Heartland: Turning Pain into Power


| July-August 2008


For two days in April the Superdome in New Orleans became Superlove, a womb to hold 30,000 women, plus more than a few vagina-friendly men. We assembled to commemorate V to the 10th, the decennial anniversary of the V-Day movement spawned by Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. What began as a celebration of vaginas has become a phenomenon of women’s empowerment. Many thousands of performances and events—3,700 this year alone—in 120 countries have raised more than $50 million for initiatives addressing violence against women all over the world. 

The first morning, we passed through a massive magenta-lit vagina, beckoned by women in goddess garb into the place that had been a repository of misery during and after Hurricane Katrina. Among us were 1,200 New Orleans women, brought home for the occasion but, like so many others, still refugees in temporary quarters far away. In her welcome, Ensler exhorted us to do what didn’t happen during the flood: “Make each person in this room matter.”

As we looked into the eyes of those beside us, we began acknowledging and bearing witness to each other’s experiences. Then the singing and the dancing and the storytelling began.

There was joy and laughter woven with tears as we heard the unspeakable spoken: In the Congo, more than 200,000 women and girls brutally raped, bodies deliberately destroyed. Their devastated faces and the quiet dedication of the doctor who treats them. Bosnia and Kenya, the Philippines, Mexico. Female genital mutilation, the child sex trade, disappeared women. The tyranny of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And then, juxtaposed against this overwhelming cascade of horror: the power, passion, and grace of the extraordinary women devoting themselves to healing trauma and eradicating the roots of violence. 

How does one forge power and purpose out of such shattering pain? And how do those of us who are so much more fortunate use the challenges of our lives to deepen our commitment to service?