Playwright Eve Ensler, 'Insecure At Last'

Eve Ensler is an award-winning playwright, best known for her work The Vagina Monologues. Farai Chideya talks to Ensler about her new book Insecure At Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Eve Ensler is an award-winning playwright, best known for her work the Vagina Monologues, which has been performed around the world. In a new book, Ensler explores how the personal blends with the political. It's called Insecure At Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World. Welcome.

Ms. EVE ENSLER (Author, Insecure At Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World): Glad to be here.

CHIDEYA: So I understand this is your first major piece of work written directly for the printed page. Why did you feel the need to write a book like this now?

Ms. ENSLER: Well, I think this book's been growing in me for a long time over the last 10 years. I've been to about 40 countries with V-Day and other reasons - traveling. And I think there was something about the issue of security that was burning in me - where it was both very personal and political - and I needed to address it in a different kind of way than a play. I needed it to be more direct and I actually needed to speak as me, not as a character.

CHIDEYA: In the book you say I don't have security and I've never felt happier. It's actually been a thing that freed me. There really is no security in life. What do you mean by that?

Ms. ENSLER: The reason I began this book is I started thinking how this country has become utterly obsessed with security - security checks, security watch, security clearance. And how in the middle of this I had never felt more insecure. And I think the book is really looking at how this obsession with security ironically undermines some basic human securities in the kind of struggle for state security.

And in the course of these 10 years, you know, I think my illusions of security or my hunger for this kind of fake security has been stripped away by traveling to war zones and post-disaster places, and all kinds of places where I've seen women and men across the planet struggle with incredible suffering and enormous odds - where they've really relinquished an idea of, quote, “existential security” but where they've made the world safer and better with very, very little resources.

CHIDEYA: Let's go to a few examples of places you've been. The Mesai women and the school, tells us about that.

Ms. ENSLER: I think Agnes is the perfect example of someone I'm talking about, you know, Agnes Farile(ph) is a woman who lives in Kenya and she had been genitally mutilated when she was a little girl. And rather than going and searching for security - which would have been to go along with the custom and follow the ways of that particular tradition by helping mutilate other young girls and passing on that tradition, she made herself completely vulnerable in her community by standing up and saying I think this practice should end. And for years she walked through the Risk(ph) Valley educating girls and boys about how to end this practice.

And when we met Agnes, you know, five years ago, I asked her how we could support her and she said well, if you gave me money. I could get a jeep and I could get around a lot faster and I could educate more people. So we got her a jeep and she save 4,500 girls from being cut. And then we asked what else we could do and she said well, if you gave me money. I could build a house and girls could come.

Three years ago, she opened the first safe house in Nurac(ph) in Africa to stop female genital mutilation. And ironically by making herself completely vulnerable, completely insecure she opened this house where now 50 girls at a time are safe. They won't be cut. They go to school. They're not forced into marriage. And this practice is spreading, you know, her new practice for alternative ritual is spreading throughout Africa. And she was just elected deputy mayor of her town and has become one of the most powerful women.

CHIDEYA: You talked about women you met who were struck by the tsunami that killed so many thousand people. How - tell us about grief and how that relates to security.

Ms. ENSLER: Well, one of the things I've seen everywhere that I - I think a lot of times we don't want to go to the scariest places and I think grief and sorrow are the scariest places. Just to feel your grief, to be surrender to your grief, you surrender to that helplessness and the kind of momentary or sustained feeling of hopelessness. And in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, I was really struck with how women were in their grief and willing to be in that incredibly vulnerable place but what it was doing was leading them organically and logically to the next steps they needed to take in order to transform their communities

CHIDEYA: Obviously, this country is going through a struggle over what constitutes security. How do you enforce security in the borders, outside of the borders, in the face of terrorism? What do you think that we as a nation have gotten right and what do you think that we as a nation have gotten wrong?

Ms. ENSLER: Well, I think the construct's wrong. I think the basic construct that the way to respond to oppression and violence and attack is to attack back. We know that by Bush's own reports, this has escalated terrorism triple-fold. It hasn't address the underlying reasons for terrorism. It hasn't looked at the shame and humiliation and rage at being occupied that most countries feel. It hasn't look at the incredible imbalance of poverty versus enormous wealth in this country.

And I actually think - if we really want to understand it is to look at New Orleans because I've been spending a lot of time in New Orleans. I'm actually going down there in a couple of weeks again. And, you know, there's a chapter in the book called In the Name of Security We Somehow Forgot to Protect the People. And to me I think New Orleans is the kind of composite example of the failure of our security policy.

Here we have a place where we knew a storm was coming. We knew it was enormously dangerous. We A: all the people who could have protected the people in New Orleans were elsewhere waging an illegal war, which was escalating terrorism. Then we have people who were not saved and taken from their homes. This to me would be looking at what would human security be. Human security would be taking care of people so they're not suffering from poverty and violence and no healthcare and no protection.

CHIDEYA: How do you de-escalate a situation? You know, you've kind of drawn a picture of, you know, if I can paraphrase this and tell me if it's accurate - a country that's kind of out of control with security in your opinion, but how do you de-escalate if you believe that's the case?

Ms. ENSLER: Well, I think we're out of control with certain kind of security. I think - it's like this uber-idea of security, the escalation of enormous arms, the kind of constructing of ourselves as the bully and the dominator and the invader of the world. Look, I - my experience - my life experience has been and certainly my experienced traveling to many, many countries is - if you honor people and you begin dialogue with people and you treat people as if you are on the same world, you can very often begin to find a way through difficult security situations.

CHIDEYA: Eve Ensler, thank you so much.

Ms. ENSLER: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Eve Ensler is the author of Insecure At Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World. She joined us from our bureau in New York.

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