Women talking publicly about their private parts was once strictly taboo.
But Angelina Jolie’s recent announcement she had a double mastectomy, after discovering she is at high risk for breast cancer, is a sign how much times have changed.
One longtime champion of the new frankness is Eve Ensler, who will speak at Benaroya Hall in a Saturday night event benefiting Planned Parenthood.
Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” broke boundaries and became a global sensation. It’s raised millions of dollars for V-Day, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending violence against women and girls (rape, incest, genital mutilation).
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A dynamic activist, artist and speaker, Ensler would be the first to tell you she’s no Superwoman. In a new memoir, “In the Body of the World” (Metropolitan Books), Ensler writes of being diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer several years ago, at age 57. She details her surgeries, agonizing setbacks and her recovery, ruminates on making peace with her troubled family past, what sustained her spirits, and her new sense of what it means to be “living deeply inside your body.”
While in transit, Ensler recently spoke to The Seattle Times by phone:
Q: “In the Body of the World” describes in detail the operations and chemotherapy you endured, an infection that almost killed you, your pain and fear. Why did you write such a graphic account?
A: There was no way to do it without telling those details because the experience was about the body, my body. It would have been weird to be coy! I’ve found on this book tour that people are relieved by the honesty. It’s just who we are as humans; it’s just the facts of being.
Q: The City of Joy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a haven for women survivors of sexual abuse which offers therapy and training in the arts, self-defense and economic empowerment, is supported by V-Day and close to your heart. How did you manage to stay closely involved while very ill?
If you have something beyond yourself that you’re living for, it’s just inspiring. I wanted to help these women in the Congo fulfill their vision, and show up at the opening (in 2011). That helped keep me going, and now we’ve had three, four graduating classes at City of Joy.
Q: You had a great network (including actor and adopted son Dylan McDermott) supporting you during your health crisis. What about women who don’t have that?
I think the reason I have those friends is that I’ve been in a movement of people who’ve done activism together. There’s so much isolation now, which is why we need movements to build community, like V-Day’s new One Billion Rising project. We need to tell our stories, make connections, stop trying to be perfect and pretend our lives are great all the time. The more we can deconstruct the veneer we hide behind, the more we can break out of the isolation.
Q: How did you react to Angelina Jolie’s announcement?
A: I thought it was amazing. I just love her courage, her honesty. It will help a lot of women to make preventive health decisions.
Q: How are you doing today?
A: I’m three years cancer-free, and I feel great. Every day I wake up and say, I’m still here! And I’m grateful.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org