Eve Ensler: 'We have to bring up girls and boys to understand what sex is'

First aired on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (24/7/13)

Eve Ensler created The Vagina Monologues, a show about giving women a voice about their bodies and their sexuality at a time when people were predicting the end of feminism. It became a phenomenal hit, and has been performed in more than 140 countries. Ensler went on to help launch V-Day, an initiative aimed at raising awareness about the horrors of rape and fistula, a condition that is rarely talked about. Ensler herself faced years of physical and sexual abuse by her father. In her her new memoir In the Body of the World, she writes about her harrowing experiences, and about learning to connect with her physical self.

She also writes about her battle with cancer. "It was a big journey from the very beginning. It was the worst of times, and it was the most amazing," she said in a recent interview on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. "I think when someone says to you, 'You have really bad cancer,' you kind of die in that moment. You kind of hit ground zero. Existential flat-line, you're there."


She went on to say that she had spent much of her life to that point trying to get back into her body, because of the abuse she had suffered. "I think when you're abused as a child, when you're beaten or you're raped or when you're traumatized, we leave ourselves. We leave our bodies," she said. "And I think I left at a very young age because there was a lot of violence in my family...so this body was a place I didn't want to live in. It was a lot of projected badness, there was humiliation, there was despair, there was shame."

Ensler said she had signs of her cancer for a year, but she ignored the signs. She compared that form of denial to our cultural denial about climate change. "I had stage four cancer. I should be gone...one of the great things about having already died, you're not that scared any more, you can do stuff." Going through that experience made her think about making real change in the world. "There's so much to do but I feel now, let's do it."

Last year, Ensler travelled around the world in support of One Billion Rising, a movement to end violence against women, and although she saw signs of change, she also saw signs of regression. "Now women are coming forward to tell their stories. Now we have laws. Now we have a voice, and we have broken through taboos," she said. "But at the same time, none of the laws are being applied. There's no accountability. We have to create better systems of justice, we have to say that it's important that people are held accountable for things. We have to start changing the mindset of patriarchy."

Ensler pointed out that educating teens about sex as crucial. "If we're going to change a rape culture, we have to bring up girls and boys to understand what sex is, what touch is," she said. "We teach math and science, we assume that they're not born with that life skill, why don't we teach them what sex is?"

Ensler went on to say "the most important thing we could be doing is teaching our children what sex is, what good, healthy beautiful, loving touch looks like, what boys need, what girls need, how you do it, and not to be so shameful and puritanical around such a beautiful thing."

She also draws a link between violence against women and other social issues, like poverty and militarization. "You can't think about ending violence against women unless you look at sexuality itself," she said.

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