Eve Ensler: Embrace Your Inner Girl at TED Conference (Full Transcript)

Eve Ensler


Namaste! Good morning.

I’m very happy to be here in India. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what I have learned over these last particularly 11 years with V-Day and “The Vagina Monologues,” traveling the world, essentially meeting with women and girls across the planet to stop violence against women.

What I want to talk about today is this particular cell, or grouping of cells, that is in each and every one of us. And I want to call it the girl cell. And it’s in men as well as in women.

I want you to imagine that this particular grouping of cells is central to the evolution of our species and the continuation of the human race.

And I want you imagine that at some point in history a group of powerful people invested in owning and controlling the world understood that the suppression of this particular cell, the oppression of these cells, the reinterpretation of these cells, the undermining of these cells, getting us to believe in the weakness of these cells and the crushing, eradicating, destroying, reducing these cells, basically began the process of killing off the girl cell, which was, by the way, patriarchy.

I want you to imagine that the girl is a chip in the huge macrocosm of collective consciousness. And it is essential to balance, to wisdom and to actually the future of all of us. And then I want you to imagine that this girl cell is compassion, and it’s empathy, and it’s passion itself, and it’s vulnerability, and it’s openness, and it’s intensity, and it’s association, and it’s relationship, and it is intuitive.

And then let’s think how compassion informs wisdom, and that vulnerability is our greatest strength, and that emotions have inherent logic, which lead to radical, appropriate, saving action. And then let’s remember that we’ve been taught the exact opposite by the powers that be, that compassion clouds your thinking, that it gets in the way, that vulnerability is weakness, that emotions are not to be trusted, and you’re not supposed to take things personally, which is one of my favorites.

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I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl. How do we bring up boys? What does it mean to be a boy? To be a boy really means not to be a girl To be a man means not to be a girl.

To be a woman means not to be a girl. To be strong means not to be a girl. To be a leader means not to be a girl. I actually think that being a girl is so powerful that we’ve had to train everyone not to be that. And I’d also like to say that the irony of course, is that denying girl, suppressing girl, suppressing emotion, refusing feeling has lead thus here.

Where we have now come to live in a world where the most extreme forms of violence, the most horrific poverty, genocide, mass rapes, the destruction of the Earth, is completely out of control. And because we have suppressed our girl cells and suppressed our girl-ship, we do not feel what is going on.

So, we are not being charged with the adequate response to what is happening. I want to talk a little bit about the Democratic Republic of Congo. For me, it was the turning point of my life.

I have spent a lot of time there in the last three years. I feel up to that point I had seen a lot in the world, a lot of violence. I essentially lived in the rape mines of the world for the last 12 years. But the Democratic Republic of Congo really was the turning point in my soul. I went and I spent time in a place called Bukavu in a hospital called the Panzi Hospital, with a doctor who was as close to a saint as any person I’ve ever met.

His name is Dr Denis Mukwege. In the Congo, for those of you who don’t know, there has been a war raging for the last 12 years, a war that has killed nearly six million people. It is estimated that somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 women have been raped there. When I spent my first weeks at Panzi hospital I sat with women who sat and lined up every day to tell me their stories.

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Their stories were so horrific, and so mind-blowing and so on the other side of human existence, that to be perfectly honest with you, I was shattered. And I will tell you that what happened is through that shattering, listening to the stories of eight-year-old girls who had their insides eviscerated, who had guns and bayonets and things shoved inside them so they had holes, literally, inside them where their pee and poop came out of them.

Listening to the story of 80-year-old women who were tied to chains and circled, and where groups of men would come and rape them periodically, all in the name of economic exploitation to steal the minerals so the West can have it and profit from them. My mind was so shattered.

But what happened for me is that that shattering actually emboldened me in a way. I have never been emboldened. That shattering, that opening of my girl cell, that kind of massive breakthrough of my heart allowed me to become more courageous, and braver, and actually more clever than I had been in the past in my life. I want to say that I think the powers that be know that empire-building is actually — that feelings get in the way of empire-building.

Feelings get in the way of the mass acquisition of the Earth, and excavating the Earth, and destroying things. I remember, for example, when my father, who was very, very violent, used to beat me. And he would actually say, while he was beating me, “Don’t you cry. Don’t you dare cry.” Because my crying somehow exposed his brutality to him. And even in the moment he didn’t want to be reminded of what he was doing I know that we have systematically annihilated the girl cell. And I want to say we’ve annihilated it in men as well as in women.

And I think in some ways we’ve been much harsher to men in the annihilation of their girl cell. I see how boys have been brought up, and I see this across the planet: to be tough, to be hardened, to distance themselves from their tenderness, to not cry. I actually realized once in Kosovo, when I watched a man break down, that bullets are actually hardened tears, that when we don’t allow men to have their girl self and have their vulnerability, and have their compassion, and have their hearts, that they become hardened and hurtful and violent.

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And I think we have taught men to be secure when they are insecure, to pretend they know things when they don’t know things, or why would we be where we are? To pretend they’re not a mess when they are a mess. And I will tell you a very funny story.

On my way here on the airplane, I was walking up and down the aisle of the plane. And all these men, literally at least 10 men, were in their little seats watching chick flicks. And they were all alone, and I thought, “This is the secret life of men.” I’ve traveled, as I said, to many, many countries, and I’ve seen, if we do what we do to the girl inside us then obviously it’s horrific to think what we do to girls in the world. And we heard from Sunitha yesterday, and Kavita about what we do to girls.

But I just want to say that I’ve met girls with knife wounds and cigarette burns, who are literally being treated like ashtrays. I’ve seen girls be treated like garbage cans. I’ve seen girls who were beaten by their mothers and brothers and fathers and uncles. I’ve seen girls starving themselves to death in America in institutions to look like some idealized version of themselves. I’ve seen that we cut girls and we control them and we keep them illiterate, or we make them feel bad about being too smart.

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