Fierce Vulnerability: A Conversation With Eve Ensler
Famed for her fearless work as an activist, author, and Tony Award-winning playwright, Eve Ensler epitomizes what it means to be a Fierce Female. Director Jennifer Haddow connected with Eve in Bali to interview her for Wild Women Magazine. Read Jennifer's inspiring conversation with Eve about how being vulnerable and showing up has the power to change the world.
Eve Ensler taught me that “Vagina” was not a dirty word. When I first saw her Tony Award-winning play “The Vagina Monologues”, it felt revolutionary, the assertion that my body and sexuality as a woman could be celebrated and seen as sacred.
I watched Eve blossom in her work for the next two decades, saw her perform “The Good Body” on Broadway and cheered on her launch of ONE BILLION RISING, the largest mass action against violence against women and girls rallying activists in 200 countries to rise through dance and creative expression.
One sunny afternoon on the edge of a rice field in Bali, I finally found the opportunity to sit down and speak with Eve. She was audacious in person, emanating warmth and sisterly affection. She has deep, wise eyes that have seen both unspeakable horrors and joyful ecstasies. She is a woman you immediately want to tell your deepest secrets to, a woman you know you can trust. Her honesty and vulnerability shine in person as on the stage and what she told me in this interview made me blush as much as I did in the audience twenty years ago when she called from the stage to us to shout the word “Vagina!”
As women, we have a sense that there’s a kind of pilgrimage calling us to go back to nature, go back to this place of wildness, this place of nurturing, into Mother Earth. Where did you go on your pilgrimage?
I feel like there’s pre-cancer and there’s post-cancer. The Congo, despite the war and everything else, it’s been a very powerful place for me. I think it was post-cancer, it was during the treatment, it was during everything that happened that I really returned to nature. Like I found nature, I found trees, I found that I understood it was my separation from it that was making me sick. And since then, now I know that if I’m not with nature for a certain period of time I’m not going to be well. I can feel it. I can feel it right now, I have to get to the land soon. My body is hungering for that. And I think our separation from the land is not disconnected from our separation from the body. I mean, what neoliberal capitalism has done is created this fast growth reality where people are moving past their bodies. As opposed to at the speed of the natural energies around us which teach when to rest, when to go, when we need to restore, when we need to dance, when we need to - and I think that being connected to the Earth is critical.
Since moving recently to the country, I spend so much time out at night under the stars and rolling in the ground and I introduce myself to everything that’s on the land. I’m coming to know the little woodpeckers with the red heads and I’m coming to know my snapping turtle and there was an amazing hawk in my tree. I want more and more and more of it. I want to prostrate myself to it. I want to just bow down to it every day.
The work I’m doing is really about creating a safe space for women to explore who they are and I think when you enter into wild nature, you can’t avoid looking and feeling your body. You can’t avoid dealing with your body because you’re climbing that mountain. You’re pushing that canoe forward, you’re shitting in the woods, you’re dealing with the reality of the elements and your relationship with nature.
Sometimes in my house at night I hear all kinds of creatures on my roof. In the beginning, I was like, “What is on my roof?” And then I just was like, “They’re here, just make friends with them.” They’re your friends. You have moved into their world. So every day there are bears, there are deer, there are snakes, there are all kinds of things and I try to just go, “Wow, what is that?” Let me introduce myself to that. Let me get to know you.” We’re taught from very early on in so many cultures that the Earth has to be conquered and the Earth is wild and demonic, that we have to tame it and mute it and deny it and degrade it. But the Earth is astonishing. It’s multifaceted. It’s beautiful and endless. I get up every day and I just can’t believe that I was spending time there.
I think when you fall in love with the Earth, you realize you have to fight and do everything in your power to protect her and you have to put your body on the line to protect her.
That’s fact. I really do feel I am in service to the Mother right now, my life is in service to her. I listen for where she is directing me, where and what to do. And I feel the best, I feel like I’m in alignment with that, you know? I don’t mind that responsibility. It’s like listening to women’s stories for years about their violations made me responsible to what I was hearing because it touched my heart, it opened my heart, it broke my heart. I think that is not a burden. That is a joy, that is a reason to be here.
When do we get to rest and just be without giving so much all the time? Because I think as women we give, give, give - and yes, we give out of passion.
But maybe we can’t do that right now. I mean, I’m not saying we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, because I take care of myself, I do yoga, I get massages, but we’re in a state of emergency. I just have to be honest. For so long I had that question, and also, I get to be an artist, so I get to write. My work charges me up, when I write I get charged up, I write all the time. When I do activism I get charged up. I don’t see my work as separate from my play. I don’t see my work as separate from my pleasure. My work is my pleasure. I’m doing what I want to be doing. This is what I want to be doing. You just have to say, okay, how do you pace yourself? How do you make sure you’re taking care of yourself?
How do you take those moments where you go, I’m going to take four days off and go in and take care of my body and rest and sleep and dream and go back out again. You have to have those restorative periods. But, we are in a global crisis of magnitudinal proportions and we cannot pretend that’s not true.
You’re not going to fix it all and you’re going to do your piece just like I’m going to do my piece of it. We each have to nurture the piece that we’re doing and hope that many other people are going to join this struggle so that there’s tons of us doing this work. Because not one person, not two people, not 10 people, not 100 people can do this. And it’s like when you see people who are in dire situations whether it’s the war in Congo or whether it’s people who are living in very violent poverty. They address what’s going on in the moment because that’s what they have to do and that’s kind of where we are. We have to address what’s going on right now and we have to fight and we have to struggle and we have to resist. And at the same time, we have to have the imagination to create the world we want to live in. We have to have some kind of bigger idea of where we’re going.
We can’t just be resisting. It’s such an imaginable time. We will get restorative juice from picturing: what is the world we want to live in? I’m going to create the world I want to live in. A communal place where women can be restored, women can have visions, women can come together, and thinkers can come together to really create this place that could be a model of exactly the world that we want to bring forward.
Image: Paula Allen
My work is movement building in this community of women who are seeking adventure because they want that feeling of adventure and wildness in their lives. Wild Woman is something that lives deep in our bones. And there’s a movement of women emerging who are wanting to reclaim that and bring her to life. When you talk about sisterhood and the movements you’re building, what’s giving you the most hope right now?
I’ve seen what global solidarity can do. I see how it changes culture, I see how it gives women strength. It lets women love their vaginas and step into their power and 20 years ago nobody was saying vagina. Every place I go, it used to be a joke in the airports, people would come up to me and they would say I saw you in the show and now they come up to me and say, I was in your show. Do you know? I see a kind of progression, an escalation of women beginning to love themselves and come into their power and also understand how critical it is that being in their body is connected with having visions and having the strength and having the power to bring about transformation.
I think whether you’re saying come into the Earth or come into your vagina, you’re saying the same thing. Both of those are pathways to divinity. Both of those are the ways we get to her. So whether you are masturbating or wrapping yourself around a tree there’s something very similar about those two gestures because you’re connecting yourself to the bigger energy, to that force that has the potential to transform human existence. And our disconnect from it is what has allowed so much to happen, you know?
Part of what the journey is now is: how do we wake up? You can wake up intellectually, you can wake up theoretically. But then you’ve got to wake up in your body. And it’s the scariest place because when you wake up in your body, you wake up to your feelings and most people, particularly men, are brought up not to be in their hearts, not to have their feelings, not to cry, not to express dark, not to be in despair. Show their strength. What the world needs now is a fierce vulnerability. Our vulnerability is our strength.
How do we teach people how to hold their grief and their fears, how do we be vulnerable warriors? It’s all about being a vulnerable warrior. And that means our hearts are open.