Glamour Magazine usually covers things like how to thin your thighs and how to make your man love you more, but this article by Eve Ensler (author of the Vagina Monologues) surprised me for many reasons, and not just its placement....
So, first of all, the title. Why does it always have to be a man trying to save women??? I'm glad there's someone out there working for women, but why would a feminist like Eve Ensler phrase it this way? I'm guess this was an editorial decision.
Women left for dead—and the man who’s saving them
Here's the first paragraph of the piece. I've put the first straight-out-of-Joseph-Conrad -sentence in bold.
I have just returned from hell. I am trying for the life of me to figure out how to communicate what I have seen and heard in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How do I convey these stories of atrocities without your shutting down, quickly turning the page or feeling too disturbed?People SHOULD be disturbed by what's happening in parts of Congo. But saying "I've just returned from Hell" is a little much - a little too much of promoting the paradigm of Africa as the Dark Continent for my taste.
The article goes on a bit, introducing the main character, a doctor who sews up rape victims, and then says:
It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.I can't disagree, but I think her way of going into this is a little off. Stick with me, and you'll see what I mean.
But you have to go back further than 1996 to understand what is going on in the Congo today. This country has been tortured for more than 120 years, beginning with King Leopold II of Belgium, who “acquired” the Congo and, between 1885 and 1908, exterminated an estimated 10 million people, about half the population. The violent consequences of genocide and colonialism have had a profound impact on the psyche of the Congolese. Despite a 2003 peace agreement and recent elections, armed groups continue to terrorize the eastern half of the country. Overall the war has left nearly 4 million people dead—more than in any other conflict since World War II—and resulted in the rape of hundreds of thousands of women and girls.Okay, it's great to give some background, but you can't jump from Colonial times to 2003.
The next part of the story describes the hospital and the horrific things the women have undergone; I'll leave the commentary out for this section and leave you to read it.
But then, here's where my problems with the article start again:
I stay for a week at Panzi. Women line up to tell me their stories. They come into the interview numb, distant, glazed over, dead. They leave alive, grateful, empowered. I begin to understand that the deepest wound for them is the sense that they have been forgotten, that they are invisible and that their suffering has no meaning. The simple act of listening to them has enormous impact.Yes, listening in a powerful tool of healing, and I'm sure the women were glad to tell their stories and think the world would hear them. But I think it's a little much to call them "grateful" to Ensler; they're probably grateful to have their fistulas sown up and have meals to eat. They're grateful to have company as well, but this is too much of the mzungu coming in for a week to grateful responses for my taste.
And then this gets really over the top for my taste:
I sit in on a typical operation in a clean, safe, but seriously underequipped operating room (nurses use torn pieces of a green dressing gown to tie the woman’s ankles to the stirrups). I am able to see the fistula—a hole in the tissue between the woman’s vaginal wall and bladder. A hole in her body. A hole in her soul. A hole where her confidence, her esteem, her spirit, her light, her urine leak out.It's important to communicate the seriousness of fistula - but what about instead of talking about "light leaking out" discussing incontinence, or being expelled by your village for incontinence? Or any of the other physical, psychological and psycho-social side effects that go along with fistula?
This seems more important to me than something metaphorical. But then again, if you're starting off with a metaphor of coming from hell, maybe you need to stick with the metaphorical.