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Transcript from IMKC "The Anatomy of An Apolog‪y‬"

Kim Crenshaw: A few weeks ago, presidential candidate, Joe Biden, expressed regret over Anita Hill's treatment during the 1991 confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.

(AUDIO CLIP) Joe Biden: As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well


Kim Crenshaw: Now a few days later, his wife, Jill, said in an interview with NPR that it's time to move on.

(AUDIO CLIP) Jill Biden: I mean, he’s called Anita Hill, they’ve spoken, he apologized for the way the hearing was run, so now it’s kinda- it’s time to move on.


Kim Crenshaw: So I'll admit this question is personal to me. It's personal because I sat in the hearing room. I watched the Senate Judiciary Committee take Anita Hill apart.


One of the consequences of Biden’s mismanagement of the hearing was that he was responsible for deciding that other witnesses, who were prepared to talk about Clarence Thomas's behavior was never heard. It was never heard because Joe Biden decided not to call these witnesses. To this day, many people don't know that there were other women who were willing to testify.

So when I look at the presidential field, and I see Joe Biden as one of the front runners for the Democratic nomination, I keep going back to that moment. And I'm still waiting for some indication that the same person that presided over that horrendous hearing is not the same person who is asking for our vote.


I want to hear him talk about how some of the questions that he asked Anita Hill reflected the insensitivity to how a woman who's experienced sexual harassment is often made to testify in a way that makes her even more stigmatized. I want to know that Joe Biden recognizes that Anita Hill had no one defending her, and no one actually prosecuting Clarence Thomas. I want to know that he recognizes what role he played in the imbalance. Once I hear that, then I might feel a little bit more comfortable recognizing that the lesson from that debacle has been learned, so that we know something like this will never happen again. But I haven't heard it yet.


(AUDIO CLIP) Joy Behar: I think what she wants you to say is I’m sorry for the way *I* treated you, not for the way you were treated. I think that would be closer

(AUDIO CLIP) Joe Bien: But if you go back and look at what I said and didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly.


Kim Crenshaw: In this episode, I had the opportunity to talk to Tony Award winning playwright and activist, Eve Ensler, and also to philosopher Kate Manne about what it could mean for perpetrators and bystanders to genuinely confront and also atone for violence that they've either committed or enabled.

In these discussions, we touched on the transformative potential that true apologies can do, and what it is in our culture that places so much more of a penalty on women for not accepting half hearted expressions of regret, what I call bystander apologies, than it does on men for making such disingenuous apologies in the first place.

I turned to Eve Ensler to talk about her latest book, The Apology, which came out May 14th, and it's written as a letter from the point of view of her late father, who apologized in the book for years of childhood physical and sexual violence.


Eve Ensler: Hi, I’m Eve Ensler. I’m a writer, I’m an anti-racist feminist, I’m an activist, I’m a dreamer.


Kim Crenshaw: And that’s just getting started with all the things you do are are. So tell us, why did you decide to write this book? Especially why now? It just seems so timely.


Eve Ensler: Well, as you know, because we've been in this struggle a long time together, been in this movement to end violence against women for the last 21 years. I've been watching and waiting, as we have struggled in this movement to bring consciousness around violence against women, to break the silence, to call men out, to tell our stories. I've been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for men who have been called out, or have not been called out, to come forward and to reckon with what they have done. To become accountable, to do self-interrogation and self-revelation, and look into one's past. Look into toxic masculinity, look into the history of patriarchy. Look into their childhood, to see what could have led them to become batterers or rapists or harassers, or sexual molesters. And sadly, I have never heard a man publicly apologize in a way that feels satisfying.


Kim Crenshaw: And why do you think? What's missing that makes it so difficult for men to apologize?


Eve Ensler: Well it was interesting, in the course of writing this book, because my father really did talk to me. And at one point he told me that any man who apologizes is a traitor. They essentially betray other men. They break the male code, they break the male bond. And once one man begins to apologize, the whole story begins to come tumbling down. So it's almost as if there's this silent, unspoken bond between men that they will go to prison. They will lose jobs, they will lose status. But they will never really be accountable. They will never say that what they've done is wrong, they will never look at a woman and feel what she's feeling, let it enter their heart and let her know that they have felt what she's feeling. They will never say to her, “What you know to be true is true. I did what you think I did to you,” because that would somehow shatter the whole story of patriarchy.


Kim Crenshaw: So you said you talked to your father, but of course you also say that your father was dead for decades when you began to write this book. So help listeners understand how you created the dialogue with your father and how that became this apology.


Eve Ensler: I really didn't know what was going to happen. I knew I wanted to write a letter to myself saying the words I needed to hear that I had never heard from my father. I didn't know what was going to show up, I didn't know what was going to happen. And I think part of writing this book was realizing that we have a relationship to the dead. But another part, which was really stunning to me, was this really acute realization that often, victims hold their perpetrators deeply inside them, particularly if they're family members, because we have had to learn what their movements are. What their moods are. So I realized I had essentially been in dialogue with my father for 65 years, whether it was conscious or not. And this was the very exciting thing I discovered: that up until the point of writing this book, I had accepted a given, which was, essentially, I would always be victim to my father's perpetrator. That was the kind of paradigmic setup, like this was going to be the life I led. And then I realized that through dialogue, I could shift who I was, and who my father was. He could go from being a monster to an apologist, and I could go from a victim to a person who was having agency over the apology I wanted. And that completely shifted everything.


Kim Crenshaw: Now, I imagine that some folks who believe they're owed an apology would be curious as to how creating that apology through your own internal dialogue with your father could actually be transformative and healing. So f