‘The Vagina Monologues’ to break taboos at Rackham
“In Ann Arbor, they call it the Big House,” an actress says. Adding a regional twist, she provokes a flood of laughter.
They’ll call it a cooch, snatch, box, hoo-ha, lady bits, muff, biscuit, pudendum, tuna town and honey pot, among others. Yet although approximately 50 percent of the world has one, it's edited out of everything from polite conversation to Supreme Court debates.
“The Vagina Monologues,” written by Eve Ensler, was first performed in 1996. Ensler interviewed various women about their relationships with their vaginas and compiled the interviews into a project that seeks to explore the taboo subject.
Students for Choice will present its fourth annual production of “The Vagina Monologues,” featuring Ensler’s original work, with some adaptation and additions including a preface of original student-written monologues, on their own personal experiences pertaining to the topic.
Rachel Beglin, an LSA sophomore cast member, said she thought the show helped open up healthier dialogue about sex education.
“I grew up in Arizona with abstinence-only sex education and wondered why didn’t my mom teach me this? Why didn’t a teacher teach me this? Why didn’t anyone give me a link, a pamphlet, anything?” Beglin said.
LSA senior Lizzie Stewart wrote her own monologue about her experience as a queer woman.
“My monologue is about the effect that an unwanted sexual act had on my sexual identity and my process of figuring out what that is, and I think it’s important for people to know that it’s okay to not know,” she said.
“The Vagina Monologues” has faced criticism in the past for its lack of inclusivity and representation of both non-heterosexual women and women of color.
LSA senior Irene Syriac plays an asexual character in a monologue written by a close friend of hers who is asexual.
“My character says in the monologue, ‘You never see asexual characters anywhere,’ so I think it’s good exposure,” Syriac said.
“If I want the audience to get anything out of this, it’s a reminder that the word ‘vagina’ is not a swear word.”
Although many of the monologues focus on discovery of peace with one’s body or a kind of awakening, not all of the stories are so hopeful or enlightening. For instance, Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Mackenzi Anthony’s monologue touches on violence toward transgender women.
“My story is not so much about acceptance. I talk about how they killed my boyfriend for dating a transgender woman, and that’s intense,” she said.
The women working on the show have engaged in self-reflection and personal storytelling to more accurately understand the show’s strength. The secrecy and shamefulness associated with the experience of having a vagina can be alienating and overwhelming.
“Seeing ‘The Vagina Monologues’ for the first time I thought, ‘Oh my god, everyone else is just as confused as I am! Everyone is just as angry and worried and scared as I am' and I’m just like, ‘Why do we have to feel this way about our genitalia?’ ” Anthony said.
Director and LSA junior Angelle Antoun hopes that “The Vagina Monologues” will open up the floor for further discussion about feminism and diversity through its candid and multifaceted approach. Antoun acted in “The Vagina Monologues” last year and understands the need to appeal to a diverse audience.
“That’s been the issue I came in expecting, and it has been a challenge and something that I’ve been working very hard to ameliorate about the show so that it can speak to a number of women,” Antoun said.
In preparation, the women shared their own stories about their experiences of overcoming obstacles in their womanhood.
“We thought it really brought us closer as a cast, not only because we knew those things about each other, but because sharing those sorts of stories can be very difficult,” Antoun said. “Having those other women giving nothing but respect and support to the other women there was a really wonderful feeling.”
Antoun also said the group wanted to perform a show that will engage the community beyond women.
“These are not issues that women talk about in day-to-day life (openly) … when you go to shows like this there’s this fear that it’s going to be man-hating and angry feminism and this show isn’t that at all. I think that men that go to it will come away with the idea that yes, feminists can be angry, but not so much at men as at the system and come away with it more willing to be part of the fight,” she said.
In addition to opening dialogue about experiences that are usually pushed aside, “The Vagina Monologues” seeks to support movements to reduce sexual violence against women. All of the proceeds will be donated to the SafeHouse Center and the V-Day campaign. There will be a talk-back panel to debrief and further explore the implications of the show on the following Monday at 8 p.m. in the Earl Lewis Room in Rackham Auditorium.
“The Vagina Monologues” will moan, bleed, cry, argue, joke and ponder with the intention of letting you know that the women brave enough to share their stories have no plans of shutting up any time soon.