& A with Eve Ensler
performer and activist Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina
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,
Meanwhile, Ensler answered
questions about her work, women, and Smith College, via a
recent telephone interview:
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.
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.
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?
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.
you noticed any headway in the past 10 years?
EE: I think
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.