skip navigation

Eve's Speaking Tour: Author Visits Providence Production (The Providence Journal)

Originally published in:
The Providence Journal

By Scott MacKay

Journal Staff Writer

Eve Ensler, playwright, performer and activist, speaks yesterday at the Beneficent Church in Providence.

PROVIDENCE — The Vagina Monologues is one of the iconic plays of women’s history in the United States, an artistic work meant to provoke, wipe away the shame sometimes associated with the female anatomy and heighten awareness of something much more shameful than any part of any woman’s body — the high rate of violence against women and girls around the world.

The play cannot be produced at Providence College, where the president, the Rev. Brian J. Shanley, banned the play from campus because he believes it is not “consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church.”

So yesterday, segments of the monologues were presented at the Beneficent Church downtown, a Congregational church that took in the play after PC banned it.

Eve Ensler, the play’s author, received a warm reception from about 100 people, most of them women, at a “V-Day” celebration to raise awareness of the oppression of women around the world and end violence against women and girls.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the campaign to transform performances of the monologues into social and political action, Ensler will join thousands of other supporters at the Superdome in New Orleans on April 11 to raise money and awareness of violence directed at females. The annual events have raised more than $50 million to combat violence.

“Thanks for helping make Rhode Island a vagina-friendly state,” said Ensler, to applause and laughter. “Every single place on the planet … suffers an insane amount of violence.”

Yesterday’s event was sponsored, in part, by PC students upset that their college does not allow the production. Danielle Bax, a PC senior from Nyack, N.Y., said students have not given up their quest to eventually get the play approved for campus production.

“For those of you who think the students of PC have forgotten, that’s not the case,” said Bax. She praised the Beneficent Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination known for focusing on the social justice imperatives of Jesus Christ’s teachings, being racially and ethnically inclusive and an emphasis on women’s rights.

Ensler was very critical of the Roman Catholic Church, saying that UCC churches around the world have been supportive of the monologues, but that Catholic prelates have censored her message and perpetuated the stereotype that women ought to be ashamed of their bodies and repress their sexuality.

“The highest percentage of money spent in the Catholic Church is spent on attorneys’ fees and settlements for pedophile cases,” said Ensler, referring to the many instances of priests abusing children that have surfaced in recent years.

She quoted a woman she met at a male-dominated religious meeting some years ago as saying, “even Jesus Christ came out of a vagina.”

Yet, she remains optimistic that fundamentalists in Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions will eventually come around to embracing more openness toward women.

Violence against women is ubiquitous, said Ensler. While such Third World plagues as genital mutilation and gang rapes in war zones may not be as prevalent in industrialized western countries, violence against women is by no means confined to the poor or undereducated, she said.

“The rates of sexual abuse in the U.S. military are out of control,” said Ensler. “Can you imagine that you’re on the frontlines defending your country and you’re being raped by your colleagues.”

Ensler is alternately witty and serious and her approach was applauded by the mostly female audience, especially when she got around to political issues.

At times she described the most horrible crimes, including one she was familiar with in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, Ensler said, she met an 8-year-old girl who had been raped repeatedly by men and was left ashamed and incontinent.

The United States spends too much blood and treasure, Ensler said, on wars and the military. She attributes this to a “macho culture” that places emphasis on raising boys as future soldiers who are not supposed to cry or show any strain of emotional vulnerability.

“You can’t support protecting women and children and support bombing Iraq,” said Ensler. “Ending violence against women is all about us being a kind of different human beings.”