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[whitespace] Eve Ensler In Your Face: Eve Ensler's new book, 'Point of Reentry,' takes the premise of 'The Vagina Monologues' and expands it to women's whole bodies.

Eve Ensler's 'Vagina Monologues'

By Simone Stein

Eve ensler assures me that once you say the word vagina 20,000 times the odd sticky stigma around it disappears. She, of course, should know, having virtually made her career talking about vaginas, how women feel about them, how the world abuses them, how the word scares people.

Her performance piece and subsequent book, The Vagina Monologues, has snowballed from an off-Broadway show to a phenomena replete with its own holiday, V-Day, an anti-violence, pro-vagina celebration on Feb. 14 (The first V-Day celebration in New York included performances by Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin and Winona Ryder). It's taken her around the world--in addition to playing in San Francisco on Oct. 19, she will also be performing The Vagina Monologues in Athens, Rio de Janeiro and London. She's already done it in Berlin, Jerusalem and Croatia.

"It's been this amazing journey," Ensler says of The Vagina Monologues. "Like the vagina, mysterious and extraordinary things keep coming out of it. It's been a very vaginal experience."

The project began accidentally and haphazardly, Ensler explains. A playwright and performance artist in New York, she was talking to a friend about menopause, and the friend shocked her by saying so many "strange and negative things" about her own vagina.

That experience led Ensler to start asking other friends about their feelings on the subject, and they said so many "complex, deep, moving things," that she began to turn the conversations into a piece. Ensler went on to interview more than 200 women about their feelings toward their vaginas and then synthesized their responses into the monologues.

The result ranges from saucy irreverence to dark humor to devastating sadness. One section lists answers to the question "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" Answers include a pink boa, a male tuxedo, sweat pants, a tutu, Armani-only, ermine and pearls, and a slicker. Other sections, however, are anything but cute--there's a monologue about a woman who, as a girl, is raped by a friend of her father's and then reclaims her sexuality when, at 13, she has delicious but semiexploitative sex with a 24-year-old woman. The most devastating section, "My Vagina Was My Village," is based on Ensler's work with Bosnian rape victims.

Ensler has been in Bosnia five times; she's also worked in women's prisons and homeless shelters. Herself a victim of childhood rape, she finds that everywhere she travels, women seek her out after her shows to tell her stories of abuse and brutalization.

"I can't tell you how many women come up to me to talk about rape, or being bulimic, or just the self-hatred," she says. Yet despite being so mired in women's struggles, she's confident that we're on the brink of change. "We've reached critical mass. Things are so terrible, so many atrocities are committed in such a mundane way, that's it's got to change," she says. "I think that's why The Vagina Monologues is having such a good life. Women are furious, sad and they want things to change."

"The reason the body gets trivialized is that women don't take it seriously," she says. "I have come into my vagina, and my life has completely changed. I was living without my central motor. Now I'm not scared. I feel like I have an agenda in the world, and I'm not apologetic. I desire things, and I know what I want and I go after it. My understanding of the world has a much broader context. I think about my vagina all the time, because it's alive, it has ideas, it has desires, directions."

All the attention that The Vagina Monologues has received has launched Ensler on several new projects. She's writing a film about women in prison to be produced by Glenn Close. She's written a play about survivors of Bosnian rapes, which will be read at the Kennedy Center this winter by Close, Marisa Tomei and a cast of Bosnian actors. And she's already preparing for V-Day 2001, which will be held at Madison Square Garden.

There, Ensler plans to perform the text of the book she's working on right now, Point of Reentry. The new book takes The Vagina Monologues premise and expands it to women's whole bodies--it's about "women all over the world and the parts of their body they have hid, maimed, destroyed or hated based on that particular culture," Ensler says. Its subhead: "Tits, Ass, Cunts and Thighs."

"I think this is women's time," she says. "Women are going to come forward in the next 10 years and really move into a place of power. That's my hope and my fantasy. The world of women will change when the world of their bodies changes." You said it, girl.

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From the October 5-18, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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