November 19, 2009

Thoughts on Eve Ensler’s “I am an Emotional Creature”


THE AUDIENCE WAS FLUSH WITH estrogen, but had a heartening dose of the Y chromosome. I wondered if the cocktail reception that preceded the event was a marketing ploy or a genuine attempt to fortify our spirits for what was to come. I found out soon enough.

The world premiere of Eve Ensler’s ‘I Am An Emotional Creature’ was some things expected and many not. It began regularly enough, with the usual spine-tingling statistics on female abuse, neglect and violations. Essayed as a relentless spiral of separate pieces without an intermission, the portrayals of women from around the world shifted from mediocre to spectacular as the play progressed. Moments of intense pain in “Free Barbie” were interspersed with a more defiant stance in “The Refusers” and stories of prostitution in Eastern Europe, military sex slaves in Ghana, bulimia in North America, child labor in China and forced cosmetic surgery in Iran tumbled out unapologetically, amidst joyous expressions of dance and womanhood. Woman cried, laughed, screamed, spoke, vented, explained, twirled and chanted their right to be emotional creatures and engage in the feminine act of dance as a form of expression.

Which left me wondering if this wasn’t stereotyping my gender just as much as any other descriptor. Are all women truly emotional creatures? More than men? Do we feel more intensely? Need to express more urgently? Or are we as much victim to this erroneous belief as to the acts perpetrated on us worldwide? Do all women desire to dance? Is feminine expression primarily manifested through physical acts? I, for one, certainly feel no need to plunge into a waltz each time I absolutely must say what I feel.  I am born of a mother who clicks her tongue at being “too emotional” and believes it clouds practicality and better judgement. My friends are women who rarely cry, even when they have much reason to. Are performance and feeling necessarily the domain of the XX? Could we not be harming ourselves by tarring all women across the world with the same brush and insinuating that a woman’s natural response to a situation is based on her feelings first and intellect later, if at all?

I could empathize with individual tales but not with the premise. And while I wish women power to overcome their tormentors, human and situational, I also hope that they strive to stand apart from the cluster of characteristics that haphazardly—and often thoughtlessly—define their gender.

To view a short clip about the play, go here.

7 comments to Thoughts on Eve Ensler’s “I am an Emotional Creature”

  • Well said, Dilu. I vacillate between being completely emotional and frighteningly detached and would hate to pin myself down to either stance permanently. I had an argument with someone recently because they said that women are ‘born to be nurturing’.

    I think these type of feminist undertakings are often a self-esteem boosting exercise (‘so what if the world’s awful to us, aren’t we the best?’), and as such, they’re probably useful in a limited way, within limited audiences. I wish we didn’t need so much of it though–it makes me wonder: do educated, ‘enlightened’ women (which is presumably what Ensler’s audience is), experience so much self-loathing and need that sort of back-patting? If yes, why?

    And what is the next stage of feminist messaging? Hopefully something that goes beyond telling each other that we’re so terrific. Or at least something that says we’re terrific whether we’re puddles of swirling emotion or not.

    Oh, and also, my ma’s like your ma :).

  • Kirtana

    Hi, I’ve always wondered about the wisdom of dragging workshop/confessional material verbatim onto stage. Somehow both seem to get compromised, theatre and advocacy. So I was interested to read your piece and greatly relieved to read that other women too, are sceptical about this whole emotion=woman shebang. I’m happy to be emotional but equally so to be (in the words of Supertramp) logical, practical, clinical, intellectual…but hopefully, not cynical!

  • Couldn’t agree more with you Dilnawaz! Thanks! 🙂

  • On the “emotional women” thing: this article made me see things differently (though of course it’s still not the same as experiencing it). The reader comments from women are mostly along the lines of “At last, a man who gets it.” Do you see it that way, or do you think this is stereotyping women too?

  • The impulse of projects like this is admirable and has some instrumental value (i.e. in societies of extreme patriarchy, where just the idea of a woman being anything but a subject is deeply radical) but, ultimately, it is essentialist and thus dangerous. It reminds me of, I think it was, Senghor or maybe Aimé Césaire, who as one of the advocates of Negritude argued that African consciousness is innately different from the European “as it functions through an intuitive form of thinking in which the analytical faculties are subordinate to the emotional.” The fight against patriarchy/white racism often adopts this approach: “Oh since the white/male is associated with reason than I am not that. I am the opposite of that. And the thing that I am is just as valuable” But this is wrong and dangerous. Like it or not reason is the highest value term in modern society and that is the terrain that modern feminists need to contest. To put it inelegantly: feminism must be a move towards sameness not difference. But, of course, this is not to fall into the Cartesian trap. Biology shows that there are innate differences between the sexes and this may very well impact on ways of being, and it is important to recognise that. But, even so, these ways of being are likely to be insignificant. The point is this: women are not special. They are not unique. They are just human, like men. Claiming uniqueness is the other side of the same coin which claims that women are rationally inferior to men. But, of course, in a fucked-up society, one can understand why women would want to make claims such as those.

  • Kaushiki Sanyal

    Completely agree with Ms Tea Eyed! one is not special by virtue of one’s sex but by one’s deeds. So just being a woman does not make anyone “unique” or “awesome”. Its what we achieve as a human being that makes a person “unique” or “awesome”. I also agree with the author that these kinds of workshop (sounds more like a melodrama than anything else to me) only play into the stereotype of women being emotional creatures rather than logical and reasonable. Reason and logic are essential to be good at any kind of work (even the arts). It does not preclude you from being kind or a good human being. I frankly would not trust any woman (or man) who says that she/he is more emotional than logical.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Everyone: Thanks for your feedback. I was wondering if I was in the minority when I wrote this.

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