Last night I attended Inforum’s evening with legendary playwright/activist, Eve Ensler. For those of you not familiar with her, she is a force of nature and has dedicated her life to eradicating violence against women. But most people know her as “The Vagina Lady,” thanks to her now world famous play, “The Vagina Monologues.” Her latest work is called, “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World.”
Because of my work with women and girls through the lens of public speaking, I had a whole slew of questions lined up for Ms. Ensler along those lines. Things like, “What is your advice for those struggling to find their own authentic voice?” But, as I sometimes do, I get caught up in the moment, and next thing you know, I’m ignoring my prepared questions.
What hijacked me was the story “Let Me In,” from the new book. The story reaches a crescendo when the main character, presumably a high school age girl, finally stands up to the very daunting “mean girls." And by “stands up” I mean “completely loses it” when they block her from sitting at the lunch table. She is exhausted by trying unsuccessfully to be “good enough” for the group, which typically means convincing her working class mother to cough up ungodly sums of money for clothing that become no longer “hot” within minutes of the purchase. She’s exhausted by trying to figure out who at school is on the outs and should be ignored, and who she should suck up to. As she has this moment of truth, this moment of utter social ruin, she suddenly realizes that her fate is now sealed. She is now utterly alone. Moments later, another young girl, an outcast – Wendy Apple - comes to her side:
“She says I have hit bottom. And that it feels terrible now. But I am lucky it has happened so young. She says she will be my friend if I can stop worrying about being popular…. She says there is another world and the door is open.”
So as I approached Ms. Ensler, I forgot all of my “professional” questions, and asked “What if you don’t have a Wendy Apple? What if you have to take a stand, and face the chasm that opens up – by yourself? How do I teach my daughters to speak their truths, even without a Wendy Apple to help them?”
To this, Eve Ensler replied,
“Your job is to teach your daughters to BE the Wendy Apple. To BE the friend that loves even when no one else does.” Eve Ensler was then moved to tears, talking about the friend who inspired the Wendy character, and how she literally saved Eve Ensler’s life – simply by being there, and standing by Eve, in all of her intensity and boldness and fire.
It started me thinking about my own Wendy Apples. I have been able to take risks that I perceived as socially dangerous at various stages of my life because I knew that my Wendy Apples would love me no matter what, and would be my friends through it all. These individuals (you know who you are) were and continue to be a tremendous help to me on my path to finding and using my own voice.
The greatest gift of my interaction with Eve Ensler was this realization: In our quest to raise the next generation of Joans of Arc, the world is also in desperate need of Wendy Apples.