- Playwright best known for creating The Vagina Monologues
Eve Ensler was born in New York City on May 25, 1953, and was raised in the affluent northern suburb of Scarsdale. From the age of five, until she was ten, Ensler claims she was “deeply abused both sexually and physically” by her father. “He hit me with belts, beat me, threw me,” Ensler recalls. “He invaded me in ways completely and totally inappropriately [sic].” As a result, says Ensler, she grew up “very sad, very angry, very defiant.”
In the early 1970s Ensler attended Vermont's Middlebury College, where she established a reputation as a militant feminist. After graduating in 1975, she became involved in a series of abusive relationships with men, and she herself grew increasingly dependent on drugs and alcohol. Ensler then met a New York City bartender named Richard McDermott, who persuaded her to enter a rehab program and developed a personal relationship with her. The couple married in 1978 and divorced ten years later. Ensler subsequently had a long live-in relationship with the Israeli artist and psychotherapist Ariel Orr Jordan.
An author and playwright, Ensler is best known as the creator of The Vagina Monologues, an enormously popular 1996 play based on Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women and billed as a celebration of female sexuality, independence, and power. High-profile actresses like Glenn Close, Jane Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, and Lily Tomlin all participated in productions of the Monologues at various time. The early success of the show inspired Ensler in 1998 to establish “V-Day,” or “Violence Against Women Day,” in an effort to use Valentine’s Day as an occasion to raise awareness about “violence against women and girls.” “The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina,” says Ensler's press kit.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers describes The Vagina Monologues as “a poisonously anti-male play” featuring “a rogues’ gallery of male brutes, sadists, child-molesters, genital mutilators, gang rapists and vile little boys.” “The only romantic scene in the play,” writes Sommers, “takes place between a 24-year-old woman and a young girl.... The woman invites the young girl into her car, takes her to her house, plies her with vodka, and seduces her.”
In 1996 Ensler wrote yet another play, titled Necessary Targets, about the spiritual poverty of materialistic Americans whose “patronizing, top-down way of seeing the world” robs them of the “profound … sense of community” that people in poorer nations often possess. According to Ensler, Americans “really don’t know how to be with each other,” but only “know how to achieve and sell things and buy things [and] … how to consume.” In 1999, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton attended a reading of Necessary Targets at the Kennedy Center in Washington. “The First Lady really became enamored of the play,” said a happy Ensler afterwards, “and she's going to do the introduction to the foreword of it when it is published. She gave an incredible speech that night of the reading, because she's … been a real fighter for women's rights.” Clinton subsequently invited Ensler to serve on the exploratory committee for her 2000 U.S. Senate run.
Opposed to the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), Ensler helped form the organization New Yorkers Say No to War; she joined the artists' network of Refuse and Resist!; and she gave her endorsement to the Not In Our Name antiwar coalition (a project of the Revolutionary Communist Party).
Condemning President Bush’s January 2002 reference to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an “Axis of Evil,” Ensler said: “I have problems with this ‘evil’ thing. Evil is a really problematic word … Evil is reductionist. It destroys ambiguity and takes away duality and complexity; it says that they are dark and we are light, they are evil and we are good. That's all a lie ... There are a lot of things that govern us. But I'm not going to accuse anyone of evil.”
In Ensler's opinion, America's military overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was an example of U.S. terrorism: “[V]iolence only creates violence. And there may be a momentary, apparent victory in Kabul, but that violence has created in so many other people seeds of things that will come to be, in our lifetime, as deadly as anything we’ve seen ... Our terror is better than their terror? I don’t believe that.” Further, Ensler derided the United States for “living in a paradigm of escalating violence – based … on corporate greed and the emerging globalization of the world.”
During the early 2000s Ensler traveled several times to Afghanistan, where she visited with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), an organization that opposed the U.S. invasion. “There are a lot of people who say all kinds of false things about RAWA,” said Ensler. “That they are Maoists, [that] they are communists. They are very militant, they are very pure. They are very radical. And I’m very drawn to that. People call them uncompromising, and they are right. But bravo! I feel a kindred spirit.”
In a 2005 interview about the Iraq War, Ensler stated: “[W]e have killed thousands of Iraqi women and children, not to mention American soldiers. We have completely uprooted a country so that women are completely unsafe.... Not to mention the complete desecration of women’s rights [in the U.S.], whether it is the ending of women’s reproductive freedoms, the complete cessation of funds that go to stopping violence against women, or the lie that the women of Afghanistan are better off.”
On December 5, 2008, Ensler and a number of fellow feminist leaders gathered in New York to craft an open letter to president-elect Barack Obama, telling him that “we are are honored and proud to have you lead the nation during this historic time.” They then called on Obama to “ensure that women are equally represented in everything, [including] your administration's infrastructure [and] its decision-making and solution building”; to “exercise leadership in dismantling the structures that perpetuate gender inequality [and] impede women's full participation in society”; to make “long-term investments in women's education, health and leadership”; and to address “economic structures” that “continue to marginalize women.” Among Ensler's co-signatories were Linda Basch and Sara Gould.
In August 2014 – after Israel, in response to a massive barrage of Hamas rocket attacks, had launched a military operation designed to degrade and destroy Hamas's terror infrastructure in Gaza – Ensler joined numerous fellow leftists in issuing a public statement designed to: “strongly condemn” the ongoing “Israeli brutality” and “the current massacre of the Palestinians”; “affirm our support for and commitment to the growing international movement for a free Palestine”; and denounce “the deeply rooted and ongoing violence that Palestinians are forced to endure on a daily basis.” The letter also referred to Israel's 1948 creation as “the Nakba” (Arabic for “the Catastrophe”); called for “an end to U.S. military aid … for the Israeli state and its occupation”; and voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a pro-Hamas initiative.
In 2012 Ensler founded One Billion Rising, a project billed as “the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history.”
In July 2016, Ensler wrote an opinion piece impugning the allegedly deep-seated racism of her “fellow white Americans”; their “explicit and implicit participation in crimes against black people,” particularly in the form of “outright slaughter” by police officers; “the history of the very intentional policies that created abject conditions that so many black people are forced to live in”; “the daily terror that occupies the lifeblood of every black woman, man and child in America”; “the prisons filled with millions of black folks who are held and incarcerated at a rate 14 times higher than whites”; and “the burning pain of those we have abused and enslaved, raped, incarcerated, shot, lynched, ignored and degraded.” Moreover, Ensler demanded that whites “stop saying that agonizing and aggressive phrase 'all lives matter'” – a phrase condemned by many Black Lives Matter supporters – “when we know full well they don’t.” “Our whiteness is our skin color,” added Ensler, “but it’s also a torn sheet draping the dead, a flag of privilege that will not surrender, a town called separateness. Our whiteness is that poisonous sky right before it rains, the color of shame.”
Over the years, Ensler has made campaign contributions to a number of left-wing political candidates, including Barbara Boxer, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Jan Schakowsky, Charles Schumer, and others. She has also given money to the Web-based political network MoveOn.org.