Perhaps if Rosie O’Donnell had done a little background reading on The Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler, she would have been more prepared for the Twitter firestorm she unleashed yesterday by publicly praising Ensler’s appearance on The View.
Instead, O’Donnell spent the day embroiled in Twitter arguments with women of color (WOC) who feel that Eve Ensler’s work marginalizes minority feminists and women of color.
At one point, O’Donnell tweeted a picture of herself surrounded by black students to defend herself from the critique. She also responded to a woman of color on Twitter who called her a “rich white woman” with “yes who does more for woc than u do.”
The Vagina Monologues is more than a play. It’s an iconic installment of second-wave feminism in which women examine sexism and sexuality by exploring their relationship to their own vaginas.
But Ensler’s famous play doesn’t fully withstand third-wave feminism’s emphasis on intersectionality, a complex theory that embraces the idea that women of color and trans women shouldn’t be left out of conversations about feminist issues.
Many modern feminists believe the Vagina Monologues promotes an outdated view of gender because it doesn’t encompass transgender and genderqueer identities. Last month, the Mount Holyoke College theatre department canceled its production of the play for this reason after sustained protest from campus feminists.
In addition, most of the monologues are written from the perspective of middle-class straight white women, which doesn’t exactly allow the play to showcase a wide range of experience of womanhood. One online feminist journal, The Knoll, argues that “the Monologues are a successful ‘global phenomenon’ precisely because they represent a fun, easy-to-digest pseudo-feminism.”
O’Donnell quickly drew feminist criticism when she tweeted a promotion of Ensler’s appearance on The View along with a link to Ensler’s annual campaign against violence against women, One Billion Rising.
Ensler created the movement in 2012 as an expansion of her movement V-Day, which stages performances of The Vagina Monologues to raise funds for battered and abused women. Both movements have come under fire for not doing more to point out the role that sexism plays in violence against women, and Ensler herself has been criticized for appropriation and for being a part of the “white savior industrial complex.”
Given all this, when O’Donnell tweeted her support of Ensler, criticism was quick to follow.
EVE ENSLER IS MY HERO – https://t.co/GLTfBxJOs5 – A LEGACY OF LOVE – OF GIVING – JOIN US FOR ONE BILLION RISING !!!— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 5, 2015
@beetrix – cause it doesn't— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 5, 2015
O’Donnell went on to lash out at a litany of women, who responded to her defensiveness with a mix of reactions ranging from bafflement to contempt to anger.
O’Donnell particularly engaged with one of Ensler’s most consistent critics, Lauren Chief Elk, a Native American feminist with a sizable Twitter following. Chief Elk has critiqued Ensler’s projects in the past, arguing that the One Billion Rising campaign in particular worked to silence and override the voices of actual Native American women rather than amplify them. O’Donnell stated at one point that she felt Chief Elk was making “something out of nothing” and “looking for a fight.”
@ChiefElk – I have heard UR complaint – I have heard all the noise U r making about a woman who has done more to help humanity than anyone— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 5, 2015
O’Donnell also continually referred to Chief Elk as “Chief” during the conversations, which Chief Elk viewed as condescending and racist.
All in the same stream of tweets. *erases hundreds of WOC's work and voices* *calls a native woman "Chief" derisively* *claims bullying*— Daniel José Older (@djolder) February 5, 2015
This is exactly why many WOC & black feminists have HUGE problems with Feminism. SO many times we're reminded what MANY Fems r really about.— Reagan Gomez (@ReaganGomez) February 5, 2015
And what's they're about is uplifting their OWN voices while silencing the voices of women of color and black women. #SaviorComplex— Reagan Gomez (@ReaganGomez) February 5, 2015
For many onlookers, one of O’Donnell’s mistakes was pointing out her own status as a member of marginalized communities.
@sarahxerta @LilyBolourian – YES – WHITE GAY ABUSE SURVIVOR— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 5, 2015
For her part, O’Donnell seemed frustrated by the conversation. As discussion was dying down, one Twitter user presented her with a Storify discussion about ways Ensler may have appropriated elements of Congolese culture. O’Donnell seemed confused.
@feministallies – this series of tweets? I looked – I can't follow it … Explain it in a tweet— ROSIE (@Rosie) February 5, 2015
But ultimately, the row seemed to result in no definitive conclusions, with Rosie retreating to Instagram to post cute pictures, while Chief Elk and supporters attempted to turn the conversation towards action:
Chief Elk also noted that the topic #howwedisappear was an ironic one.
Photo via rosie/Twitter