For millions of women and men around the world, the playwright Eve Ensler is a beloved figure. She represents the epitome of the politically engaged artist, someone who uses her creative brilliance to illuminate injustice and give voice to the voiceless. She is also one of the best-known activists of our time on the global scourge of men's violence against women, a heroine for countless victims of rape and abuse, and those who care about them.
As you might expect, she's much less highly regarded on the right. Consider how she and her work were treated on a national conservative talk radio show that aired on July 4. An influential executive from the conservative Salem Radio Network, Lee Habeeb, was guest-hosting on one of the network's properties, The Dennis Prager Show. His guest was the right-wing author and "documentary" filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza was there to promote his current film project, a conservative take on the greatness of America, and a follow-up to his successful 2012 anti-Obama propaganda film 2016: Obama's America.
Habeeb was eager to engage D'Souza on the subject of cultural politics; he lamented that the cultural left in recent decades has been much more influential than the right in swaying public opinion. One notable example he used has been widely discussed in recent months: how popular TV shows such as Will and Grace and Ellen have contributed to a shift in public opinion about same-sex marriage by bringing friendly, lovable gay people into people's living rooms, thus helping to make gays seem less "other" and hence less threatening.
Habeeb and D'Souza both agreed that the right needed to engage in this sort of cultural activism -- from the other side. D'Souza argued that the right needs to simply ignore "political correctness," and encourage creativity in its storytelling, comedy, and other outlets in the furtherance of its goals. Imagine, Habeeb said, what they could accomplish if the right had their own Jon Stewart!
Habeeb then introduced a segment on the work of Eve Ensler, who was on C-Span recently giving a reading from her one-woman 2004 play The Good Body, about her (and women's) relationship to her stomach. In Ensler's signature style the reading explored women's bodily self-obsession, and self-hatred, and the role the stomach plays in this. It was painfully honest and self-disclosive.
Habeeb was unimpressed. His agenda from the beginning of the segment was to make fun of Ensler. "We don't need to get angry about Eve," Habeeb said, "we need to mock her, tease her, ridicule her." He bemoaned that "This stuff's being peddled on campuses all across the country." The segment ended with the sounds of Helen Reddy's feminist anthem "I am Woman" playing in the background, as Ensler recounted her struggles with internalized anti-woman sentiment and toxic shame.
To be sure, the right has the right to satirize its adversaries. But let the record show that on the day these two men were claiming to celebrate American democracy, they made a point of dismissing and ridiculing one of America's -- and the world's -- leading voices for women's advancement, which, it must be noted, is fundamental to the advancement of democracy.
Their sexist mockery might have prompted self-satisfied laughs from (some) conservatives in their audience, but it mocked the very idea that they truly believed in America as a bastion of democratic values and progress.