Since her one-woman show The Vagina Monologues became a hit in 1997, much has been written about writer-activist Eve Ensler. It was a privilege to sit down with her, and to see first-hand how one woman turned her creative success into a global movement aimed at ending violence against women.
At 49, Ensler has the infectious energy of a child, the wisdom of an older woman, kind eyes and a perfect pageboy haircut. She speaks quickly and passionately about the topics that concern her most: stopping violence against women, deprogramming patriarchy, gender fluidity, the word cunt and her love of women. She leaves you with a feeling similar to that felt after your first women's studies class: an inspiration to band together with your sisters and dismantle this virus called patriarchy.
Ensler is a radical feminist with a vivid imagination. For The Vagina Monologues, she interviewed over 200 women, asking them questions about their vaginas like, If your vagina could talk, what would it say? Once the show took off, and Ensler began touring the States, women started approaching her after performances and telling her their stories of abuse. These stories motivated Ensler to start V-Day, originally a one-day event first held on Valentine's Day 1998, to raise awareness about sexual abuse.
Since then V-Day has become a global movement aimed at stopping violence against women, including incest, rape, battery, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery. Through her performances and her V-Day movement, Ensler is redefining feminism to include the imagination, and creating a global support network that helps women activists do their work in different communities. V-Day raises funds through benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues and donates that money to women's organizations around the world that are doing something locally to end violence against women.
In 2002, V-Day performances in over 800 cities and at 550 colleges raised over $7 million. Now, that money is going toward various causes, including building a safe house in Kenya to support young girls seeking to avoid genital mutilation.
When you began The Vagina Monologues some years ago, you said a lot of women came up to you with their stories and that's what started the V-Day movement. Were you surprised and shocked that after 30 years of feminism, women were still experiencing self-hatred?
Totally shocked. I assumed people had gone through what I had been through in terms of feminism. I was