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V-Day Fights Rape, Battery

Originally published in:
San Francisco Examiner

Award-winning playwright Eve Ensler has used her play, "The Vagina Monologues," to raise millions of dollars for non-profit groups
aiming to end violence against women and girls around the world.

Her group V-Day -- a charity that fights rape, battery, incest, female-genital mutilation and slavery -- receives money through
benefit performances.

Ensler this week announced V-Day San Francisco 2002's benefit show: On Feb. 12, Ensler, Calista Flockhart, Rosie Perez and other stars will perform the Monologues in the Masonic Auditorium. Proceeds will go directly to local women's groups.

Adrienne Sanders: Why is your show so popular?

Eve Ensler: Any time you really bust open a taboo, people
get excited.

Q. What surprised you about it?

A. It was really surprising after so many years of feminism
how few women loved their vaginas. It's taken so many years for
people to calm down and say the word. I mean, anthrax is on a full
page in any given paper and that's less scary than vagina?

Equally surprising was to see how excited women got once they
began thinking about them.

Q. What do audiences tell you about the show?

A. I'm always surprised when women tell me they've never
had an orgasm and they're never going to fake it again. I've had men
come up to me and tell me they wish they had a vagina.

Q. Tell me about V-Day 2002 and the Monologues.

A. The whole thing is going local. We're bringing V-Day
into small communities everywhere. It's as varied as Manila and
Romania to Milwaukee.... One of the things we're trying to create is
self-empowerment so people use the Vagina Monologues to serve their
own ends.

Q. What's happening in San Francisco?

A. San Francisco is definitely going to be one of the
bigger events. I'll be performing there and we'll have a lot of
wonderful actors at the event. San Francisco was so incredibly
supportive of the Vagina Monologues... In the HBO special, I tell
which cities are vagina-friendly zones, vagina-holiday zones. San
Francisco is a vagina world fair zone.

Q. What in your background contributed to your current

A. I've always been feminist and I suffered violence early
on. I know how much work I've had to do to overcome it and I don't
want other women to have to do the same.

Q. How did the connection of V-Day with the show come

A. I went around the world to communities and met V
warriors who were really brave to bring the show there. It was so
grass roots then, people would just line up after the show to tell me
how they'd been beaten or raped. And I just started to feel insane.
And I said, "Either I'm going to stop doing the show or we're going
to figure out a way to end violence against women."

And the first year we invited all these great actors like Glenn
Close, Susan Sarandon and Whoopie Goldberg and they agreed to come
perform to raise consciousness for V-Day. We raised a few hundred
thousand dollars and that kind of launched V-Day.

Q. How do you find the groups?

A. They find us. V-Day is really about attraction and not
promotion. Suddenly, we'll get a call from China. This year it will
be performed for 8,000 people in the Phillipines.

Q. How are funds distributed internationally?

A. I go around the world and see the work they do. Right
now, activists in Kosovo took a Monologue piece and they turned it
into a rock song in Albanian. It's really popular.

We're opening a safe house in the Masai Valley in Kenya where
girls can run to save their clitoris. We're in the process of opening
a safe house on Sioux land in South Dakota.

Q. What has been the most difficult part of your work?

A. Emotionally exposing oneself to all the terrible things
that are going on to women around the world. And the struggle to
convince people that violence against women matters. I encounter
resistance everywhere.

Every year at V-Days I ask the women in the audience to stand up
if they've ever been raped or beaten. At Madison Square Garden last
year, about 9,000 women stood... Seeing the internalized shame after
you've been brutalized is the most disturbing thing.

Q. What are your thoughts on the terrorist bombings?

A. Women are scary because we're so powerful. We know so
much that we don't utilize. We feel so much that we discount. We have
solutions to a lot of things we don't trust.

I do not think most women would have sent bombs in response to the
terrorist bombings.

I think we're more complex than that. We would have seen a
solution in a much more complex way.

Q. What would you have liked to have seen instead?

A. Well I think something is being revealed to us right now
on the planet. There is a serious situation and I think it's opened a
huge door. Do we want to keep inventing enemies and see ourselves as
threatened by the world?

One is a very male way of seeing the world. The other is very
female. I would like us to look at the big questions: poverty, how
women are being treated around the world, what's going on with
Israel. And I don't see OBL has been caught -- it reminds me so much
of Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

Q. What's up next for you?

A. I'm working on a play called "The Good Body" which is a
piece about how they shape, fix, mutilate, hide their bodies in order
to fit in with their particular culture. And then I'm doing a series
of monologues based on interviews with teenage girls.

The Vagina Monologues is coming to HBO on Valentine's Day, which
is so exciting.