Eve Ensler began her remarks, at an event hosted by the West Michigan Women’s Studies Council, with the question, “Are there any Vaginas in the house?” Her comments were met with thunderous applause and set the stage for a dynamic talk. The playwright–most known for her work The Vagina Monologues–stressed the importance of her work and the work of the play and V-Day as a movement to stop rape, stop sexual assault, and stop all violence against women and girls. 15 years ago she first read the play in a public forum in New York City. The most radical play she had ever written became her most popular, but more importantly, it became a catalyst to stop violence against women. Ensler said that over $50 million has been raised over the years to support work to stop violence against women.
The play has helped women tell their own stories about victimization, to find their own voice and the ability to find power. She shared several stories of women she has met in her travels and how they have overcome violence and created space for women to be themselves. She just came back from Haiti where they wanted a motorcade so she got the idea to have those responsible put the statement “end violence against women” on all the vehicles. When the motorcade passed by crowds they all cheered wildly. The author also talked about how in every culture there is always resistance, no matter what town or country she is in. She told the story about a southern town where women tried to bring the play, The Vagina Monologues. The town officials, all men, said “no vaginas.” But an older woman spoke up and said, “I passed through a vagina, you did and I believe even Jesus did. So if Jesus did, then it’s good enough for me.”
Ensler has traveled around the world to meet women and to hear their stories. She said she was in Afghanistan to stand with women who demanded rights. She went to Juarez, Mexico to demand justice for women and punishment for those who have killed hundreds of women in recent years. She has even worked with women in prison who were incarcerated for killing husbands who beat them. The play, she said, was a catalyst to some of the women being pardoned.
Then the author said:
“The reality is that war abounds and violence against women still happens all over the place. We have not yet deconstructed the root of violence against women. When I started I had hope that violence was random and individual, but now I realize that what we have is a femicide. One out of every three women will be beaten, raped or abuse in their lifetime’s, according to the United Nations. I was recently in the Congo. I found out what will really happen if we do not do something to stop violence against women. I interviewed a doctor working in the Congo and then decided to go. I went to a hospital in one village, where all the women had been raped – gang raped, raped with guns, sticks and other objects. After that experience, I stopped being afraid anymore. I realized that if we allowed it to happen in the Congo, it could happen anywhere.”
She then told the story of a young girl. Her dad was killed and here mom was raped and she was held for 2 weeks. She was also gang raped and raped with other objects. The girl was only 8 years old. The girl is incontinent to this day and every time she loses control of her bowels she relives the torture. Ensler said, “I want to live in a world where something like that will never ever happen again!”
The author said that when she came back from the Congo, she was asked to address the UN Security Council twice. One of the men said that he had a problem with her use of the word femicide. “What was I supposed to call it? Just something that happens everywhere, even on US military bases? We have to call it what it is, femicide.” Ensler said the reality is that even though V-Day raises more money than any other group, what it raises the US spends in just 10 minutes on the war in Iraq:
“We cannot elect leaders who say they want to protect children and then be willing to bomb Iraq or any other country. I have not heard one candidate make violence against women a part of their platform. I hear people say all the time, what are we gonna do about women in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, well what about the women in West Michigan? If we call this femicide we will get these institutions like the UN to address the reality, if not they will no longer be legitimate.”
Her next big project will be this year on April 11 & 12, where she and other women will be hosting a celebration in New Orleans for the 10th anniversary of V-Day. Ensler said that they were invited to New Orleans after the flood and that what the women wanted the most was to be able to tell their stories.
She urged the crowd to go to New Orleans to bear witness, to see what has happened. She said that Americans don’t know what has happened and that we need to celebrate New Orleans. Ensler said she read something to the Mayor of New Orleans and it moved him so much that he made a speech the other day saying he was the Vagina Mayor. Ensler said, “If we change the story of New Orleans we change the story of women.”
She also addressed what she called the “tyranny of masculinity and patriarchy” and how it has devastated men. She said that everything in this culture does not let men experience pain, cry or really love. Since they can’t do this, it is often re-channeled into violence. Ensler says they are going to have men speak to this issue, because it is not just a women’s issue, it is a human issue. “If men don’t become part of this movement, we will never end this violence.” The event in New Orleans will also look at humanity’s relationship to the environment and the reality of racism and poverty.
She ended her talk by reading part of her new book Insecure at Last: Losing It in A Security Obsessed World.
The author/playwright was asked several great questions but there were two that stood out the most. First, “What would you do if you were President?” Ensler said that she would not want that kind of power. She said that the journey for us as feminists is about how we deconstruct power. Once we deconstruct it, we see that the real power to change lies in movements not individuals.
The other question came from a high school girl who asked about the play being performed in high schools across the country. Ensler said there are 20 high schools this year that have already signed up to perform the play. She then told the story of some high school girls who were suspended for performing the play. The students then called her and they got on one of the network TV morning talk shows. The female students, Ensler said, “were so brave and so smart. Right on national TV they said, ‘what is wrong with me saying I have a vagina?’”