Playwright, Performer, Feminist : b. 1953
Eve Ensler shattered taboos with her play, “The Vagina Monologues,” which celebrates women’s strength and sexuality. The play has been performed around the world and translated into more than 45 languages. Its success inspired Ensler to create V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.
Ensler suffered violence as a girl growing up in Scarsdale, New York. Behind the white-picket-fence façade of her upper-middle class home, her alcoholic father abused her. She eventually escaped to college, but became addicted to alcohol and drugs.
At 23, she married the boyfriend who helped her get clean and adopted his teenaged son. Ensler soon began writing plays. Her work didn’t receive wide acclaim until she wrote “The Vagina Monologues” in 1996. She interviewed more than 200 women for the play, which was first performed in the basement of a Greenwich Village café. It won an Obie Award in 1997 for best new play.
Many women approached Ensler after her performances to talk about their own experiences, particularly as victims of violence. Their stories inspired her to create V-Day. Since its founding in 1998, V-Day has educated millions about violence against women and girls and raised more than $70 million for anti-violence organizations around the world through local benefit performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and other events. V-Day has helped support more than 11,000 anti-violence programs in local communities and safe houses from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Haiti, Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq.
Through her work with V-Day, Ensler has visited more than 40 countries, including Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Kenya. She has interviewed women in devastated communities who have been raped and tortured, lost their families to war, and suffered other forms of violence. Their stories, as well as her own, inform Ensler’s first book, Insecure At Last: Losing It in a Security-Obsessed World (2006), in which she examines how the current obsession with security undermines our humanity.
“Real security cannot be bought or arranged or accomplished with bombs,” Ensler wrote in Ode Magazine. “It is deeper. It is a process. It is the acute awareness that we are all utterly interdependent and that one action by one being in one town has consequences everywhere. Real security is the ability to tolerate mystery, complexity, ambiguity—indeed hungering for these things.”
In 2009, Ensler testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, “Confronting Rape and Other Forms of Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones.” The hearing focused on Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which the United Nations has called the rape capital of the world.
For more than a decade, armed groups representing various ethnic, criminal and commercial interests have fought for control of DRC’s mineral wealth. The country is rich in diamonds, gold and minerals including coltan, which is used to make cell phones, laptops and other consumer electronics. Today, these groups often illegally control DRC’s mines and use rape as a weapon of terror and war.
Ensler is calling for accountability and transparency in the coltan trade to help end violence against women in DRC. “The rape and desecration of the Congo is the rape and desecration of all of us,” she said at the 2009 D7 Conference sponsored by the Wall St. Journal. “I need companies to say ‘this matters’, and to step forward and commit to making rape-free products.”
In 2010, Ensler and V-Day opened the City of Joy in DRC, a haven for women who have survived violence. The center houses women and provides education, therapy, creative arts and other resources to help women heal and empower them to become leaders in their country.
A self-described nomad who lives alone, Ensler continues to write. Her plays include “Necessary Targets,” “Lemonade,” and “The Good Body,” which explores why women across cultures and backgrounds feel pressured to change their looks in order for society to accept them. Her newest book is I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Teenage Girls (2010), which she describes as “a call to girls…around the world, to be their authentic selves” [and overcome the] “pressures that rob them of their originality and power.”
Ensler also keeps up her activism. “I don’t get tired,” she said in an interview published in Mother Jones, “because every time a woman doesn’t die or doesn’t get beaten or doesn’t get raped or doesn’t get honor-killed or doesn’t get acid-burned, it’s a huge victory.”