Eve Ensler promotes new memoir in Oakland

'The Vagina Monologues' author discusses rape, abuse and cancer in 'In the Body of the World'

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({}) What does this look like to you? A vagina? Yes. Are you embarrassed? Maybe.

An emblem of sorts for V-Day, a global movement to end worldwide violence against women and girls, the purpose of this symbol is not shock value. Eve Ensler, the founder of V-Day, instead aims to eradicate the taboo surrounding open discussions of the female body and put an end to violence inflicted against women and girls. Ensler hopes to encourage people to speak openly about these topics and ultimately seeks to create safe spaces for women and girls to cultivate these conversations and fight against violence.

Ensler, a playwright, performer and activist, is the author of acclaimed play “The Vagina Monologues,” the success of which led her to form V-Day. Ensler has devoted her life to this anti-violence movement, lending her voice and presence to extensive projects across the globe. With V-Day, Ensler has succeeded in educating millions about violence against women and raised money to fund numerous anti-violence programs and safe houses for victims.

For someone who has so actively encouraged women and girls to embrace their bodies and eliminate the shame surrounding them, it might come as a surprise that Ensler herself has felt disconnected from her own body until very recently. Having endured years of distancing herself from her body, Ensler was prompted to become more aware of her body when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 57. She writes about this newfound relationship with her body in her latest book, a memoir titled “In the Body of the World.” In it, Ensler discusses both the shock and emotional catharsis of being diagnosed with cancer and the waves of emotions and revelations that ensued.

In her new memoir, Ensler discusses a direct connection between trauma and disease. She confronts her experiences of rape and abuse as a child by her father and the consequential effects on her life. As Ensler speaks of the process of undergoing chemotherapy, a method of treatment she initially feared and resisted, she perceives the treatment in a new light; with the help of a nurse who explained chemotherapy as a way to “kill off the perpetrator who got inside you,” Ensler visualizes the process not as a direct harm to her body, but as a means of purging the unsettled traumas still existing inside her body and soul.

Last week, KPFA Radio partnered with Pegasus Books to present a talk at the First Congregational Church in Oakland, where Ensler read excerpts from “In the Body of the World.” The book is organized into a series of “scans” — as in CAT scans — which resemble chapters, and Ensler said that, after chemotherapy, she could not imagine another way of conceiving her book.

Ensler read from her “scans,” including “Uterus=Hysteria,” a deft defense against the long-standing assumption that women are inherently overemotional, and “A Burning Meditation on Love,” in which she discusses the eager and often futile pursuit of love and acknowledging existing relationships. Ensler read these excerpts with conviction, emotional charge and playful, sharp and comedic timing; such is fitting, as the words she writes and speaks are equal parts funny, horrifying and tender — and all of it raw.

Ensler promotes understanding an “inter-reciprocal relationship” with the body — not to be afraid or ashamed of the body but to confront and embrace it. On the topic of receiving medical or emotional help, Ensler averts attention away from costly and often inaccessible resources. As with the message of V-Day and “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler stresses the importance of women speaking out about their experiences and having the courage to communicate them with others.

Contact Denise Lee at [email protected].

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