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Eve Ensler’s The Apology isn’t merely a book. It is an experience, it is a journey, it is the apology that so many of us have been waiting to receive our lives, but perhaps, we never will.
This slim book of around 130 pages is profound in its message – it is heart breaking and liberating at the same time.
Let me begin with something Eve says at the end of the book: “For all the men who have hurt women, may this book inspire you to do your own deep and thorough accounting, reckoning, apologizing so that we can finally transform and end this violence.”
The Apology is an imaginary letter that Eve writes on her dead father’s behalf to herself apologizing for all the abuse and violence – sexual, physical, and emotional – that he’d subjected her to since she was a 5 year old child.
As you can understand from the subject itself, this isn’t an easy read, however, it is a must read for everyone irrespective of gender. As Eve mentions in her interview with the Washington Post, “It takes so long to get to a place where you can open yourself to feel what your perpetrator feels… and to know what they’ve been through, to know who they are because it’s so much easier and less painful to cast them as a kind of monolithic monster.”
Eve’s father started violating her body when she was just five. Eve tries to climb right inside his psyche and search for the dregs of reasoning that might have led to such unimaginably heinous behaviour.
“You loved me as I was. And I was the object of your pure, unmitigated adoration, the axis on which you’re being turned. What a powerful intoxicant! How was I to know that every daughter felt this way for her father? How was I to know that this adoration was a necessary stage in the development of the child and not to be corrupted? Instead it reaffirmed my grandiosity.”
Eve goes back to the time when her father was a child. When he was still capable of wonder and tenderness, when his own parents and his brother thought that he wasn’t tough enough and so they steeped him into the vile concoction of toxic masculinity through physical and emotional abuse. What resulted was this man who used his charming exterior to hide his angst and in turn believe that the only way to make a mark is to assert power and dominance over the weak and the helpless.
What Eve went through was more than sexual abuse. Her father systematically tried to destroy everything that is good and human and strong in her over and over. From almost killing her through his physical violence to constantly undermining all her efforts, her father did whatever it took to reduce her to nothing. It is a sheer testament to her will power and strength that she still didn’t give up. Even though she slipped several times – giving up on a promising career, becoming an alcoholic, marrying men not worthy of her – Eve would finally claw her out of the murky dungeons of despair into the light of hope.
What Eve does in The Apology is show us that monsters don’t come out of thin air. Society systematically builds up these creatures by stripping them of their humanity, and by telling them that this is how men ought to be.
“I was a privileged, forceful man. I lived above this world, above criticism, above reproach. I was programmed to control, to win at all costs. You were my child. You were my property. You would do as I instructed you to do. When you didn’t, it was my duty to enact the discipline and punishment that would bring you around. This is how I had been raised.”
The Apology is not merely an account of the way Eve’s father subjected her to the cruellest forms of abuse. It is a story of a woman rising above all this. It is the story of a survivor trying to understand an abuser and extracting an apology from him, which in turn helps in her own healing.
Eve believes that it might be possible for victims of abuse to feel a sense of catharsis by writing a letter to themselves that they need to hear. At City of Joy, a women’s centre founded by Eve in Congo, this process is already in use. I strongly feel that this should be a more widespread practice. Until predators take responsibility for their actions and look inside themselves to understand what leads them to their toxic behaviour, it is up to the survivors to stand up for themselves and undertake this journey of healing by writing the heartfelt apology that they never got.
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