In 1998, Eve Ensler published The Vagina Monologues, and suddenly a word that many viewed as vulgar became a powerful—and positive—force. V-Day was born on Valentine's Day of the same year, when a performance of the play in New York raised more than $250,000 for local women's organizations. In 2000, Santa Fe hosted its first V-Day fundraiser. This year's V-Day performance in Santa Fe—a performance of Ensler's new collection of monologues, I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World—benefits the Santa Fe Mountain Center. Ensler will be in attendance. SFR spoke with Ensler about the new book, the V-Day movement and more.
SFR: I think our culture doesn't give teens nearly the credit they're due.
EE: No, and I think what we do is we shut them down and we mute them and we tell them not to be so intense, not to be so alive and not to be so, so, so—and we just kill off that which is powerful about them.
Were you an intense teenager?
I think I was told every day, 'Stop being so dramatic, stop being so intense, stop being so emotional, stop being, stop being, stop being'—and I had to fight so much of my life to feel OK with being that alive and that intense.
In terms of feminism, do you think teenage girls now are living an easier existence than generations prior?
I think in some ways, yes, but in some ways, absolutely not…I think there are ways that girls get controlled now that are much more sophisticated…If you look at the number of girls who get beat up, how many girls have eating disorders, how many girls hate their bodies, how many girls don't feel like they have the right to ask boys to use condoms, how few girls know about sexuality—I don't know how much we've changed yet.
Do you think women will be fighting sexism forever?
Hopefully not. Hopefully things will change. But here's the deal: Is there anything better than struggling and being with your fellow sisters and trying to make the world better?
Do you think, then, that struggle is a blessing in disguise?
Not necessarily a blessing, but I don't begrudge it…Will we get to the point where there's no more violence? Will we get to the point where women are free? I hope to God that happens…But I also know that there's something about being in the struggle that gives your life meaning.
The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day movement it spawned have become a huge political force worldwide, but you say you didn't have a political agenda when you wrote it.
When I first wrote the monologues, I wrote it as art. But it then gave birth to this movement. So it's always very interesting to find a way to interweave art and activism…Like ['The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could'], for example—originally, she says at the end of that piece, 'If it was a rape, it was a good kind of rape.' I wrote that long before it became a movement and, as art, that's what the character said. But when it started to represent a whole movement of raped women, it didn't work. I debated for a long time whether I would change it because, as an artist, I would never change it.
In the last two years, V-Day has taken on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Can you talk about the campaign there?
We're about to open an amazing place called the City of Joy in Bukavu, eastern Congo, which will be an incredible place—a pastoral city for women who are survivors of gender violence. The whole idea is to help them and support them in turning pain to power so they'll be supported and healed, they'll be nurtured, supported in learning their human rights. There will be a radio station. And then [the women] will go out and become the next leaders of the [Democratic Republic of Congo].
What makes you happy?
Being with women when they come into their power and their voice. And dancing.
What makes you sad?
Seeing people who are in power be more concerned with their political careers and status and maintaining their power than caring for the people.
What makes you angry?
The indifference of the world to poor women, to women who are being abused on a daily basis.
What do you love?
Coco and Charlotte [my granddaughters], my son, Dylan, my team that I work with every day. I love anything that has to do with coconut. I love being alive. Some days I just can't believe I got to be alive.
V-DAY benefit reading of I am An emotional creature: the secret life of Girls around the world
7:30 pm Saturday, Feb. 20
Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 W. San Francisco St.