5 Important Life Lessons From Eve Ensler
There’s a triple-threat… and then there’s Eve Ensler – the playwright, performer, feminist, and activist who wrote The Vagina Monologues, founded V-Day, and created One Billion Rising, a global protest campaign to end violence and promote gender quality and justice for women. And, in case you haven’t heard, she’s coming to speak on campus this week (at a pretty convenient time when student protests and rallies are happening left and right). We asked Ensler about what advice she wants to impart to us college twenty-somethings about some topics — see her responses below, and go see her yourself at “In the Body of Justice” on Wednesday, Oct.15, at 7:30 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel.
Education: "I was very determined when I was younger. I thought I knew what I needed to study because I had very specific concerns. So I had a kind of restricted curriculum for myself that I felt was best, and that related to studying things like literature and women’s studies — and all of that was fantastic. But, I didn’t know then what I know now, like how important, for example, history would be, or how important something like physics would be. I took philosophy courses, but I wish I had taken more of them. I think I wish, looking back, that I had broadened my knowledge, and that I had a deeper, broader knowledge of a lot of different areas. Now, I see how much of what I don’t know and how what I’m catching up on informs everything I’m doing. I think sometimes when we’re younger we think, well this is what we want to learn about. And we go, I want to learn this because this I what I’m interested in. But, interests, at one point on our lives, they change. And I think when in school you have such an opportunity to get a broader base of knowledge, which I think is very, very important."
Career path: "I have my own particular perspective on career path, because I don’t even know what that is. I think what’s more important than career path is educating yourself. When I was going to college, we weren’t grooming ourselves for careers. We actually knew we had four years to expand our minds, and learn, and ask questions, and investigate, and try out resistance, and protest, and expand who we were. And I think so much of what corporate capitalism does is it teaches everyone that it’s about the “do,” as opposed to about the experience, or the critical thinking, or the investigation, or expanding the consciousness of your soul. And I think this emphasis on the career path is actually something I find kind of tragic. I think it flocks everybody into what they will be taking, and money, and what they will be doing, as opposed to taking the four years — which won’t ever come again — to really think, to really investigate, to really explore, to dream, and to read without worry of who you’re going to be in the marketplace."
Activism: "My college years were the years where my activism was born. For me, being an activist has been the core of my life, so I don’t think there’s anything more important than being an activist. I think it’s critical that authority is challenged, and that when people feel there is injustice, or when there is sexism, or racism, or homophobia, that people challenge that. And I think there’s no better time to be doing that than in college, because it’s the training ground for the rest of your life. I started organizations at college, I started a coffee house, and I spent most of my years protesting when I was in college. I went to a rather conservative college, but in the long run it was actually very good for me because it trained me and developed those muscles of resistance, and those muscles of challenging authority, and those muscles of not going along with the status quo when I knew inherently there was something wrong with the status quo."
Politics/worldview: "One of the things that One Billion Rising and V-Day have been doing for years is looking at building a global movement around the world, and finding the points of commonality and the points of solidarity where we can rise for the world together. And I think it always makes a movement so much stronger, like the first year of One Billion Rising when 207 countries with millions of people were involved — it strengthens everyone’s movements, their grassroots movements, in every country. I think it’s really important that America, where 75 percent of the people don’t even have a passport, and where there’s no international news, and there’s no understanding of our role in the world and the impact we’re having in the world, it’s critical that people educate themselves about what the U.S. is doing in the world, and also how we make connections and we are in solidarity with people struggling across the planet. I think college is the perfect time to be educating yourself, and also building those movements with other students around the world."
Violence: "I was a budding feminist and coming into my feminist self when I was in college, and I certainly understood from my own life experiences that violence had been a critical destabilizer and disruptor of my own life. I think that all forms of violence that we experience — whether they be physical violence, or sexual violence, or gendered violence, or racial violence, or economic violence, or environmental violence, or colonialist violence — these are the things that we are wrestling with in the world right now. And I think for me, focusing on violence against women has been a lens through which I have seen the world, but I have also come to understand being in the struggle for so many years that you can’t look at violence against women without looking at economic injustice, or without looking at racial injustice, or without looking at gender injustice. And I think one of the things we all have to be doing is building a much more intersectional vision of the world, and really looking at how we bring our movements and weave our movements together.
So, for example, at the Climate March a few weeks ago, One Billion Rising had a huge contingent, because we know that climate injustice is having a deadly impact on women around the world. Whether it’s the global south, where typhoons and flooding and storms are desecrating the population and where women are devastated economically, and where, for example, once there are these terrible storms, women are in blackouts where we know that sexual violence increases. Or, for example, we’re working now with restaurant workers and domestic workers who are being sexually harassed on the job as waitresses and where they’re making below minimum wage, but they have no power, and they have no money, and they no ability or unions or ways to fight for themselves, so the sexual harassment is prevalent on the job and they can’t fight against it, and they can’t stop it from happening.
I’ve always dreamed of a V party — a party that is for the elimination of all forms of violence, and building that party in a way where we link all those issues together. And I think, right now, looking at the fact that 300,000 women will be assaulted on college campuses — that’s insane. What’s that doing to girls and young women who are trying to get an education? It’s making them terrified, it’s making them lose confidence, it’s making them afraid. We look at the girl at Columbia University who’s carrying a 50 lb. mattress to all her classes, and we’re encouraging girls to come forward and press charges who were raped by someone who isn’t even being held accountable – that is devastating to young women and that is devastating to their ability to learn, their ability to grow, and their ability to feel like the world belongs to them. So I can’t think of anything more important than fighting, particularly, against violence against women."