Chantal Pierrat: You are a force of nature. Let’s just start there.
Eve Ensler: Thank you. I’m happy to be talking to you.
CP: You’re arguably the most important supporter of women’s rights the world has ever seen.
EE: Wow, okay! I’m doing my best.
CP: Have you always felt powerful?
EE: No, I did not always feel powerful. It’s an interesting question about power, what it is. When I was younger I felt very disempowered, very disappeared. I felt worthless, like I had no right to exist. I think a good part of my life was spent recovering from that. Pulling myself out of that. What I feel now is connected to people. I feel connected and I feel a lot of love for people. I feel the possibility of what building social movements and what working together in struggle creates. Whatever that energy is, it feels a lot better than what I felt when I was younger—which was worthless and disconnected and isolated and alone.
CP: The word power, is it too masculine?
EE: What I’m really interested in is freedom. How do we get free? How do we help women across the planet be free of the burdens and the misery of economic injustice? How do we help people be free from the ongoing onslaught of violence that terrorizes people and keeps them in mental and physical prisons? We can’t walk where we want to walk or be who we want to be or dress the way we want to dress or go anywhere any time of day. I am talking about the freedom that comes with just knowing that you’re okay, and that you have value and you have identity, and you don’t have to keep proving yourself.
Freedom, that’s the kind of power I’m interested in. When we help each other get free, then it’s not about anybody being on top or anybody being on the bottom. It’s about being together, in a community. One of the many wonderful things about One Billion Rising was to see how everybody took this energy that was circulating around the planet and turned it into what they needed it to be. To me, that’s where freedom and energy come together.
CP: Yes, that was an amazing movement. I feel the freedom init, the authentic expression of who we are.
EE: If you look at capitalism and patriarchy, they’re both such hierarchical, competitive, oneupmanship systems. They’ve trained us all [to think] that power means having all the goods or having the most money or having the most attention or having the most fame. That’s not the power that interests me. Actually, the deconstruction of that power is what interests me.
CP: Who are the women that have affected you most in your life, and how have they shaped who you are today?
EE: Definitely women rock-and-roll stars like Tina Turner and Grace Slick had a great impact on me. When I was growing up in the ‘60s, I was influenced by a combination of writers like Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and June Jordan all had an enormous impact on me. A lot of women writers made me aware of the fact that it was possible to say what seemed impossible to say at that time. But I think that it was really rock-and-roll stars, women who were breaking boundaries with their bodies and their voices and their beings and their music. I spent a lot of time at concerts,just watching women rock out. They expressed so much of what I believed could be possible.
CP: Those are women who are filled with energy and fire—feminine fire.
EE: Exactly. I literally would go to see Tina Turner any opportunity I had because being in the presence of Tina Turner was like being in the presence of transformative energy, and feminist transformative energy. I remember thinking to myself, whatever this is, it’s revolution. Whatever this is, it’s change embodied in a woman. What I’m really interested in is that embodiment of change. Because political change and academic change and intellectual change are obviously crucial, but they don’t necessarily change society. They can change a particular class and give everybody in that class great arguments, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the body of the culture. Rock-and-roll was an example of change in the body of the culture. I think it’s really what helped bring the anti-war movement to its peak and moved people into the streets to seize the day—the movement was the embodiment of what was happening in the music. This is what taught me that it was possible to bring art and activism together. Without that piece, that energetic embodiment piece, the rest is just intellectual construct.
CP: There’s something about the somatic experience. It’s hard to reason away what you feel in your body.
EE: Exactly. Absolutely! It’s what theater does, it’s what art does. People understood instinctively that if they could dance, if they could move their bodies, not only could they form resistance and stand against violence, but they could also heal themselves in that action, because dancing in public spaces and moving your body freely in a public space is reclaiming what was taken from you when you were violated. The energy of that—you can’t capture it, you can’t own it. Capitalists can’t buy it.It can’t be sold. It can’t be monetized. And that’s why I think it’s so powerful. Well, what exactly did dancing during One Billion Rising do? I can list a million things that it did and I also cannot express the biggest thing that it did. I’m glad I can’t express it.
CP: In your new book, In the Body of the World, you talk about your journey from dissociation from your own body to connecting with it. Can you speak about that in change you?
EE: I think many of us get separated from the mothership—our body—early on. I think the mothership is also the Earth, and life itself. Trauma separates us from that and dissociates us from our hearts. Trauma dissociates us from the parts of our body that are wounded, so we have to leave our whole body. It’s a journey you take your whole life, that coming back in, re-landing in your body, in your self, on the Earth. I think one of the reasons it’s been so easy, in a way, for us to violate both women and the Earth is this profound dissociation that exists in everyone.
I have been struggling to find my way back into my body my whole life. I’ve tried various forms and means to get in, whether it’s performing The Vagina Monologues or writing The Good Body or marching or doing actions, physicalizing my anger or my desires or sex—I could go through the list of ways I’ve tried to find a way back. But what happened with cancer was that I just became a body. There was nothing else but body for a month. I was chemo’d and operated on and cut and poked. At first it was really horrifying and scary, and then it was just,Wow. You’re in your body. This is body!
Now looking back on it, it was really very hard, but it was also such a gift. Because I came back to my body, I landed there. It also just made me so appreciative and so grateful for my body. And so grateful for the Earth, which I have felt very, very connected to since then.