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Eve Ensler on “The State of Female America,” Her Play “Emotional Creature” & Women Violence in Congo

StoryNovember 27, 2012
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We spend the rest of the hour with someone who has fought tirelessly for women’s rights here in the United States and around the world: Eve Ensler. Her new play is called “Emotional Creature” and is now playing in New York City. Ensler is the award-winning playwright and creator of “The Vagina Monologues” and V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. Her new campaign is called One Billion Rising. Ensler will be speaking tonight on “The State of Female America,” moderated by Laura Flanders, in New York City. “One of the things we’re trying to deal with and make happen with One Billion Rising is to look at the intersection between the violence that happens to women in the homes, on their streets and at their jobs,” Ensler says. [includes rush transcript]

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StorySep 24, 2012One Billion Rising: Eve Ensler, Activists Worldwide Plan Global Strike to End Violence Against Women
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We spend the rest of the hour with someone who’s fought tirelessly for women’s rights here in the United States and around the world: Eve Ensler. Best known for her play, The Vagina Monologues, her new play is called Emotional Creature. It’s now playing in New York.

EMOTIONAL CREATURE CAST: Oh, oh, oh! Don’t tell me not to cry, to calm it down, not to be so extreme, to be reasonable. I am an emotional creature. It’s how the earth got made, how the wind continues to pollinate. You don’t tell the Atlantic Ocean to behave! This is not extreme. It’s a girl thing, what we would be if the door inside us flew wide open. I am an emotional creature.

AMY GOODMAN: From Eve Ensler’s Emotional Creature, now playing off-Broadway in New York at the Signature Theatre. Eve Ensler is the award-winning playwright, creator of The Vagina Monologues and V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. Her new campaign is called One Billion Rising, and Eve has helped to organize a major panel tonight that will be taking place at Cooper Union called “The State of Female America.”

What is, do you think, the state of female America today, Eve?

EVE ENSLER: Well, it’s a good question, and I think that’s what we’re going to explore tonight. I’m very grateful to Laura Flanders, who’s been instrumental in making this night happen and also building a bridge between V-Day and labor unions, because one of the things we’re trying to deal with and make happen in One Billion Rising is look at the intersection between the violence that happens to women in their homes, on their streets and at their jobs. And I think the story in Bangladesh really looks to those issues that we’re going to be examining tonight.

I think we have wonderful women coming: Ai-jen Poo, who is with the domestic workers, who’s just an extraordinary woman; Randi Weingarten from the teachers’ union; we have Kimberlé Crenshaw, who’s an incredible voice on critical race theory; we have Amber Hollibaugh, who’s the executive director for Queers for Economic Justice; and Karen Higgins, who’s the co-president of the National Nurses United.

And I think one of the things—what we’re looking at is: What is violence, you know, at the workplace? What does it mean that women are now working so much harder for less pay, for less leisure time, for less benefits? And also the kind of situations in factories, the situations where women are sexually harassed on the job, the situations where we’re not honoring work that a lot of women are doing, whether it’s nursing or teaching and giving the benefits and giving—giving actually the support that women need to continue doing those jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Your play, Emotional Creature, intersects with that. I got a chance to see it on Sunday night, racing in there. These young women were truly amazing. One of the characters in Emotional Creature is a Chinese factory worker who assembles Barbie dolls. Let’s go to a clip of Olivia Oguma.

OLIVIA OGUMA: [as factory worker] You may not think some poor girl who only makes a few cents an hour has anything to teach you, but I know a lot about Barbie. Barbie is not who you think she is. She is so much smarter than they will ever let her be. She’s got great powers and is kind of a genius. There are more than one billion Barbies in the world. Imagine if we freed them. Imagine if they came alive in all the villages and cities and bedrooms and landfills and Dreamhouses and factories. Imagine if they went from makeover to takeover. Imagine if they started saying what they really felt. Imagine if I could activate them. Let Barbie speak!

AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Oguma, playing a Chinese worker, saying, “Let the Barbie doll speak.” So, talk about the research you did for this play.

EVE ENSLER: Well, you know, it’s funny, I’ve always—I’ve never really liked Barbie at all. I had really kind of sadistic fantasies toward Barbie growing up. And I wanted to write something about Barbie, but it’s so hard because she’s such a cliché. And so, I started thinking, well, who makes Barbie? Like, who is spending their days making Barbie? And then I started doing research about the factories in China and in Asia, where young girls are in terrible conditions, and actually there were the same stories of fires, same stories of horrible working conditions, you know, where girls didn’t move from their one little place all day long.

And I kind of inhabited this Chinese girl for few days when I was writing it and started getting inside her head, because I think the way we survive is through the imagination. And I started thinking, what if this girl had a relationship to Barbie that was kind of a mirror of her own self, to some degree? And it’s really interesting, because here’s this girl in a Chinese factory, getting paid very little, in a horrible situation. As she says, you know, she looked at Barbie Dreamhouse and realized she lived in nightmare house, you know, in Prison Barbie. And yet, she’s creating this doll that is going to then create all this self-hatred and this incredibly distorted notion of what femininity is and what a woman’s body is supposed to look at. You know, it’s going to create girls wanting to starve in one country, while she’s starving to make them. And I just—I just loved the idea that she began to talk about this relationship she had with Barbie and her deep desire to free Barbie from the confines of both this kind of body ideology, which is absolutely destroying young girls, and this slave mentality, which is where girls are being forced to make Barbie.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the scenes in Emotional Creature are, to say the least, extremely disturbing. This is what’s motivating you to do One Billion Rising. I want to turn to a clip of the play, Joaquina Kalukango giving an extremely vivid account of sexual violence. And a warning to our audience, this is very disturbing.

JOAQUINA KALUKANGO: And the next day, you will make it to the boat, and as it is pulling out from shore, you will not be breathing. You will see Claude and the other men on the dock asking and looking for you, and someone will point to the boat, and you will know he has found you, even though you are deep in your hole. And the captain will suddenly be standing next to you, and he will ask you one single question: “How old are you?” And you will start to talk as if it the first time you have ever talked, and you will be surprised at how loud and crazy your voice sounds. And you will say things like, “I was on vacation for two days, and he kept me for two years. I’m 17. He took me when I was 15. He raped me every day, three times a day. He gave me diseases and made me pregnant. If you turn this boat back, I will throw myself into the lake! I will drown myself! I will be OK dead, as long as I never have to see him again. I will take his baby with me.”

AMY GOODMAN: Joaquina Kalukango playing this role describing sexual violence. Who is Joaquina?

EVE ENSLER: Well, Joaquina is an amazing actress who is portraying a character that I developed based on a lot of years in the Congo. And I think one of the things—

AMY GOODMAN: She, herself, her family is from Congo?

EVE ENSLER: Well, ironically, her parents are from Angola and from Congo. And she was not raised there. She was raised in Atlanta. But her parents came to see the play, which was very moving. And I think her father was very proud of her and said he was kind of shocked how deeply she manifested a Congolese woman.

But I think the piece is really about the obviously horrible violence and sexual terrorism that’s been going on towards women in the Congo for the last 13 years, and really the kind of mental structural ways that girls survive that. She has eight rules of how to survive, you know, sex slavery. And I think every—every night, she does that piece. I don’t even know if I can even watch it anymore. I just—because she was actually talking the other day about how painful it was to keep going there night after night. But, in fact, we know, as we’re speaking, that violence continues in the Congo, particularly with these last weeks of the M23 taking over Goma and Sake, although today it seems like there has been a ceasefire, and they have given back Goma and Sake.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the recent assassination attempt on Congolese gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, founder of one of the hospitals that treats victims of rape and mutilation. He appeared on this show with you in 2009, talking about his work in the hospital, speaking through an interpreter.

DR. DENIS MUKWEGE: [translated] When we take care of women at the hospital, these women are wounded physically but are also traumatized profoundly. And it’s not possible, just like that, to cure them; it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. We cannot kick them out of the hospital, so we needed a place where women can stay to be taken care of and to train them to reinsert socially and to give them the possibility and the ability to take care of themselves and to be able to fight in life, because they do have the capability to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Denis Mukwege. And he is still alive, though there was an attempted assassination against him. He is head of the Panzi Hospital, which you work with in building the City of Joy.

EVE ENSLER: Yes, he’s our partner at the City of Joy, and Dr. Mukwege is now essentially in exile in Brussels because he cannot go back. I think the attempted assassination on his life is one of the greatest—it’s just a huge step back for the people of Congo. And he is one of the great leaders. He is one of the great forces for change and good there. I think what’s going on right now, and has been going on there in recent weeks, the failure, utter failure of the U.N. to protect the people, U.S. policy, which is supporting Rwanda, which has been clearly implicated in backing the M23 in our continual support of Rwanda. All of this has created a huge, huge failure in the Congo. And I feel that the people right now are more unprotected and less safe than they have ever been. And our dear doctor, who is a model for them, is unable to even go home. So we all in this country have to look towards pressing this government to take responsibility for Rwanda and for our incredible aid that we’re giving to Rwanda in supporting this.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap, we have 10 seconds. One Billion Rising, you’re organizing toward Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

EVE ENSLER: We are, and it’s happening February 14th all over the world. One billion women, and men who love them, are walking out of their jobs, their schools, and they’re going to dance. A hundred and seventy-seven countries have already signed up. I was just in South America. It’s spreading across the globe. So, come to onebillionrising.org, and join us.

AMY GOODMAN: Eve Ensler, thank you so much for being with us, award-winning playwright and creator of The Vagina Monologues.

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One Billion Rising: Eve Ensler, Activists Worldwide Plan Global Strike to End Violence Against Women

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