Eleven years after the launch of V-Day, Eve Ensler sets out to do for girls what she did for women--uncover the truth of their experiences and create a global dialogue.
In 1996, playwright and author Eve Ensler sparked a worldwide phenomenon with the debut of her play The Vagina Monologues, which has since been staged in more than 130 countries. Based on her interviews with women about their bodies, the play became the catalyst for women to open up about their own personal experiences. The overwhelming number who spoke of surviving violence inspired Ensler to start the movement V-Day, which has raised over $70 million dollars for anti-violence programs around the world. She hopes that the impact of her new book, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls, will be just as far-reaching: "To create a girl revolution."
After the success of The Vagina Monologues, the idea of a work about girls intrigued Ensler, though she didn't want to simply do it "by rote." But observing girls in her own life as well as those she met through her travels with V-Day, a central theme emerged: "the girl in everybody, the muted, censored, shut down, diminished, undermined girl in the entire species." She began to write.
Ensler describes the result as "a call to girls, about girls, for girls, around the world, to be their authentic selves," to overcome the "pressures that rob them of their originality and power." Though the pieces are all fictional monologues, Ensler says they are "based on what is real and true" in her observation of the lives of different girls all over the world. Among the girls Ensler creates are a teenager in a New York suburb struggling with high school peer pressure; a Masai girl resisting female genital mutilation in Kenya, where V-Day maintains a safe house; a survivor of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo; a teen who blogs about her self-starvation. Says Ensler, "I hope it tells these interior stories of girls that don't normally get told, the secret stories ... as opposed to the fantasy version of what girls are living." She hopes that through the stories, "girls get freed into the reality of their lives."
Too often, she discovered, no matter their geographical location, girls are silenced. "It's one universal story with different manifestations, depending on the class, the culture, the community, the religion: how does the culture in any given place, mutate, censor, undermine, diminish and eradicate girls, and the power of girls?" observes Ensler. "And that can be getting a girl to believe that she has to be the size of a pencil," so that she devotes all her energy to "losing weight and disappearing. Or it can be a girl sold into marriage with an old man in a culture where people cut off girls' clitorises. Or she can be used to blow herself up in the front line of a fundamentalist war. In all of it she is basically fodder."
Ensler likens the experience of putting together I Am an Emotional Creature to her earlier project. Interviewing women for The Vagina Monologues, she discovered a world no one was talking about. "It was exhilarating and it was terrifying. And I felt the same thing in the last five years traveling the world listening to girls." She was amazed by what they are up against, "and it's also pretty illuminating and hopeful-making to see the triumph of girls over these obstacles."
She has also begun to identify what she calls the "girl self" that has been largely undervalued and suppressed. "It's the part of us that's passionate, and compassionate and associative and intuitive and emotional and resistant," she says. From the time we're born, women and men, she says, "we're taught that the worst thing you can be is a girl. That to be a leader you should never be 'a girl.''' So it must be pretty powerful to be a girl if everyone's taught not to be one, right?" That realization is what inspired the title, "I Am an Emotional Creature." She has been told her whole life "that I'm too emotional, too extreme, too dramatic, too intense, too alive. I started to think, what if I actually saw that as my advantage, as my gift?" It's crucial, she says, "to respond with our heart--not insanely or without analysis--but I think the missing piece right now is that passion, that outrage and empathy that motivates you to break out of the box to change things."
Ensler believes in the dramatic medium of a monologue. "You can allow the interior world of the character to speak and be revealed, which is very difficult to do with a journalistic piece. You can explore the poetry of the character, you can explore high emotions, low emotions." Going deeply inside to understand motives and fears, she says, "is the crucial step if we are going to find a way to transform consciousness."
In the introduction to I Am an Emotional Creature, Ensler describes the power of girls as one of our "greatest natural resources." Look at the girl in Africa, says Ensler. Her father sells her into marriage for "maybe a thousand dollars at most. But if she is educated, she will take care of that family forever. Girls' empowerment is not going to take things away from people. It's going to feed people and make sure we stop destroying the Earth. It's going to be responsible for ending wars and bringing up children in more holistic ways. It seems so crazy to me that people don't understand this." Unleashing their energy would create "a new wind healing the world."
Beginning This Month . . .
Ensler premiered the play, I Am an Emotional Creature, in Mumbai last November, a city where The Vagina Monologues had enjoyed great success. The experience was "fabulous," she says. "It was so much fun." Beginning this month, the play is being performed in assorted venues around the United States--all as fundraisers for V-Day programs--including a New York City performance last week by teenage girls directed by actress and V-Day Board member Rosario Dawson. Also in February, a V-Girls campaign will debut, which will include a comprehensive curriculum developed with experts in various fields to accompany the book when it is distributed to schools. V-Girls will create their own web site, "a place where girls can use the tools and the book and whatever they need to engage in a dialogue, empower themselves and become the next leaders." For more information, visit V-Day.
This article originally appeared at The Women's Media Center.