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Van Badham and Eve Ensler at Antidote festival 2017

Eve Ensler:
the power of story

It's A Long Story

Sydney Opera House

Content warning: this podcast episode and article contains mention of sexual assault and violence against women.

"My name is Eve Ensler. And what did I want to be as a child? I wanted to be useful."

One evening in 1996 the basement of the Cornelia Street Café in New York’s Grenwich Village came alive when Eve Ensler performed The Vagina Monologues for the very first time. Since then, her play has been translated into 48 languages and presented in over 140 countries with the world’s best stage and screen actors performing it to packed houses. In the 20 years that have passed since the premiere, Eve has gone on to write many more plays and books, start global political movements that have made over 100 million dollars for grassroots groups.

“... if I were just to wallow in my own madness, I would've left this world a long time ago.”

Growing up

"... my father would do very weird things when I was in my teens that were visible. And she [my mother] certainly witnessed the battery. But she was a very disempowered person. And I would say that my father had four children: my brother and my sister and I and my mother. Like she was one of his children. Like she was that disempowered in the family structure. 

"I always read about people who commit terrible acts. I try to really study their childhoods. Where do people begin? What happens to people? I don't think people are born killers. I don't think they're born hateful. I think children are radically abused, and they go in different directions as a result of that abuse. And I think what people get wrong is that the community is part of protecting children. You know, when I grew up, nobody would consider intervening. Children were private property, right, in the patriarchal family.  They were owned and determined and run by the father, right.

"I think I was in such unbearable pain that all I could do was find somebody else who's in worse pain. Find somebody else who's in worse pain than you and figure out how to support them. And it actually proved to be quite a healing mechanism, you know. Because if I were just to wallow in my own madness, I would've left this world a long time ago."

Van Badham and Eve Ensler at Antidote festival 2017

Mr. Alligator

"I had this imaginary character when I was young named Mr. Alligator. And when things got really, really bad, I would go and I would call him on the phone really loudly so everyone could hear me, and I would say, 'come pick me up'. And then I would pack my bag and I would go and I would wait for him all day. And you know, he didn't come. But waiting for him really kept my imagination and my consciousness and my hope alive. 

"And then years, years later, with this wonderful woman named Agnes Pareyio—
who is one of the great activists of the world, who's been working in the Maasai community in Narok, Kenya, for years to stop female genital mutilation ... we were walking on this path and all these people were singing and dancing, and all these girls were just crying because they had a place where they'd be safe. And we got to cut the ribbon, and I suddenly went, 'Oh, my god, Mr. Alligator came'. Like it was just like full circle. I think we hold the healing of each other inside us if we're willing to reach out to do that. I think we heal ourselves by healing other people, there's no doubt about it."

“... and I suddenly went, ‘Oh, my god, Mr. Alligator came.’”

“A spaceship in my own being”

"Patriarchy has essentially cut us off from our sexuality. Going back to early Christianity, going back to any early religions, right, sexuality is sinful. You know, sexuality is something we should never be connected to as women, you know, our desire, our pleasure, our passion. So our vagina becomes something very fragmented and very separate. And I think for me, certainly doing The Vagina Monologues and thinking about The Vagina Monologues, I became very aware very quickly how separated I was, my head and my vagina, how separated those were. 

"And how violence, how incest, how beatings had progressively kept me away from my own body because it was the landscape on which all those horrors were committed. And to revisit it meant I was going to have to revisit the betrayals, the anguish, the sorrow. I can actually pinpoint the night, after years of performing The Vagina Monologues, where I actually came back into my vagina, where I actually had the experience of reentering my vagina. It was like landing on a spaceship in my own being."

Loving my body

"I think The Vagina Monologues was definitely the beginning of me not being at war with my body. But cancer was definitely the thing that sealed the deal. Like I worship the body, I worship my body ... I can't believe what my body has done for me. I can't believe my body has taken me around the world to 70 countries.

"I can't believe that my body was able to heal from stage IV cancer and lets me wake up every morning and still be a alive, you know. I can't believe I could lose all those organs and they could reattach things and my body could learn how to function without them.

"I also can't believe what my body's done in my life. It's allowed me to love. It's allowed me to connect. It's allowed me to have amazing sex. It's allowed me to taste delicious food. You know, the body is just the most extraordinary thing. And I do think our disconnection from our body keeps us disconnected from the earth, from each other, from everything really that matters, from caring about people. Because what is empathy but being in your body, feeling somebody else's body?"

“It's allowed me to love. It's allowed me to connect. It's allowed me to have amazing sex. It's allowed me to taste delicious food.”

Image: Paula Allen

Agnes Pareyio

"I had gone to Kenya because I was working on The Good Body at that time, and I'd heard there was a woman who was stopping the practice, and I wanted to meet her ... I walked into this little school in the middle of Kenya, in the middle of Narok, in Maasai territory, and there was this amazing woman, who I can cry just talking about her, because she's such a light in this world, and just so powerful.

"And she was standing there with a box. It had half of a woman's torso and there was a vagina and then there were all these vagina replacement parts. And she was teaching girls and boys in this classroom what a healthy vagina looked like and what a mutilated vagina looked like.

"And so I simply said to her, 'What could V-Day do to support you?' And she said, 'You could get me a Jeep, because I could get around a lot faster'. So we bought her a Jeep. And in that year she reached thousands of girls. And then we said, 'What else can we do?' And she said, 'Well, if you gave me money to build a house, I could have a place where girls ran away to and they could be safe and no one could cut them.'

"But for me, to be able to take the money that Vagina Monologues was creating and to put it into a grassroots activist who was leading her community in her tradition, in her way, knew exactly what she was doing – what better thing could we do?"

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