As the creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” one of the most popular and controversial plays of the past two decades, Eve Ensler had long been seen as a pillar of strength among feminists and women’s rights activists. Yet she was harboring dark secrets of her own past — including a childhood ruined by her mother’s remoteness and her father’s sexual abuse — that made her feel out of touch with her own body, and by extension, the world.
But when she encountered countless female victims of rape and abuse while traveling through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa, Ensler was shocked out of her emotional shell. Add in the fact that she was forced to endure a brutal fight for her own life as she successfully battled uterine cancer, and Ensler finally attained the breakthroughs that enabled her to be true to herself while bonding with the Earth.
Her powerful journey to enlightenment is now recounted in her memoir, “In the Body of the World,” which she will discuss at 7 p.m. Tuesday at All Saints Church in Pasadena. Speaking by phone while traveling on her book tour, Ensler explained the transformation at the core of her story.
“The book is talking about how to wake up and stop being disassociated from our bodies and shows that we’re all asleep,” says Ensler, who turns 60 on Saturday. “Start paying attention to your body and stop seeing it as a machine that takes you around. Our bodies are organisms like the world that we need to be aware of and drive into shape.”
Ensler believes that she had been separated emotionally and psychologically from her body by five years of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her father from the ages of 5 to 10. A native of New York City, she also believes that personal traumas cut individuals off from recognizing the pain and struggles of the people and environments surrounding them.
“When we’re separated from our bodies by trauma, we’re separated from Earth and each other. We’re neither here nor there,” she explains. “We deny a loss we should be awake to, deny climate change and the fact it’s getting worse, denying poor people we pass by on the street. Being awake is the best state to be in, and it protects us.”
Ensler has devoted her entire career to doing work that protects women and their rights, not only creating “The Vagina Monologues” but also establishing V-Day as a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls. V-Day has raised more than $80 million by staging benefit productions of “The Vagina Monologues” worldwide, providing funding for 12,000 women’s shelters in locales as diverse as the Congo, Iraq and South Dakota.
She has also worked with women against the oppressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan, leads writing groups in women’s prisons, and wound up supervising the creation of City of Joy, a community for women survivors of gender violence in the DRC. City of Joy provides up to 180 women annually with group therapy, self-defense training, comprehensive sexuality education, economic empowerment and cultural opportunities, with the entire facility run by Congolese women themselves.
But she is perhaps most proud of her work with One Billion Rising, the global dance protest campaign against violence, and in support of justice and gender equality for women. For her efforts, Ensler has been honored with a bevy of awards, including the prestigious Isabelle Stevenson Award at the Tony Awards for her activism, an Obie Award for “The Vagina Monologues,” a Guggenheim Fellowship Award in Playwriting, and the Sundance Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award for her film, “What I Want My Words To Do To You.”
“Whenever you tell the truth about yourself, you get free,” says Ensler. “Holding secrets is toxic and trauma is a disease absolutely connected to cancer. The more we can release it the chances are good of healing and moving forward.”
Vroman’s Bookstore presents Eve Ensler discussing and signing copies of her memoir “In the Body of the World” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at All Saints Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. Doors open at 6 p.m. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.
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