Photo credit: Lindsay Aikman/Michael Priest Photography
I have known Eve Ensler for almost thirty years, and I have never talked to her about my vagina. We have done lots of other things. In the early 1980s, before she was a famous playwright, author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of the global anti-violence movement, V-Day, we were part of a group that camped out in Battery Park to protest nuclear weapons entering New York Harbor. We danced the can-can across the entrance to the Nevada nuclear test site in 1987 as part of a demonstration against the Reagan administration’s resumption of nuclear testing. To highlight the lack of affordable housing and the power of rich developers in New York, we served brunch to homeless people on long, white, linen-covered tables in front of the Plaza Hotel.
Eve and I danced, laughed, got arrested, got released, but we never talked about my vagina. Not that Eve didn’t ask. She once tried to persuade me by saying she was short of “happy vagina” stories. My vagina was happy enough, but it wasn’t about to talk. If you’re looking for happy parts, muttered my radical feminist self (to herself), why not the clitoris? Besides, isn’t women’s liberation supposed to be freeing us from biology as destiny, identification by body part?
As the 1990s advanced, Eve drew more into theater, I into journalism. We slept in the streets less and traveled the world more, on crisscrossing tracks; I to Northern Ireland, Central America, Haiti, the Middle East, Croatia, Berlin; she to Berlin, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Haiti, later Afghanistan.
Then, in 1999, I found myself participating in The Vagina Monologues at Madison Square Garden. The whole event was wildly improbable. Part ringmaster, part mistress of ceremonies, Eve stood in bare feet in the gaping hugeness of that 18,000-seat stadium. Jane Fonda performed giving birth; Glenn Close exploded the word “Cunt!” loud enough to rock the very highest bleacher. I helped to hold a piece of glass for one of Elizabeth Streb’s dancers to fly through, after which Queen Latifah stormed past us and into the spotlight, bellowing, “This is a Rape Free Zone!”
Madonna, eat your heart out! Eighteen thousand people—teen trendies, twin-set professionals, peacenik grandmas, dads, sons, lovers, kids and teary feminists—were all suddenly screaming one word, “Vagina!”
It was then that I told my snarky intellectual self to take a hike. I told the radical feminist to take a break, and I gave up the snark about all things Ensler.
Eve had stopped asking me about my vagina, but she hadn’t stopped asking. She had kept on, asking more than 200 women everywhere she went. What she tapped into wasn’t the clinical truth of individual bodies but rather a broad body of evidence of an invisible, silenced epidemic of rape, assault, brutalization and hate that scarred women of every age, every race, every class, on every continent.
Propelled by what she heard, Eve didn’t just write a play, The Vagina Monologues, and perform it herself for years. She created a fundraising engine for grassroots groups working to combat violence against women, and she sparked a movement. V-Day was founded in 1998 and incorporated a couple of years later.