Eve Ensler Is Wrong That for Women and Trayvon Martin, ‘Our Struggles Are One’

In her open letter to teenage homicide victim Trayvon Martin, whose killer was acquitted on July 14, renowned sexual assault activist Eve Ensler writes, “I am not you. I am not Trayvon Martin. I will never know what it feels like to live in the skin, in the daily rhythms and predeterminations of a black boy or man in America. I will never know what it is like to always be held suspect, to feel categorized from birth as dangerous. But as a woman, there are things I do know and things that I have experienced that bring us into the same story, the same struggle.”

Ensler goes on to explain how she and Martin are alike. For example, she says she knows “what it’s like to be worried about being followed, to speed up my step or slow down and pretend to be casual.” She also says she knows “what it feels like to be attacked or raped and be blamed for it because of what I was wearing (hoodie=short skirt).” Later in her letter, she adds that she’s met many men like Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, who “are full of a simmering explosive rage, determined by poverty or shame or violence or humiliation or low self esteem.” For that reason, she explains that next year’s One Billion Rising event, an event her V-Day movement created in 2013, will focus on justice for all victims of gender violence. Among other things, the event will encourage people to “rise for an end to guns and Stand Your Ground laws where unarmed 17-year-olds are shot down dead,” writes Ensler. “We will rise to say Justice involves the whole story—the story of race, of class, of gender. Our struggles are one.”

With all due respect to Ensler, I don’t think a letter to Martin was the right place to push an agenda about her campaign to end violence against women, especially without first acknowledging the fear many people are taught to feel about men of color—a fear that is just as present in the women’s movement as it is in each of the United States of America. For many, the case against Zimmerman and his acquittal represented a symptom of the nation’s “unaddressed racism.” Ensler, then, had an opportunity to address this issue of race, particularly in the women’s movement, but she blew it.

As feminist writer Jessica Valenti explains in a recent post at The Nation, “Yes, white women—all of us—are taught to fear men of color. We need to own that truth, own that shameful fear. Most importantly, we need to name it for what it is: deeply held and constantly enforced racism.”

For that reason, I think in her letter to Martin, Ensler should have spoken honestly about whatever fears she may have about being preyed upon by people of a different race. And she should have acknowledged that, like Zimmerman, she’s been taught to see certain people—because of their ethnicity or class—as inferior, and that because she’s aware of that deeply rooted prejudice, she’s worked to rise above it and that is why she is now trying to get others to follow in her footsteps not just to stop violence against women, but to end the legacy of racism that breeds violence in all communities.

Ensler’s event next February will focus on justice “for all survivors of gender violence, and ending the rampant impunity that prevails globally.” I commend such efforts. But, if people like Ensler truly want to make a difference, they should begin by speaking honestly about what everyone refuses to talk about: how if they saw Trayvon Martin, or another “hoodied” boy of color, walking on a street late at night in their neighborhood, they may not have reached for a gun, but there’s a good chance they would have sped up or crossed the street to avoid him based solely on his appearance.

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  • Arakiba

    Smart women would cross the street not because they see a black guy, but because they see any guy.

    • edtastic

      Gender profiling… That too is bigoted. Men don’t like being treated as threats because of negative stereotyping by women’s activist who greatly exaggerate the threat to women posed by men. When it comes to violent crime a male is more likely to be victimized by a stranger than a women. Studies show women are more fearful but it’s not because they are more likely to be victims.

      • Plarkus_Frond

        Well said.

      • Kayte

        Exactly. The only thing that comes from generalizing men is hurt feelings.

      • cjvg

        Never mind that almost all the violence done to women is done by….men!
        Women should blame themselves for driving men to violence!
        Yes ed, we’ve heard you the first ten thousand times you blamed all nasty criminal behavior you commit on women!
        Glad to know you still have no reason to believe men are adults that can control their own behavior!

  • Penelope

    If you’re a woman walking alone late at night and you see a “hoodied” or unhoodied guy of any color walking near you, there is nothing shameful about crossing the street or speeding up. The answer to racism isn’t naivete. “I better just walk casually right up next to this strange hooded middle-of-the-night-walker-man–he might be black, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was racist. Much rather take my chances and assume the best.”

    The real profiling I do is more based on socioeconomics than race. A black or white man dressed nicely=same walking speed. Same guy wearing ratty clothes, tank top, shirtless, hooded=faster walking speed. Is that fair? Probably not. How many of those men are actually dangerous? Hopefully none. But I would rather have all the women making all the men feel bad about being profiled or stereotyped as threats, and one fewer assault.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/holdendcat BradyMoss

      Well then, I suppose you think a bit of attire-based and generally class-based profiling would’ve saved us all from Ted Bundy?

      Yeah, that’s what I thought.

      Look, no one’s asking you to walk up to a dude in the pitch-dark just to get progressive street cred. My point is: profiling is stupid because it’s not only bigoted, but ANTI – VICTIM! If profilers have no way, or no intention, of profiling for a Ted Bundy in the same way they might profile a middle-class black guy who happens to be wearing gang colors in gang territory despite the fact that he really doesn’t know he’s wearing gang colors, profilers are saying, in effect, that the victims and potential victims of a Bundy-on-the-loose don’t matter as much as the victims of, say, non-white gang members.

      • Loni2Shoes

        Don’t be obtuse. The modus operandi of Ted Bundy does not invalidate Penelope’s aversion to people who don’t look creepy/skeevy. He was one exception to the countless others who have proven the rule.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/holdendcat BradyMoss

          “He was one exception…”

          So, exactly how many people do middle – class white folks have to kill for you to care?

        • http://twitter.com/#!/holdendcat BradyMoss

          Robert Chambers, George Huguely…I’m not taunting. I’m bringing up these names to show how stupid profiling is.

    • maiathebeegrrl

      While I certainly believe your comments may be well-intentioned, what you’re doing here is a REALY typical deflection. First, you say it’s a class issue, not a race issue. Then, you refuse to explore how the climate of sexual terrorism against women (very real & accurate) is interwoven with deeply embedded racist fears (not very real or accurate).

      There column is not about shaming women for being afraid of violence. It’s about the need to recognize how the violent machinations of patriarchy & white supremacy are intertwined & reinforcing. And Ensler is REALLY REALLY BAD AT THAT.

  • Dawn Mckenna

    TW: mention of sexual assault.

    The whole “you’re taught to be afraid of black men” isn’t the whole story, the notion of “white womenhood” frames white women/those seen as women as inherently property of
    white men/those seen as men. Based on my experience I think there is a
    perception because of this, that white bodies which society designates
    as female are part of the system, not bodies belonging to people. So the white
    presumed female body for some MoC ends up representing the rights they
    are routinely denied,in short, What men of color experience sometimes results in them viewing white designated as female people as a faceless weak point in the system they want to conquer and to conquer the “weak point”, some men of color use the only
    weapon they know they have, their gender privilege. The result? We’re treated like prizes and the result of that is creepy as fuck behaviour at best, outright blatant sexual assault at worst.

    The result is experiences like mine, I don’t worry about interacting with MoC because of what the media has said, I worry because of how I’ve been treated on average by men of color to date. I worry because I’m currently being stalked by a creep who is a MoC, I worry because four times in the last three months men of color have blatantly tried to follow me home. I worry because the men who grab me, sexually assault me and then freak out about being shoved off as if I’m being unreasonable are most likely to be men of color in my experience. I worry because I’ve yet to have ANY man of color take no as no, I worry because the bulk of my interactions with men of color have be not just negative but far too often involved sexual assault. White men do it as well, but it’s been nowhere near as much of my interactions with white men as it has with men of color. So that problem needs to be addressed as well for people like me.

  • parkwood1920

    Hey Eve Ensler, allow me to introduce you to—gasp!—Black women! You know—those humans who are both demonized as inherently dangerous AND targeted for misogynist violence! Maybe you’ve heard of them, no?

    • msmb17

      What makes you think she hasn’t heard of them??? Whom do you think she’s been working with in the Congo?

  • maiathebeegrrl

    A wonderful column. Sadly, Ensler has consistently shown us that she is unwilling to examine her own privilege-induced-blind-spots or to respond to the thoughtful criticism of anti-violence and/or feminist and/or other anti-oppression activists that she claims to speak for.

  • http://www.MovingPaintings.net/ Sophia von Wrangell

    Reading the commentaries and the article I see the same I see when I look anywhere: here we are, jumping at each others throats, no matter the reason or argument. There is a point to Eve Ensler’s letter, and this is what, for me, is meaningful: our struggle is the same, be us black, gay, old, women, fat, poor whites, aliens, you name it!

    Our common adversary, the powerful white man, the 3% is not only the MINORITY in the world, but the best manipulator. The only way of discriminating against ALL of us and keep us all fighting for the same stuff over and over again, is to keep us fighting against each other and discriminating against each other. Divide et Impera works here now, as well as in the antique Rome. So, yes, WE ARE ALL TYVON!

    • http://elonjamesisnotwhite.com Elon James White

      It’s Trayvon.

      And we all are NOT Trayvon. We can all be in the fight against injustice without our “fights” looking the same.

    • edtastic

      “Our common adversary, the powerful white man, the 3% is not only the MINORITY in the world, but the best manipulator. ”

      Stop with the racist/sexist scapegoating. We can’t represent social justice with an agenda of naked hatred towards anyone and if you haven’t met a good white man or been taught about one from our history that would make you think twice about condemning them as a group then I feel sorry for you.

      The common adversary is bigotry and hate. Get it right and get with the program.

      • Kayte

        You’re completely wrong. White men who completely deny their privilege and cry about how they’re portrayed as all bad is what we hate. The fact that oppressed people can’t make a single angry statement about their oppressors without being asked to clarify they didn’t mean literally everyone in that group just in case they hurt someone’s feelings is fucking pathetic.
        Sorry if we hurt your feelings by pointing out that cis white men are part of a group that benefits from the dehumanisation of others.

        • edtastic

          For one white men don’t universally deny their privilege nor do all white men have it. Plenty of white men are struggling with socio economic issues like those of poor minorities. Rather than create division between people in similar circumstances we should focus our energy at the class divides hurting all those in poverty.

          Hurting the feelings of white men matters just as much anybody else. They are human beings who want to be valued and respected just like everyone else. Not every white man has the level of privilege that would allow these slights to roll off their backs. If you are dealing with a individual who has struggled all their life claiming they are privileged is quite an insult. If we see ourselves as more culturally evolved and sensitive we should recognize that and adhere to the principles we claim to support in all cases rather than making self serving exceptions to advance shallow arguments.

          You seem to think there is something to be gained by dehumanizing cis white men. I’m telling you whatever is gained will be lost by the damage to our credibility as advocates for equality. If we can’t adhere to the principals then why would a rival group accept that there is no battle of gender or races taking place where the goal is to seek the upper hand at all cost. We need to be better people if we want others to be better people.

          • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

            All White People have white privilege, that’s why it’s called white privilege. Even poor white people.

          • Kayte


          • fiona64

            I don’t think you understand the socio-economic concept of privilege nearly as well as you think you do …

          • edtastic

            If you understood it you’d start by recognizing it’s limitations as a way to judge every individual you come across with a given racial background.

          • fiona64

            Thanks for proving my point so very well.

      • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

        In order to change things, people need to be willing and ready to get out of their comfort zone, and most people are not sadly. Am I comfortable having this conversation, no. Comfort is not the point.

        Think of it this way, White people are in a building up high, while People of Color are on the ground down below. If you throw a brick (i.e. call them the N-Word) to the Person down on the ground, it will hit them and hurt badly. But if a Black Person throws a brick up at a White Person (calls them a ‘cracker’), it does not do much, if any damage.

        The whole racism against White People is BS!

        • edtastic

          My problem with dismissing racism against white people is it give racist white people an excuse to be that way. Let’s stick to the principles of equality and act as good role models instead of employing the same tools of hate against a large group of people who we associate with engaging in discrimination. Other than that some whites are hurt by being mistreated because of their race and their pain matters. Either we see one another as equals or we don’t. If we really believe in it we wouldn’t hurt people by advancing negative stereotypes about the group they belong too.

          • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

            Yes, but that pain is does not compare to the pain People of Color feel everyday. And no, there is no excuse for White People to be racist. There may be reasons, but reasons are not excuses.

          • edtastic

            You must think you are talking to a white person. That B.S ain’t going to fly with me. White people can hurt just as bad because bad things happen to all kinds of people. This isn’t Jim Crow era. We can sit at the lunch counter, drink from the fountain, and be the damn president. Class is a far bigger issue than race today. We don’t need excuses to engage in behavior we’re trying to stop.

          • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

            This may not be Jim Crow but that does not mean all is well…

          • fiona64

            There is a difference between racism and bigotry. Any damn fool can be prejudiced, but racism is *institutional.* There have never been “sundown laws” against white people … or “blockbuster laws” … or signs telling them they could only sit in certain parts of the bus.

            I think you get the picture.

          • Valde

            I recently read about something similar. I wish I had remembered to bookmark the page, but basically, there was a time, up until quite recently, that real estate agents and banks conspired to sell houses to black people at double the rates that these same houses were sold to whites.

            This essentially kept blacks poor, and separated them from the rest of society.

            I find it interesting that many people (who don’t even self-identify as racist) love to blame blacks for their own problems. As if blacks purposely set out to 1) live in ghettos 2) become gangsters and drug dealers 3) live in poverty 4) not integrate into society at large.

            With social policies that consistently FORCE a group of people out of the mainstream, and deny those people the same opportunities as others – well then, what do you expect?

            And there is this is silly idea that no matter how BAD you have it, and that no matter how RESTRICTIVE certain social policies are, ALL PEOPLE will still have the ability to climb out of poverty and make it big because hey ‘AMERICA IS GREAT.’

            What they don’t realize, or refuse to acknowledge, is that you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you don’t have boots to being with.

            A rising tide will not life all boats if you don’t have a boat.

          • edtastic

            I’m talking about abusing people because their race and destroying the legacy of people like MLK by white bashing. We have too many idiots running around trashing white men using nothing but hate and bigotry as an excuse. That’s not going to cut it for social justice. We need everyone protected from group based hate not just the groups we prefer or feel had it worse in the past.

          • fiona64

            I don’t think you understand what I wrote. When the ladder is built by the people sitting at the top of it, you have to unpack what’s going on at the lower rungs in order to understand the socio-economic impact of white privilege. It has *nothing* to do with how much money or stuff someone has. You might want to read some of Tim Wise’s essays; they’re quite enlightening.

    • https://www.facebook.com/dick.move.9?fref=ts Fire Vet

      No. I am not trayvon.

  • SamMcCall

    I’m sick of the GZ/TM story. Verdict is not guilty. Time to move on. What I’m really sick of is all the ultra liberal whites acting as though we should feel guilty for being white. Why should I? I’m proud of my ancestral heritage. That doesn’t make me racist. My best friend is black and proud of her heritage, as she should be. Enough with wallowing in white guilt already. There’s only one race and that is the human race. And SERIOUSLY, enough with the Trayvon Martin articles already. There ARE other things going in the world you know.

    • Kay

      When your children start getting killed in the street for simply existing, then you can start talking about when we should “move on.”

      • SamMcCall

        Um, the “kid” was beating the crap out of GZ. I would’ve defended myself too. Yes, GZ should have stood down but he was headed back to his truck when TM attacked. Stop acting as though “whitey” is to blame for everything. TM could’ve continued on to his father’s girlfriend’s house but chose not to. He chose to fight. And that was a mistake. Both parties messed up and one of them is dead because of it. But enough already. Dude was found not guilty. Whether you agree or not, let’s move along and focus on the other injustices in the world, of which there are many.

        • Kay

          You’re implying that one person can’t care and be an activist for more than one cause at a time. Which isn’t true. I don’t care about this to the exclusion of other justice issues. That’s your belief, not mine.

          • Heather McCollam

            I can’t believe the moderator hasn’t warned and censored you two for “being off topic”. But it just proves once again that no matter the race or gender- people don’t like being told the truth based on facts and statistics (like census figures) if it isn’t what they want to hear or it doesn’t support their agenda. No matter how true or real it is. VERY interesting…

          • Kay

            I’m not sure what “facts” you’re talking about. Or what the census has to do with this, but this was an article about a letter regarding the Zimmerman trial and racism. As such, this discussion doesn’t lack relevance.

        • fiona64

          Actually, forensic evidence shows that the kid was not ‘beating the crap out of” GZ. He had no injuries to his hands, as would have been the case if he’d been doing what you and Zimmerman claim. Furthermore, Zimmerman’s injuries are not consistent with what he claims happened.

          And, finally, if his hands were “pinned under him,” as he claims, he would not have been able to pull the 9mm pistol out of his waistband, cock it to chamber a round (a two-handed maneuvef) and shoot Martin. Unless, of course, Zimmerman has extra arms that none of us know about. And his claims that he shot Martin at ‘point black range’ while he was being beaten are belied by the blood spatter evidence … or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

          But, the judge instructed the jury based on “stand your ground.” They were told that the prosecution had to prove that Zimmerman was *not* in fear of his life. Proving a negative is impossible.

        • Jennifer Starr

          And George Zimmerman could’ve decided to not try and play cop and not follow Trayvon Martin in the first place. He was not official neighborhood security and not in anyway authorized to play law enforcement. For all Trayvon knew, this guy following him was a mugger or some kind of a weirdo and he had to defend himself.

      • SamMcCall

        And before you, Kay, accuse me of racism, I would feel this way no matter the race of EITHER individual. Race WAS NOT the issue here. But the liberal media is making it one. Even our own president is acting as a source of division between ethnicities (which is what it really is as race is a social construct). I grew up in a melting pot of a city in a high school that was and still is a true melting pot. I had friends who were black, Hispanic, Asian, white. My best friend was murdered right before he graduated because he was trying to get out of an Asian gang he was messed up in. I’ve always gotten along with ALL ethnicities. I just think it’s time to accept what is and move on to things you can do something about. This GZ/TM issue is done and over with.

        • Kay

          I’m not only talking about Trayvon Martin. 136 unarmed black men were killed by police, vigilantes or security guards last year alone. If Martin hadn’t been racially profiled none of this would have happened, you can’t deny that fact. Just because race is a social construct doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist.

          • SamMcCall

            Racism exists. However all I keep hearing about is “white privilege” and how racist whites are. Um, blacks can be and some are, just as racist as some whites. I’m tired of the “blame whitey” game, as if we’re responsible for all the problems in the world when we aren’t. And black on white hate crimes DO happen. Look up Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Those poor kids. That was a black on white hate crime. National media never said a word about it. Enough with the politically correct BS already. I’ve had it. Journalists are supposed to be UNBIASED.

        • fiona64

          Actually, it’s a matter of white privilege. How long do you think it would have taken a black man to be arrested for shooting a white youth he’d been stalking?

        • Kayte

          Yes, you can claim to be a white saint all you want, but you’re still ignoring your white privilege, which makes you an asshole.

        • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

          So you think you are colorblind? That really does not exist…

          People of Color experience racism from whites all over. The system we have set up is inherently racist!

          You benefit from this racist system, as do I, even if you do not want to. You cannot opt out as it is so ingrained in our society.

    • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

      Not wallowing in white guilt. Being white is something that just is, not guilty or proud of it!

      • Kayte

        “… because just as we inherit privilege from out ancestors, so do we inherit their sins and the responsibility of those sins.” -Susan Abulhawa

        If you ignore your numerous privileges because you’re white, and just deny them, all you’re doing is helping the oppressor, in fact, you’re being the oppressor yourself.

        • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

          I acknowledge my privilege, I know that I am not followed in stores b/c of my color, I know that I can get a job easier b/c of my color. I wish so much that it were not true, but it is. I benefit from being white. Is it fair no.

          Can I change the fact that I have white privilege, as much as I wish I could, no.

          But where does simple guilt get us? Nowhere. We have to move past guilt in order to change things.

          • Kayte

            I don’t think it’s really a “guilt” thing. I think it’s just not forgetting the past. A lot of white people want to forget the past.

          • http://littlemisshaldol.tumblr.com/ LittleMissMellaril

            Yup! I should have clarified that in my first post. I was counteracting the other guy’s attempt to make it seem like we all felt guilty for being white and whatever.

    • fiona64

      “Not guilty” is not the same as “innocent.” A guy took a gun outside to stalk a black kid who was armed with a bag of candy. Yeah, *that’s* a clear and present danger …

      • https://www.facebook.com/dick.move.9?fref=ts Fire Vet

        Sure is. Ask the jury.

        • fiona64

          No, dear. “Not guilty” in this case means that the prosecution failed to prove a negative. The jury was specifically instructed that the prosecution had to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that “Mr. Zimmerman was *not* in fear of his life.”

          Any 12-year-old knows that you cannot prove a negative.

          But you go on and tell yourself that a “not guilty” verdict means someone was innocent of a crime. It just proves your piss-poor understanding of jurisprudence.

    • Kayte

      Hmmm… you keep saying “we’re all human” but all we hear is “I want to completely ignore institutionalized oppression and shut my eyes and pretend everyone is treated equally to escape the guilt of numerous privileges I’m afforded.” You’re white. You have numerous privileges And, you know what, privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it doesn’t effect you personally.

  • whatever

    Shorter Eve Ensler: What about the womenz!

  • msmb17

    Wow, the author makes a heck of a lot of assumptions about Ensler, that, as someone who knows her personally, I can say are patently false. You really think a white woman who’s been abused by a white male family member fears men of color more? That’s your projection. Maybe you should examine your own assumptions first before challenging others to do the same?