NPR logo
The Power and Mystery of Naming Things
  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5285531/5290785" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
The Power and Mystery of Naming Things

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

On Mondays we bring you our revival of the 1950s Edward R. Murrow series, THIS I BELIEVE. Today, an essay by playwright by Eve Ensler. She came to prominence with her one woman show THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, first performed in 1997 and subsequently translated into 35 languages. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

In the 1950s, the THIS I BELIEVE radio series aired many statements of personal conviction from playwrights and performers. People like Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, William Saroyan. It makes sense that those who write and speak for a living would be drawn to this exercise. They understand the strength of words.

Eve Ensler understands that strength in very specific ways and centers her personal philosophy around it. Here she is with her essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

EVE ENSLER reporting:

I believe in the power and mystery of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what's right in front of us because that is often what is most invisible.

Think about the word vagina. I believe that by saying it 128 times each show, night after night, naming my shame, exorcising my secrets, revealing my longing, was how I came back into my self, into my body. By saying it often enough and loud enough in places where it was not supposed to be said, the saying of it became both political and mystical and gave birth to a worldwide movement to end violence against women. The public utterance of a banished word, which represented a buried, neglected, dishonored part of the body, was a door opening, an energy exploding, a story unraveling.

When I was finally able as an adult to sit with my mother and name the specific sexual and physical violence my father had perpetrated on me as a child, it was an impossible moment. It was the naming, the saying of what had actually happened in her presence that lifted my 20-year depression. By remaining silent, I had muted my experience, denied it, pushed it down. This had flattened my entire life. I believe it was this moment of naming that allowed both my mother and I to eventually face our deepest demons and deceptions and become free.

I think of women naming the atrocities committed against them by the Taliban in Afghanistan, or women telling of the systematic rapes during the Bosnian war, or just recently in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, women lining up in refugee camps to name their nightmares and losses and needs. I have traveled through this world and listened as woman after woman tells of being date raped, acid burned, genitally mutilated, beaten by her boyfriend or molested by her stepfather.

Of course the stories are incredibly painful. But I believe as each woman tells her story for the first time, she breaks the silence, and by doing so breaks her isolation, begins to melt her shame and guilt, making her experience real, lifting her pain.

I believe one person's declaration sparks another and then another. Helen Caldicott naming the consequences of an escalating nuclear arms race gave rise to an anti-nuclear movement. The brave soldier who came forward and named the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison was responsible for a sweeping investigation. Naming things, breaking through taboos and denials, is the most dangerous, terrifying and crucial work.

This has to happen in spite of political climates or coercions, in spite of careers being won or lost, in spite of the fear of being criticized, outcast or disliked. I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it.

ALLISON: Playwright Eve Ensler, with her essay for THIS I BELIEVE. We invite everyone to write for our series. To find out more about submitting an essay and to see all the essays in our series, along with many from the 1950s, visit our website at NPR.org. For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.