I am thinking of the price list leaked out from the ISIS Sex Slave Market that included women and girls on the same list as cattle. ISIS needed to impose price controls as they were worried about a downturn in their market.
Forty- to 50-year-old women were priced at $41, 30- to 40-year-old women at $62, 20- to 30-year-old women, $82 and 1- to 9-year-old children, $165. Women over 50 weren’t even listed. They had no market value. They were discarded like milk cartons with past sale date markers. But they weren’t simply abandoned in some smelly dung heap of trash. First, they were probably tortured, beheaded, raped—then thrown into a pile of rotting corpses. I am thinking of a 1-year-old child’s body for sale and what it would be like for a hefty, sex-deprived, war-driven 30-year-old soldier to buy her, package her, take her home like a new television. What would he be feeling or thinking as he unwrapped her baby flesh and raped her with his penis the size of her tiny body?
I am thinking that, in 2015, I am actually reading an online Best Practices for Sex Slavery manual with step-by-step instructions and rules of how to treat your sex slave published by a very organized wing (Bureau of Sex Slavery) of a rogue government with the unapologetic mandate of regulating the raping, beating, buying, and enslaving of women.
Here are examples of the dos and don’ts in the manual: “It is permissible to beat the female slave as a [form of] darb ta’deeb [disciplinary beating], [but] it is forbidden to [use] darb al-takseer [literally, breaking beating], [darb] al-tashaffi [beating for the purpose of achieving gratification], or [darb] al-ta’dheeb [torture beating]. Further, it is forbidden to hit the face.”
I am wondering how the ISIS bureaucrats will distinguish punches, kicks, and choking as acts of discipline from acts of sexual gratification. Will a team of the Bureau break in and check for hard-ons as the beatings of slaves occur? And how will they know what actually made the soldier hard? Many men get turned on solely by the assertion of power. And if it is determined that the soldier beat, choked or kicked his slave for pleasure, what will the punishment be? Will the soldier be forced to return the slave and lose his deposit, pay a steep fine, or simply be made to pray harder?
I am thinking how easy it is to make ISIS a monstrous aberration, when in fact they are an outcome of a long continuum of multiple crimes and disorders. Their sexual atrocities only vary in design and application from many other warlords in other wars. What’s shocking and new is the brazen and unabashed display of these advertised crimes on the Internet, the commercial normalization of these atrocities, the ISIS app, using rape as a recruiting tool. But their work and its rapid proliferation don’t exist in an historical vacuum. It is escalated and legitimized by centuries of rampant impunity for sexual violence.
This led me to thinking about the comfort women, among the first modern-day sex slaves. These young girls, mostly from Asia, were abducted in their prime by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II to be held in comfort stations, providing sex to Japanese soldiers in service of their country. The women were raped sometimes 70 times a day. If they got too tired and were unable to move, they would be chained to their beds and continued to be raped like limp sacks. The comfort women were silenced in their shame for 45 years, and then for 25 years since they have marched and stood vigil in the rain demanding justice. And now only a few remain; while only last month the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sidestepped a direct apology yet again.
I am thinking about the inertia, silence, paralysis that has stalled and prevented investigation and prosecution into sexual crimes against Muslim, Croat, and Serb women raped in camps in the former Yugoslavia; African-American women and girls raped on plantations in the South; Jewish women and girls raped in German concentration camps; Native American women and girls raped on reservations in the United States. I am hearing the cries of the permanently unsettled ghosts of violated women and girls in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Guatemala, the Philippines, Sudan, Chechnya, Nigeria, Colombia, Nepal, the list goes on. I am thinking of the last eight years I spent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a similar conflagration of predatory capitalism, centuries of colonialism, endless war and violence in the name of mineral theft has left thousands of women and girls without organs, sanity, families or a future. And how terms like re-raped have now become re-re-re-re-raped.
I am thinking that I have been writing this same piece for 20 years. I have tried it with data and detachment, passion and pleading, and existential despair. Even now as I write, I wonder if we have evolved a language to meet this century that would trump a piercing wail.
I am thinking about the failure of every patriarchal institution to intervene in any meaningful way and how structures like the UN amplify the problem as peacekeepers, meant to protect the women and girls, are rapists themselves.
I am thinking of Shock and Awe and how it helped unleash Rape and Behead. We all knew then in our bodies and beings as we marched against the pointless, immoral war on Iraq, millions of us disregarded citizens around the world, what shrapnel-filled hurts and humiliations and darkness would be torn asunder with those deadly 3,000 US Tomahawk missiles.
I am thinking of religious fundamentalism and God the Father and how many women have been raped in his name and how many massacred and murdered. I am thinking about the notion of rape as prayer and a Theology of Rape, a religion of Rape. And how this practice is one of the largest world religions, growing hundreds of converts every day as 1 billion women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime.
I am thinking of the manic speed at which new and grotesque methods for commodifying and desecrating the bodies of women multiply in a system where what is most alive, whether the earth or women, must be objectified and annihilated in order to escalate consumption, growth and amnesia.
I am thinking of the thousands of young men and women from the West between the ages of 15 and 20 who signed up to join ISIS. What compelled them to join? Poverty, alienation, Islamophobia, rage at the imperialist destruction of their homelands, identity, responsibility?
I am thinking of what my activist sister told me on Skype from Baghdad this week. “ISIS is a virus and the only thing to do with a virus is exterminate it.” I am wondering how we exterminate a mindset, bomb a paradigm, blow up misogyny, racism, capitalism, imperialism, and religious fundamentalism?
I am thinking, or maybe I am unable to think, caught inside the ongoing mind fuck of this century. Knowing on one hand the only way forward is a total rewriting of the current story, a deep and studied collective examination of the root causes of the various violences in all their economical, psychological, racial, patriarchal parts, which requires time, and at the same moment knowing that here and now 3,000 Yazidi women are being beaten, raped and tortured.
I am thinking of the women, the thousands of women around this world who have worked endlessly for years and years exhausting every fiber of their beings to make rape real, to end this pathology of violence and hatred towards us and no matter how logical we are, how patient, how empathetic, how many studies we do, how many numbers we show, how many survivors we treat, how many stories we hear, how many daughters we bury, how many cancers we get, the war against us rages on, each day more methodical, more brazen, brutal, more psychotic. I am thinking that ISIS—like rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and murderous temperatures—may be the scalding indicator that the end game for women is near. The day has arrived when eons of women’s rage must in turn coalesce into a fiery volcanic force, unleashing the global vagina fury of female goddesses Kali, Oya, Pele, Mami Wata, Hera, Durga, Inanna, and Ixchel—and let our wrath lead the way.
I am thinking of the famous female Yazidi folk singer Xate Shingali, and imagining that after finding the heads of her sisters hanging from poles in her village square, she asked the Kurdish government to arm and train the women, and how now the Sun Girls, the women’s militia she formed, are fighting ISIS in the mountains of Sinjar. And in this moment, after years of working to end violence, I am dreaming of thousands of crates of AK47s, falling from the skies, landing in the villages and centers and farms and lands of women, breasted warriors rising in armies for life.
This led me to love, thinking about love, how the failure of this century is a failure of love. What are we being called to do, what are we really made of, each of us alive on this planet today. What kind of love, what depth of love, what fierceness and searing love is required. Not a naive sentimental neoliberal love, but an unrelenting selfless love. A love that would vanquish systems built on the exploitation of multitudes for the benefit of the few. A love that would catalyze our numb revulsion at crimes against women and humanity into unstoppable collective resistance. A love that revered mystery and dissolved hierarchy. A love that found value in our connection rather than in our competing. A love that insured we opened our arms to fleeing refugees rather than building walls to keep them out or tear-gassing them or removing their dead bloated bodies from our beaches. A love that would burn so bright it would permeate our deadness and melt our walls, ignite our imaginations, and inspire us to finally break out of this story of death. A love so electric it would jolt us to give our lives for life itself if necessary. Who will be the brave, furious, visionary authors of our manual of revolutionary love?
This piece was originally commissioned for La Repubblica and appeared Monday simultaneously in The Nation and French Elle.
Eve Ensler is a playwright and activist and the founder of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Her newest work is I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (Random House – 2013).