Events, Interview, Michigan Republicans — June 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues to be performed on Capitol steps tomorrow


“If saying ‘vagina’ is controversial, then the men that believe that need to look at what they feel about vaginas.”

Tomorrow, starting at 5:00 p.m. Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, brings this wildly successful play to the steps of the state Capitol Building. With help from state legislators, activists and progressive leaders around the state of Michigan, they will perform The Vagina Monologues in front of the building where Republicans have basically banned the word from being uttered.

Ensler is the founder of the group V-Day, dedicated to ending violence against women and girls all over the world. Her new show “Emotional Creature”, opens this Thursday at the Berkeley Rep.

The reading of The Vagina Monologues at the state Capitol was the brainchild of Carla Milarch, the associate artistic director at the Performance Network in Ann Arbor. You can find out more information about the “Vaginas Take Back the Capitol” event and RSVP on their Facebook page HERE. Also, be sure to share your ideas for signs to be carried at the event HERE and by tweeting using the hashtag #MIvaginasigns.

With the story of Republicans publicly censuring and banning their female colleagues from speaking on the floor of the state House because they exercised their free speech rights going national, Ensler is getting interview requests from all over. In fact, this has actually become an international story and she has been interviewed about it by the BBC in England.

I spoke with Ensler by phone this afternoon about the “Vaginas Take Back the Capitol” event and the reading of The Vagina Monologues on the Capitol steps.

Hi, Eve. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. How did this event come about?
I’ve obviously been concerned about what’s going on in Michigan for awhile and then this — I don’t know what we should call it — this “madness” started happening. Then someone asked me, “Would you think about doing a reading in Michigan as a protest?” I just thought that was such a brilliant idea so I said let me get in touch with them and see if it’s even possible because I only have one day off because my show is opening next week. So I contacted [state Senator] Rebekah Warren and told her I would do anything I could possibly do to help and to turn this around. It’s just outrageous, what’s happening.

We talked about the idea of doing a reading of The Vagina Monologues on the steps of the Capitol and she was completely into it and said that’s a great idea. I told her I could come on Monday because that’s my day off, she said, “That’s great”, and literally within, I would say four hours, the entire thing was organized!

It really is amazing. And do you know why? Because I think we’re at a turning point moment. I think everybody feels it. This has just been going on too long, this shutting down women’s voices, the horribly reactionary attempts to control women’s bodies and to determine the boundaries of, not exactly their rights, but of their discourse now.

I just think that the reaction is so amazing. I mean thousands of women have already signed up. I think it’s going to be an amazing turnout. I have people that are driving four hours to be there and are flying in.

I really think it’s going to be the moment that we galvanize and really support the folks in Michigan because you have been battered, just battered.

I know that a lot of what you are doing with V-Day is aimed at ending violence against women and girls. Do you see what’s going on with women in Michigan as sort of a form of violence and how do you see this dovetailing with what you are trying to accomplish?
The roots of violence against women are the same as everything that’s going on in Michigan. In fact, violence is the methodology the patriarchy has always used to keep women in their place. When we talk about ending violence against women, what we’re talking about is the safety of women. What we’re talking about is women determining their own destinies, including their own bodies. These are all the same issues; they’re not separate issues. We focus on violence because there are so many aspects of patriarchy that we need to address and the level of violence is still enormous. I mean 1 billion women on the planet will be raped or beaten.

All of these issues are one in the same and at the root of them is patriarchy and the central notion that men have the right to determine women’s lives. And determine women’s bodies. And determine women’s sexuality. And determine whether women have babies or don’t have babies. From my point of view, this is obviously a ludicrous notion.

I’m very happy, in a way, that all these issues are kind of coming together. I think it makes for a lot more strength and solidarity.

It will be interesting to see how galvanizing this with the election coming up because the reason why so much of this is happening in Michigan is because the Republicans literally control absolutely every aspect of our state government. Literally every aspect of our government. Unless we can get at least the House back in the fall, then they will continue to keep doing this. I keep describing them to my wife as “drunk with power”. I just don’t even think they give any thought anymore to whether or not what they are doing is the right thing. It’s just what they want to do and so they do it.
Exactly. I think they will keep doing it if there is not some really serious pushback. And where they understand that there are a lot of people who actually DON’T support what they are doing. My perspective on V-Day, I mean we had 5,400 events this Spring in 1,800 places. That indicates that there are a LOT of people who don’t agree with the Republicans.

I travel all around America and what I see – I was just in Kalamazoo – I don’t see people who are supporting that. So, I think what we need to do is ACTIVATE the people who don’t support the agenda so that they become vocal and passionate and active in turning things around.

That was actually one of my next questions: How do you think this can help move the cause forward? Do you see it reaching across party lines? Are you seeing that when you travel around with your show?
You know, look, I never know what party people are in V-Day. But what I do think is that women across both parties are very, very disturbed by what’s been going on. The idea that men think they can determine what happens to our bodies — from trans-vaginal wands to determining when life begins — these are all, to my thinking, issues that should be determined by women. And I think there are women in all parties who feel that, who absolutely feel that way.

The question that is more important than party is how do we give people back a sense that they have power? I think people have been very defeated — very defeated — and don’t think that they can control their own destinies anymore, which is a kind of an ennui right now.

What I hope this action does is really INSPIRE people to understand that they have a lot of power and that they have to get active and they have to get bold and they have to misbehave and they have to stop cooperating.

How do men tend to respond to your shows? Do you see a good number of men and do you expect to see men tomorrow?
Oh, I hope so! Look, as I’ve always said, the liberation of women is not separate from the liberation of men. The freer women are, the freer men are. I have a somewhat different perspective because I see the world through V-Day. I’ve seen many liberated men. I’ve seen men who have attained a different level of consciousness. I just think that there are a few very reactionary, older men who still control a lot of power and who have a loud voice and who have a lot of money. But, I don’t believe that this represents the majority. I just don’t.

And, if they do, I don’t know who these people are because I never meet them!

I think everyone is aware that, despite what these extreme people are doing, we’re going to just move forward. You know, we’re out of the bottle; the genie is not going back in the bottle so just stop it! So it’s a question about what THEY do versus what WE do. It’s more important to say, “You’re all going to just have to roll with this future now, the future is already here.

I feel the same way about LGBT rights and things like that. When I talk to my kids, who both just graduated from college, they’re just perplexed that we’re even having to have these conversations. And when you look at somebody like my wife or even me, I was raised by a feminist mother, these are battle that have actually already been fought back when we were kids. So to have to come back and fight them again really is demoralizing.
Look, here’s the thing: this group of select men who want all the power are very organized, are very wealthy, and very loud. We who battle them have to be equal with them, have to be equally so.

I really believe that they have given us a HUGE opportunity — what’s the language where “crisis” and “opportunity” mean the same thing? — they have given us a huge opportunity to organize in a major way and to say, “Okay, we’re going through the window, we’re getting it fully opened, and we’re never going back. I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 85! I’ve been doing this since I was like 20!

Are you doing the whole Vagina Monologues tomorrow? How is it going to work?
We’re doing most of it, yes. There are a couple of monologues that we might not do, some of the really simple ones, but, yeah, we’re doing most of it. And it’s going to be performed by senators and representatives and activists and leaders of organizations. It’ll be on the steps of the Capitol and there will be microphones and I actually heard that they’re going to try to have chairs set up, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

I am so proud of these female legislators. And I just feel like Lisa Brown is so… the idea that they are making her sound like she had a tantrum or making it sound like what she said was crazy, it’s what constantly happens to women when they speak truth to power and when they speak back and stand up for their rights. They make them seem like they’re crazy or emotional or whatever it is. If saying “vagina” is controversial, then the men that believe that need to look at what they feel about vaginas.

UPDATE: There are now over 30 Michigan actresses signed up to read at the event tomorrow (in addition to the state legislators):

Suzi Regan, Courtney Jo Dempsey Burkett, Jan Blixt, Carla Milarch, Sally Pesetsky, Eva Rosenwald, Jennifer Graham, Jasmine Rivera, Chelsea Sadler, Beth Watson Torrey, Heather Atwood, Hillary Sea Bard, Cecillia Fierro, Rebecca LaDuca, Barb Christine, Sharlan Douglas, Lynn Lammers, Emily Sutton Smith, Lindsey Ford, Nina Kircher, Elitza Nicolauo, Dana Sutton, Julia Glander, Kate Willinger Manfredi, Mary Jo Cuppone, Ruth Crawford, Madison Deadman, Ann Folino White, Lauren Montgomery, and Debra Reichard.

Legislators include Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield), Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Sen. Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), Rep. Barb Byrum (D- Onondaga), Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes (D-Saginaw), Rep. Dian Slavens (D- Canton Township), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D- Detroit), Rep. Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills), Rep. Joan Bauer (D-Lansing), Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), and Rep. Maureen Stapleton (D-Detroit).

[Photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe, used with permission.]