Eve Ensler’s story is not so different from those of other women her organization has helped. She was molested as a young girl, and addicted to drugs for a period of time. Her marriage saved her, though, and led her to compose what is now known as “The Vagina Monologues.” She has a flair for the taboo; what used to be a dreaded topic for women and men alike was brought to the fore.
As if mobilizing women was not enough, Eve set up an organization [inspired by her play] to bring women from all walks of life together to tell their stories.
Eve was born in New York City, New York, to a Jewish father and a Christian mother on 25 May 1953. She was the middle child, and has two more sisters. Eve has known violence since she was five years old; her father mercilessly abused her, physically and sexually. Neglected and feeling unloved, Eve grew up struggling with insecurity. Childhood friends knew her family life was in shambles, but she never spoke to them about the abuse or the beatings. What ruined her happiness were her parents themselves; one of her childhood friends remembers the Enslers as a strange, scary couple.
What consoled Eve during her dark childhood were her books. Having few friends, Eve kept to herself and usually wanted to be left alone. More than anything, she liked to write stories and had a journal in which she wrote of every character she made up. She was able to manage her anger and frustration with her writing, even going so far as to claim that writing was what saved her.
All of the bottled-up emotions, however, took a toll on the way she treated others. She wanted nothing to do with building relationships. She hated life, and even abused her body as a form of defiance. Her college life at Middlebury College in Vermont was mostly about getting drunk and high. It was a life motivated by anger, bitterness and distrust.
Life after College
Her life did not take a better turn when she finished her degree. Worse, she got into all sorts of relationships with men who did not take her seriously. Although she was known as an activist in college for her zealous stance on feminism, her ideology only got her into trouble.
After college, her first job was in a homeless shelter, where she helped people get their lives back in spite of poverty. She also worked with women suffering from schizophrenia. Her addiction to drugs and alcohol, however, hindered her work. Because she was often intoxicated, she ended up being the recipient of help rather than the one providing it. Life at the time was about numbing herself from pain and the ghosts of yesterday.
No one knew what she was going through. Since she was young, she never trusted anyone because not even her mother could stand up for her when her father abused her. Home was the very last place she wanted to be.
Just when she was about to succumb to drugs and alcohol, she met Richard McDermott, a bartender in a New York tavern. He convinced her to enter a rehabilitation center so she could live a normal life once more. The two had both been struggling with their own issues; Richard was also attempting to stop drinking, and he had a teenage son, Mark. Very much inspired by each other, Richard and Eve successfully got clean together.
Eve married Richard on 17 September 1979. She adopted his 15-year-old son (People says Mark was 19 when Eve adopted him) when she was only 23 years old herself. Her life was normal at last; she had a decent home and Richard’s family was more than happy to accommodate her. For the first time in her life, she experienced living with a purpose.
Her step-son, Mark, happened to be passionate about acting. As Eve also had a penchant for the arts, the two hit it off quickly. Mark then enrolled in Manhattan's Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied under Joanne Woodward. He introduced Eve to his teacher, who soon saw Eve’s potential for writing.
Not long after Eve and Richard got married, she became pregnant, but her world would again be shattered when she had a miscarriage. Had the baby been born, Eve would have named him Dylan; to honor his stepmother, Mark used “Dylan” as his screen name when he finally entered Hollywood. He went on to become the lead actor in ABC’s “The Practice.” Mark looks up to Eve as his inspiration and mentor; it was Eve who first sparked his interest in acting and, although she and his father eventually went separate ways, Mark remains close to her.
“The Vagina Monologues”
Ever since she was young, Eve had a soft spot for women of courage. Women who stood up for their beliefs fuelled her motivation to keep writing. When she heard a feminist discuss her genitalia with outright hatred, she wondered if all women thought the same about their vagina. To her amazement, most women have not put as much thought into their womanhood.
Some of them haven’t even seen what their genitalia look like. But when Eve asked them about the taboo topic, women started talking. The stories, together, would soon become “The Vagina Monologues,” a liberal story of women who discuss womanhood with no-holds-barred. While some cringe at the honesty and candidness of the play, there’s no denying that Eve has compelling writing prowess.
The play gained a following and, in spite of controversy, it got the positive reception it deserved. It received the “Obie Award” for Best New Play and Eve was awarded a “Guggenheim Fellowship Award” in Playwriting and the “Berrilla-Kerr Award” for Playwriting.
Surviving Cancer, Setting up “V-Day” and “One Billion Rising”
“The Vagina Monologues” was just the beginning for Eve. It’s not enough that women’s stories are heard – action must be taken. She did not think twice about getting involved; two years after completing her famous play, Eve set up “V-Day,” an organization in which proceeds from the play finance projects that aim to help women around the world.
In 2011, Eve Ensler, together with UNICEF and the Panzi Foundation, created the “City of Joy” for those who survive gender violence in Congo. It was at that exact time when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer:
"... City of Joy—a place that had been conceived of by the women of Congo, built by the women of Congo, that will be run and owned by the women of Congo. Our job on this side of the world was to find the resources so that the women could fulfill their dreams. I had committed to that and was in the middle of that when I was diagnosed. So much of what happened to me in that whole cancer-conversion process was me knowing that I had to live to fulfill my promise, and to some degree I really attribute the women of Congo for saving my life. Had I not been struggling to see City of Joy open, I don’t know what my outcome would have been. It really was a huge part of me getting up every day and fighting to stay alive." (SOURCE: MS Magazine)
The following year, Eve and fellow stage actress Monique Wilson began “One Billion Rising,” a protest campaign against injustices committed against women. It is a global action deemed to be the largest in the history of female protests. It is apparent that Eve has taken her activism to heart…
“I am an Emotional Creature” and Other Books
In 2010, Eve published "I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World," a compilation of monologues intended to inspire girls to be more self-aware and liberalize themselves from prejudice. The book made the New York Times Bestsellers list and, in 2012, was nominated for a “Naledi Theatre Award” for Best Ensemble Production/Cutting Edge Production.
Aside from this bestselling book, her other books also enjoyed commercial success. Since the heyday of “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve has not withdrawn from the scene; her battle with cancer only inspired her further to make something of her life.
She has also learned the value of forgiveness; her mother died a happy woman because they were able to make peace with each other before she passed away. Eve has said that she now understands the fear her mother must have felt back then. She had three kids and was once jobless, but with forgiveness came peace.
Eve’s relationship with her partner, Ariel Orr Jordan, is going strong.
A final quote:
"You know I think so many of us live outside our bodies. My dream is that people will find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness." (SOURCE: The Huffington Post)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan
- Karama program
- New Yorkers Say No to War
- City of Joy
Awards and Achievements
- 1996: Wrote “The Vagina Monologues,” which was translated into 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries
- 1996: Awarded the “Obie Award” for Best New Play
- 1997: Received the “Obie Award” for “The Vagina Monologues”
- 1998: Founded “V-Day” and started a writing group at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women
- 1999: Awarded a” Guggenheim Fellowship Award” in Playwriting
- 2000: Received the “Berrilla-Kerr Award” for Playwriting
- 2001: Received the “Elliot Norton Award” for Outstanding Solo Performance
- 2002: Received the “Matrix Award,” the “Amnesty International Media Spotlight Award for Leadership,” the “Jury Award for Theater” at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and the “Lion of Judah” from United Jewish Communities
- 2003: Received the Sundance Film Festival’s “Freedom Of Expression” award for “What I Want My Words To Do To You”
- 2004: Received the “NETC Theatre Award,” the “NOW Award” from the Intrepid Award Gala, the “Civil Revolutionary Award” from Miami Dade College and the “Award for International Peace Efforts” from Cardozo Law School
- 2004 and 2006: Honored by Planned Parenthood
- 2004: Honored by “Sakhti” and “The Women’s Prison Association”
- 2005: Received the “Avon Award”
- 2005: Received “The Sandra Day O’Connor Award” from The Arizona Foundation for Women in Phoenix
- 2006: Received the “OK2BU Humanitarian Award” in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the LGBT community and the “City of New York Proclamation” in honor of her work for “V-Day”
- 2006: Co-edited “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer”
- 2010: Released the book form of “I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World” and spoke at TED Talks as an honorary speaker
- 2011: The South African production of “Emotional Creature” was nominated for the “Naledi Theatre Award” for Best Ensemble Production/Cutting Edge Production
- 2011: Awarded the “Isabelle Stevenson Award” at the 65th Tony Awards and opened the “City of Joy”
- 2012: Created “One Billion Rising”
- 2013: Published her memoir, "In the Body of the World”
- Received the “Berrilla-Kerr Award” for Playwriting, the “Elliot Norton Award” for Outstanding Solo Performance, and the “Jury Award” for Theater at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
- Involved in V-Day's “Until The Violence Stops”
- Involved in the PBS documentary “What I Want My Words to Do to You”
- Organized the "Afghani Women's Summit For Democracy" event
- Protested against the slaying of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez and demanded re-investigation of the issue
- Raised over $80 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women through “V-Day”
- Involved in numerous Public Service Announcements
- Launched the “Karama” program
- Funded over 12,000 community-based anti-violence programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya and the U.S. state of South Dakota
- Organized “New Yorkers Say No to War”
- 2003: Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Middlebury College (her alma mater)
- 2005: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Manhattanville College
- 2006: Honorary Doctor of Communications from Simmons College
- The Depot
- Floating Rhoda and the Glue Man
- Extraordinary Measures
- The Vagina Monologues
- The Good Body
- Necessary Targets
- The Treatment
- Emotional Creature
- In the Body of the World: A Memoir
- I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World
- Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World
- The Good Body
- Necessary Targets
- Vagina Warriors
- A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer
- Until the Violence Stops
- What I Want My Words to Do to You: Voices From Inside a Women's Maximum Security Prison
- The Vagina Monologues
- Fear No More: Stop Violence Against Women (interviewee)
Wikipedia (Eve Ensler)
The New York Times (Eve Ensler Wants to Save the World)
The New York Times (THEATER; Melding Drama With Politics)
The New York Times (Politics, Power, Passion)
People (V for Victory)
Jewish Journal (Navel Gazing With Eve Ensler)
TED (Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body)
The Huffington Post (Interview with Eve Ensler: In The Body of the World)
One Billion Rising (Dear One Billion Rising Activists)
MS Magazine (Fighting Violence with Joy: An Interview with Eve Ensler)