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Kristen Jordan Shamus: Playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler asks us to care (Detroit Free Press)

Published May 5, 2013, by Detroit Free Press.
By Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer.

Eve Ensler

Author, activist and playwright Eve Ensler comes to Michigan on Thursday, May 9, to promote her new book, 'In the Body of the World.' / Brigitte Lacombe

When Eve Ensler last came to Michigan, it was to band together with thousands of supporters on the steps of the Capitol in Lansing.

They were outraged that two state lawmakers had been censored because one of them had used the word “vagina” and dared to speak about her views on abortion legislation. Not-so-coincidentally, those lawmakers were women.

They stood on those steps a year ago and performed Ensler’s landmark play, “The Vagina Monologues,” and let it be known that women should not be told to be quiet, to take a back seat, to hush while men make laws about what women can and can’t do with their bodies.

“You can say ‘scud missile’ and ‘acid rain’ and ‘nuclear war’ and ‘terrorist bombing’ on the front page of any newspaper, but you say ‘vagina,’ and people freak out,” Ensler says in a phone interview last week. “Why is that? People say all kinds of degrading things about women’s bodies and it seems to be fine. I think ‘vagina’ is like one of those words which actually represents women power. … It’s not degrading, it’s not undermining. It’s real.”

Ensler, the feminist activist, playwright and author, comes back to Michigan this week as part of a national tour to promote her memoir, “In the Body of the World” (Metropolitan Books, $25).

“Detroit and Michigan are like many places in America right now,” she says. “The people are suffering on the front line of so many things, whether it’s lack of jobs, lack of support, lack of health care, whether it’s lack of resources to stop violence against women.

“I’m speaking at Planned Parenthood there, and the attempts to take over women’s bodies, to take agency away from women and take agency away from women’s bodies by a handful — and I do believe it’s a handful — of very belligerent and aggressive men. Really, we have to call forth the resistance to that in such a big way,” says Ensler. “We have to say this is my body, and what happens to my body is determined by me. And make that clear-cut case forever so we stop debating it.”

She is passionate. And her new book conveys every ounce of that passion. It is not a comfortable book to read. You won’t be tempted to sip on a frou-frou drink with your feet up, munching on a snack as your eyes scan the pages.

You might even be restless, uneasy in your chair, the way I was as I flipped, page after page, drawn in by the horror, the sadness, the shock and ultimately the joy she experienced as she went through uterine cancer treatment, through the time she spent working with traumatized women in the Congo.

Being uncomfortable is part of it, says Ensler of the book, which delves into the pain of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father, and how that led to alcoholism, drug abuse, an eating disorder, and later, she says, cancer. She weaves all of that into a story of how greed, mining and fracking is similarly raping the earth, and how violence against women plays into all.

We walk around, iPhones in hand, tapping away on our laptop computers most of us oblivious to the fact that many of the minerals needed to make these gadgets come from the Congo, where, she writes “there has been a war raging for almost 13 years. Nearly 8 million people have died and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and tortured. It is an economic war fought over minerals that belong to the Congolese but are pillaged by the world.”

She hopes the book will help people wake up to what is happening around them.

“There is this state of ongoing somnolence that we’re in, which is kind of half-awake and half asleep, which allows for us to stay in this kind of massive trance-like denial while the world marches in our name, often, towards war, towards the amassing of things, towards power, towards the destruction of people in far away lands for our luxuries,” she says. “I think waking up means you have to look at everything you’re doing and say, ‘What’s it connected to?’ ”

The solution, she says, is not to lay down government sanctions or to throw money at problems by donating to relief organizations.

“We say we’ll just give a donation. We don’t really care where it’s going,” she says. “It’ll make us feel better for the moment as opposed to understanding that money is connected to you, and it and where it goes and how it lands is all part of the same story. ... Spending more time investigating and looking and seeing what that money means, and is it just money that people need? Or is it actually attention and care, and you changing the way you live your life. And love.”

Love. Love for humanity, for the earth and for the hodgepodge families we make of friends and neighbors and kindred souls.

She writes: “The change will come from those who know they do not exist separately but as part of the river. If you want to overcome your sickness, reach out to someone who is sick. If you want to forget your hunger, feed your friend. You worry about germs and stockpile your herbs, but they will not save you, nor will your fancy house or gated villages. The only salvation is kindness. The only way out is to care.”

Imagine that.

Meet Eve Ensler

Playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler will speak about her new book, “In the Body of the World” at noon May 9 in the ballroom of the Detroit Marriott Troy, 200 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy. Tickets for the event, organized by the Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, cost $85 and can be purchased by calling 855-896-4966. Seating is limited.


Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan


May 05, 2013

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Kristen Jordan Shamus: Playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler asks us to care (Detroit Free Press)