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Q & A with Eve Ensler

Playwright, performer and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, will launch her 20-city speaking tour with a visit to Smith this Friday, Feb. 1. The tour marks the tenth anniversary of the presentation of The Vagina Monologues. Ensler will speak on "V to the Tenth." Smith's annual student production of The Vagina Monologues will take place this year on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Meanwhile, Ensler answered questions about her work, women, and Smith College, via a recent telephone interview:

The Gate: It seems like it’s been a whirlwind the past 10 years for you.

Eve Ensler: It’s been wild, and you know, it’s kind of like my life was consumed by vaginas. Really, it’s just been this huge “vagina wave.” An amazing 10 years. 

Gate: Can you describe the trajectory of the last 10 years, since the first performance of The Vagina Monologues? I’m sure you couldn’t have imagined how this has taken off.

EE: Well, first of all I absolutely could not have imagined it, I would have been happy just getting by without someone shooting me. So to have it evolve into this has been kind of a miracle. I think when we started we said we’d do one event in New York, on February 14, 1998, and we’ll raise a lot of money for local groups, and we’ll call it V-Day because that’s Vagina Day and Valentines Day and Victory over Violence Day, and we thought we’d set out for one great event. For that event, 2,500 people ended up coming, all these great actors, and all of us knew that something incredible had been born, you could just feel it, the world moved. And since that time it has just spread like fire around the world. I was thinking last night, we’ve had so many incredible victories, from actually stopping violence in some places, reducing it in others, women spreading the word, breaking taboos, breaking the silence, sharing stories, bringing the issue front and center, opening lots of safe houses in Egypt and Africa and Iraq and Haiti and Afghanistan, in North America. We’ve seen huge victories, but there is still an enormous amount of violence toward women. 

Gate: What was the original inspiration for The Vagina Monologues? Was it about women becoming comfortable talking about their sexuality and their bodies? Or was it more about violence against women?

EE: The original inspiration for The Vagina Monologues, to be honest, was curiosity. I had heard a woman talking about her vagina saying really strange things and I couldn’t believe it. So I said, “Wow, I have no idea what women think about their vaginas.” It was just asking women questions out of curiosity. And I wasn’t planning to write a piece, I just wanted to know. Then what everybody said was so amazing I started to make notes and the next thing I knew I was writing this piece. 

Gate: Is there a particular demographic that is responding to you, or is it across the board? 

EE: Across the board. If I have one thing I’m most proud of after all these years it’s the diversity. We are in 120 countries, 45 languages, and every single V-Day in this country is diverse. We have diversity of size, diversity of age, diversity of race, and I think that is a very major victory. We’ve raised 50 million dollars. So the good news is that we’re all in this together and the bad news is that there is a global system that is undoing and destroying women. We still keep treating it locally or individually, like it’s something random rather than a global system, which I’m now identifying as “femicide,” which is destroying women. One of the advantages of getting to travel and having gone to 50 countries in the last 10 years is seeing the pattern so evidently expressed. It’s more evident where people are very poor, but this country has one of the highest levels of violence of anywhere in the world. Whether it’s the violence around being thin and beautiful, whether it’s young girls who are throwing up daily because they don’t like the way they look. And we have this illusion that we are somehow far ahead, but we’re actually not.

Gate: Have you noticed any headway in the past 10 years? 

EE: I think we’ve made enormous headway, in the sense that people are talking about it more, people can say the word vagina now. There are places where we can look on certain college campuses where this production has been there eight years and we know it’s reduced the level of violence. But, what we haven’t done yet is change the underlying culture. We haven’t gotten boys at a young age. We haven’t looked at all the ways that poverty and racism and economic injustice and the destruction of the earth interface to create violence against women. I think that’s really the next 10 years of V-Day, how do we get to that next level.

Gate: Why did you choose to kick off your upcoming tour here at Smith? 

EE: Smith to me symbolizes kind of the heart of women’s education and women’s empowerment and moving women forward as a community. When I think about all the women I’ve ever met from Smith, to have this kind of fierce independence and sense of self…I just like how it’s positioned women, and men also. Smith has been doing V-Day for a long time, since the beginning. And the event is celebratory, it’s sorrowful, it’s outrageous, it’s sexy, it’s joyful. Another thing about Smith, too: One of the great things about The Vagina Monologues is it’s always been just for women to perform.

I have a great respect and belief in all-women’s education. I think it does really good things for women in terms of allowing them the space to grow and be safe and to be nurtured so they can find their voice without worrying about all the other things that go into being in the same room with a man. That’s kind of what The Vagina Monologues does. It creates this kind of sacred holy women’s space where women can tell their stories and process their paths and find their voice. So it makes sense we begin it at Smith. 

Gate: And I want to clarify that you don’t mean to the exclusion of men. 

EE: No! You know, when I started doing The Vagina Monologues a lot of men were scared to come. Scared. It’s so not the case now. So many men come and so many men are part of the V-Day movement. This year we published a book, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer, that is written by men and women and in many events this year men are performing and we started a column, a V-Column, by and for V-Men. I really believe that we will not change the situation of violence until men take it on as their issue. I know so many men who have come to The Vagina Monologues many, many times, and I always say to women if you want to meet a good man go to The Vagina Monologues, ‘cause that’s where they’ll be.

Gate: I know you’ve seen many V-Day productions around the country. Do they all have a similar tone to Smith’s? Are they approaching the day in a similar celebratory way? 

EE: Yes! And what’s really amazing is it doesn’t matter where I am in the world I can close my eyes and the laughs come at the same place and people cry at the same place in the performance. It’s pretty incredible, it doesn’t matter what language.

Gate: What’s next for you?

EE: We have this huge anniversary coming up in New Orleans and it’s the biggest thing any of us have ever done. We’ve taken over the Superdome and turned it into Superlove for two days and there is going to be a huge anniversary performance of the show with Oprah and Jane Fonda, and Jennifer Hudson and everyone. And, I just finished a new play and I’m working on a bunch of projects, but until April I’m kind of consumed by this New Orleans event.

Gate: We look forward to seeing you Friday night.

EE: I can’t wait to come. 

1/30/08   Compiled by Eric Sean Weld
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