, poisoning, sexual abuse, heat stress issues. I want to read a little passage you wrote and then have you comment on it. You said, “COVID has revealed the fact that we live with two incompatible ideas when it comes to women. The first is that women are essential to every aspect of life and our survival as a species. The second is that women can easily be violated, sacrificed, and erased. This is the duality that patriarchy has slashed into the fabric of existence and that COVID has laid bare. If we are to continue as a species, this contradiction needs to be healed and made whole.” I thought that was a really prescient point.
V: Thank you, Chris. I feel it so deeply, and I feel it particularly around everything that’s going on with abortion too. Women are expected to do basically all the labor and all the work that keeps this culture together and keeps the world together. Whether it’s parenting, or teaching, or caring for people, in restaurants, or taking care of the elderly, or working as nurses, or working in the field, just go down the list. The world would absolutely stop in its tracks if women withdrew their labor from it. Who would rear the children? Who would teach the children? Who would nurse people? Who would care for people?
Who would clean? Who would do everything that is essential to our lives? And yet we are the most undervalued, unpaid, unrecognized, uncherished and most easily disposed off. And I think one of the things I think we have to understand as women and people who are doing this work is that we actually have power. We hold the power. And if we make a decision to withhold that power and stop doing all these things, the world would actually stop. That we have essential value, that we are critical to the evolution of the human race and the continuation of the human race.
And if we make a decision to say, we are no longer participating in this until the world changes, it will change. But part of it is getting us together and unifying us with our male and LGBTQ allies so that we are all joined in this understanding that there are only some people who are valued in this culture. The rich, the billionaires, the white men, the people with power are valued, and everybody else is not. And so part of it is, how do we all come together to understand that we are in a struggle to fight for the majority, to fight for majority rights, to fight for what is basic and human, and to stand for the people who keep this world together?
Chris Hedges: I want to close by talking about your book, which I read, The Apology. Beautifully written, hard to read. It’s essentially written in the voice, you wrote it, but written in the voice of your father who sexually abused you as a child. Talk about why you wrote it and why an apology is so important.
V: Thank you for asking me about the book. I think as a child, I always thought there would come a day where my father would wake up and come to consciousness and realize what he had done, that he had sexually abused me, that he had beaten me, that he had almost murdered me, and that he would come to his senses and say, I was wrong, and I want to make amends to you, and I want to look deeply in my soul for what I’ve done. And that didn’t happen. I waited all my life. And then my father died. And somehow, even in his death I had this fantasy for 31 years that I would go to the mailbox and there would be this apology letter, and he would finally have sent it to me from some other realm.
And I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are millions if not billions of women waiting for those apologies. And then Me Too happened and I saw so many men being called out for their behavior, whether it was sexual harassment, whether it was rape, whether it was abuse, whatever it was. And I kept waiting for men to be accountable, to make apologies, to do self-reflection, to look at themselves, to say, this is what I’ve done and I’m doing self-investigation and I’m trying to understand, how did I become a man who was capable of doing those things? What in my family, what in the culture, what in the society made me like this?
And to do the work enough so that apologies could be made. And to be honest with you, I didn’t hear one single apology. Not only that, we see men who have done terrible things going to prison briefly and then getting out, or never going prison, or never having any ramifications. And so I realized, I’ve been waiting for this apology my whole life. I’m just going to write it. I’m going to write the apology to myself and say the words to myself that I needed to hear so that I could be transformed and I could go on with my life. And to be honest, writing this book was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I had to kind of climb into my father, who’s been dead for 31 years. But to be honest, as soon as I made the determination to write the book, he felt very much present through the writing of the book. And I had to kind of go into him to try to understand – Not justify, let me be clear. There’s a difference between understanding and justification – To understand what went into my father. Who was he that he was capable of attempting to completely destroy his child? His daughter. To sexually abuse her, to put her down, to beat her, to eviscerate her on every level, to make her feel stupid, to make her feel unworthy.
And doing that was a very, very profound thing, because I began to understand patriarchy on a level I had never understood before. And I began to understand that one of the columns of patriarchy, one of the things keeping it, supporting it, holding it up is the non-apology. Is men having joined in some kind of unspoken, unconscious decision that they will never say they’re sorry. Because one man says he’s sorry, the whole system begins to crumble. The whole idea. And I think what I discovered is that apologies are a pathway for all of us in a lot of different areas.
Look, we have a country with a completely unexamined history. Deny, deny, deny, whether it’s how this country began with the destruction and the genocide towards the Indigenous and the stealing of their lands and the eviscerating of their culture, going towards 400 years of slavery and destruction of African Americans and Jim Crow and all that’s come after. And all of that has been buried. There’s been no apology. There’s been no reckoning. There’s been no accountability. And I think part of this country, one of the reasons we’re here is we have diabolical amnesia. It’s diabolical.
And that is countered with an apology. Because an apology forces you to remember, forces you to go back, forces you to look at the details of what actually happened and what you are responsible for. And then gets you to actually say to the person you’re apologizing to, I understand what my actions did to you. I see the impact of it on you. I see the long term effects it’s had on you. I actually get that I am responsible for that, and I take responsibility. So that you’re not gaslit for your entire future. So you understand you didn’t make this up, that you’re not insane. This really happened, and you can be free of those crimes. As well as the perpetrator beginning to be free of those crimes.
Chris Hedges: Well, if there’s no honest reckoning with the past, there’s no capacity to have a dialogue.
Chris Hedges: Because you have to begin grounded in a truth, however unpleasant. In the book, you talk about its ramifications, very self-destructive ramifications that it had on you. The kind of reverberations of that abuse are awful. Can you address that?
V: Thank you for asking that, because I think one of the things we do is we talk about “gender violence,” and we keep it very abstract, and we don’t look at, what is the impact of sexual abuse on children and girls and on boys? And what is the impact of violence? I was an outcome of violence. I was a consequence of violence. My daily existence was threatened by being beaten, and that came after the years where my father was coming into my room at night and invading my body, and taking me and doing with me what he wanted to do with me.
So I grew up in a state of terror, anxiety. I couldn’t think. I lost my ability to think. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate. I had to start basically erasing everything that had been done to me, because it was so intolerable. So I began to erase my memory and my capacity for memory. My body got sick. It got all kinds of strange infections. It became vulnerable in ways it would never have become vulnerable if somebody hadn’t invaded me. I lost my capacity for intimacy. Whatever relationships I was in, the closer I got to whoever I was involved with, I had to withdraw myself because it was too frightening, because intimacy meant a form of takeover and violence and invasion.
And it’s interesting. 12 years ago, I had stage three/four uterine cancer. And I started to really do research about how many women have gotten reproductive cancers. And I have to say, I know – I haven’t been able to prove this scientifically yet, but it will be proved eventually – There is a direct link between trauma towards the body and cancers that develop in the body. I think one day we will come to call cancer trauma. There is a direct link with that. So the kind of impact that sexual violence has on children, on women, on our mental health, our ability to believe that we are worthy.
I have fought my entire life not to believe I am nothing. Not to believe I am stupid. To fight to believe I have a right to be here. Because that right was eviscerated from the time I can remember. And I’m a fortunate person. I’m a white person. I grew up in an upper middle-class environment where at least I was exposed to resources that could help me. But I’ve spent time in prisons. I’ve spent time in homeless shelters. I spent time where there are poor people who haven’t access to those resources, and they simply disappear. They simply are broken. They simply are drug addicts. They end up doing crimes because at some point, all of the trauma that’s been done to them is explosive, and eventually there’s a reaction to it. And we don’t treat any of this, although there are millions of us who are in this position, because one out of three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime.
Chris Hedges: I did a book on the Christian right American fascist, The Christian Right and the War on America. I didn’t put it in the book, but I interviewed dozens and dozens of women in the movement and every single one had spoken about domestic or sexual abuse. Every single one.
V: Yeah. And I think it’s one of those things where when you… Look, I’ve been doing this work to end violence against all women and girls for, it’s going to be 25 years. And I sat with women everywhere in the world and all over this country. And there are so many women who have been beaten, who have been raped, who have been cut, who have been incested. And yet it’s the underlying thing that’s determining so much of our existence and still has not been confronted in a way that is measurable, that is comparable to the severity of the crimes. And I think that’s all part of this way of minimizing women and erasing women and making women feel they don’t have a right to their voice and a right to their body and a right to their basic worth.
Chris Hedges: Great. We’re going to stop there. V, I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team, Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.