Playwright Ensler Addresses Culture of Violence against Women

Eve Ensler (pictured here during the book signing at Saint Mary's) delivered the Women's History Month Keynote Address on March 25.
Eve Ensler, the feminist playwright who has spearheaded an international campaign combating violence against women, says the issue is as pressing as ever in a world where one in every three women is raped or beaten.

"Violence against women is part of a global pattern," Ensler told an audience of more than 200 people at the Soda Center on March 25. "Unless we see it as a pattern, we will never end it - no one is exempt."

The College's keynote speaker for Women's History Month, Ensler chronicled horrors she witnessed in war-torn Afghanistan and Congo - including the use of rape as tool of warfare against girls aged 8 and younger. She said the plight of girls and women in these countries starkly illustrates "what will happen if we don't rise up against this violence."

Ensler says "femicide"- the undermining of women to maintain patriarchy - is a worldwide problem, adding that gender-based violence causes poverty and homelessness in the United States and "cannot continue to be the issue that we'll get around to talking about later."

While her advocacy has brought her face-to-face with the worst forms of violence against women, Ensler says she's also seen her play "The Vagina Monologues" enable countless women to come to a fuller appreciation of both female sexuality and gendered violence.

"In telling their stories, women begin to undo the damage wrought by violence," said Ensler, herself a victim of sexual violence during childhood.

The play started in 1996 at a small Off-Broadway theater, but has resonated with a broad audience in the more than 115 countries where it has been performed during the last decade.

"I've watched it being performed in Islamabad, Pakistan, where women were laughing so hard that they were falling out of their chadors," she noted.

Ensler also stressed that violence against women is not exclusively a women's issue, but a human issue, and that the socialization of boys is a crucial piece of the problem.

"Boys are brought up in homes where their father hates their mother and where they're not allowed to cry," she said. "They are often caught in a landscape where they can't express themselves."

Ensler's remarks were part of her 10th anniversary "V-Day" Tour against gender violence, which will culminate with an event at the New Orleans Superdome on April 11-12. Ensler has worked extensively with women's organizations in the Gulf Region since Hurricane Katrina, and these groups will receive the proceeds from this year's V-Day event.

She invited the audience to come to Louisiana to join her and a slate of high-profile performers and speakers, including Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda and Selma Hayek.

"When I tell you that Woodstock is happening and you miss it, you won't be able to say you didn't know," she said.

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications

Photo by Gorbachev Lingad ‘10