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Lions Roar : July 2019
who witnesses the birth of her granddaughter, a Bos- nian survivor of rape, and a feminist happy to have found a man who ‘liked to look at it.’” First performed in a basement in the late 1990s, The Vagina Monologues has now been translated into forty-eight languages and performed in more than 140 countries. Its casts have featured celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey. Ensler won the Obie Award in 1996 for “Best New Play” and in 1999 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship Award in Playwriting. E NSLER, HER HAIR IN HER ICONIC jet- black bob, was now world-famous, as people both celebrated and tore down posters with the word “vagina” on them. As a young theatre student, I witnessed someone angrily ripping up a poster and uttering, “Disgusting.” I was delighted. At least we were now talking about women’s bodies. The silence had been worse, as Ensler wrote in The Vagina Monologues: “I was worried. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them.” Ensler began to talk obsessively about vaginas, and out of this arose V-Day, a global activist movement she founded to end violence against women and girls. It features creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti- violence organizations. Through V-Day campaigns, thousands of people around the world have produced annual benefit performances of The Vagina Mono- logues and A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer, a collection of essays edited by Ensler. As part of this groundbreaking work, Ensler started to travel the world, sixty countries in all, in search of stories of women who had experienced violence and suffering, who had become exiled from their bodies, and who were looking for a way home. “I heard about women being molested in their beds, flogged in their burqas, acid-burned in their kitch- ens, left for dead in parking lots,” she writes. Ensler landed in the Congo in 2007, where she heard stories that shattered all the other stories, stories that got inside her body and caused her to stop sleeping. “ The Congo was where I witnessed the end of the body, the end of humanity, the end of the world,” she writes. “Genocide, the systemic rape, tor- ture, and destruction of women and girls, was being employed as a military–corporate tactic to secure minerals.” Ensler says that it was here in the Congo that the reality of interconnectedness, a key Buddhist teach- ing, began to reverberate strongly for her. “Separ- ateness is such a delusional idea,” she says. “What many of us try to work toward now is understand- ing that our bodies are not separate from ourselves, our bodies are not separate from the earth, and they are not separate from each other. There is this sense of binaries, of division, of brokenness. People are not understanding that they are part of the same human family. “What I am finding in my work as an artist is the realization that we’re all inside each other’s struggle. If you look at my birth story, or poverty or what is happening to immigrants or what’s happen- ing to the earth, we’re all in this web. It’s the same in your body. You wouldn’t separate out your liver and say, ‘Oh, my liver is really great, but I don’t like my heart.’” But Ensler also witnessed an unrelenting hope and strength in those whose stories she was hear- ing in the Congo. The women had conceived of an imaginary place they called “The City of Joy,” a sanc- tuary where they would be safe, could heal, come together, and release their pain and trauma. “When you’re in community, you begin to not be separate,” Ensler says. “You begin to be your right size. You’re not too small and you’re not too big. You’re just the right size within that community. When you’re alone, you’re either terribly diminished or utterly grandiose, you know?” Ensler decided to make The City of Joy a reality, and worked with her resources at V-Day and with UNICEF to build and sustain it. After delays, dis- couragement, and deceptions, The City of Joy was scheduled to open in May 2010. But in March, doc- tors discovered a huge tumor in Ensler’s uterus. The woman who had sought other people’s stories about their bodies came face-to-face with her own body. E VE ENSLER NOW LIVED in the world of cancer—hospitals, doctors, disease, suffer- ing. “My body was no longer an abstrac- tion,” she writes. “There were men cutting into it and tubes coming out of it and bags and catheters PHOTOBYROBBIEJACK/CORBISENTERTAINMENT/GETTYIMAGES LION’S ROAR | JULY 2019 37