“The Vagina Monologues” speaks to diverse array of female student experiences
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Beginning as a collection of anecdotal interviews with more than 200 women in 1996, The Vagina Monologues has since evolved over time to include more diverse storylines, actors and sexualities in order to be representative of the full spectrum of the female experience.
More than 100 students gathered Friday and Saturday night inside Rackham Auditorium to watch the University’s fifth-annual production of the play directed by LSA junior Clare Fairbanks, also a Daily copy editor, and produced by Business senior Edith Zhang. The show was held by Students for Choice, a leading abortion-rights group on campus.
Originally written by playwright Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues consists of a series of monologues read by various women — each dealing with a different subject, such as masturbation and the female orgasm as well as heavier topics such as female genital mutilation and sexual assault.
In the “Producer’s Note,” Zhang wrote on the importance of understanding the show to be more than just talking about vaginas, as it also provides an opportunity to listen to people's personal stories and empathize with their experiences — though possibly different than the viewer’s own.
“It’s scary, but these actresses push through the fear,” she wrote. “Because we need to hear these experiences that have long been hidden. To me, that’s what the The Vagina Monologues is about. Not about vaginas or periods or assault or sex or love or moaning or rape or race or masturbating or even just being a woman. Though each topic is covered in a monologue and each monologue is a real experience, the show overall is more than its lady parts. It’s a chance to speak up. It’s a chance to learn about people. It’s a chance to listen. So please, listen.”
For the second year, a pre-show consisting of eight University-student-written monologues was performed before the commencement of the Eve Ensler show. Because of the personal nature of the monologues, content was not recorded, though themes included being fetishized because of one’s race, poor sex education in schools and the emotions behind undergoing sex-reassignment surgery.
The Ensler show echoed themes from the original interviews, which also viewed the female experience through a global lens with the performance of monologues such as “My Vagina Was My Village” and “One Billion will Rise for Justice."
In “My Vagina was My Village,” performed by LSA senior Jessica Parent—a videographer for the Daily—a young Bosnian girl recalls being raped by soldiers during the war in Yugoslavia and how it left her feeling homeless in her own body.
“My vagina singing all girl songs, all goat bell ringing songs, all wild autumn field songs, vagina songs, vagina home songs,” Parent recited. “Not since they took turns for seven days smelling like feces and smoked meat, they left their dirty sperm inside me. I became a river of poison and pus and all the crops died, and the fish.”
Law student Rachel Menashe said she believes this monologue was hard-hitting, especially regarding current events.
“I thought the one about the Bosnian refugees was pretty intense and pretty poignant, especially with what’s going on currently,” she said.
LSA junior Ella Webb, Students for Choice co-president, noted the importance of The Vagina Monologues in bringing often hidden and stigmatized topics to the forefront of conversation, and how the topics tie into the goals of her organization.
“Students for Choice is the leading pro-choice group on campus, we do a lot of work around reproductive justice, which encompasses things like reproductive access, advocating for comprehensive sexual education, trying to reduce abortion stigma, things along those lines,” Webb said. “The Vagina Monologues really contributes to that goal by contributing to a lot of the conversations that are still kind of hidden and stigmatized. Of course college campuses and the world in general have become more progressive over time, but a lot of the time topics that are broached in The Vagina Monologues are conversations that still aren't happening and it really highlights a lot of issues that are still really important.”
LSA junior Rachel Beglin, who performed an original piece regarding the current state of sex education, noted the power in being a part of such a strong, diverse group of women.
“I did the show last year and I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It is so powerful to be surrounded by powerful, unique women who have faced their share of cis-heteropatriarchy, whether that's from uncomfortable wiring in bras or sexual assault. We create a really strong, open community and relate and support each other. It's awesome how close the cast gets.”
Beglin added that coming from a conservative state left her unprepared for her first sexual encounter, and that women need to know that it’s not their fault they were left misinformed and confused about their own anatomy growing up.
“I'm from a conservative state, and it's truly frightening how underprepared I was for any sexual encounters,” she said. “It put me and my body in serious danger, and I wanted to talk about it. I wanted people to know that it's OK that they're not experts on their bodies and that it's not their fault. I even had a professor who watched the show come up to me after and say that her sex ed was really similar to my experience. I think it's important that before someone hears the entirety of a show about vaginas, they realize that young people aren't even taught about their vaginas. I know some adults who don't fully know what the vagina is.”
Law student Christine Crow said she thought The Vagina Monologues succeeded in giving trans-women a voice, as they are often left out of dialogue discussing feminine experiences.
In 2004, The Vagina Monologues was performed by a cast of 18 trans-women, and a new monologue, “My Vagina” was included to represent the violence and hatred that they often face.
“I really loved the transgender woman’s speech, and in general all of the ones that they wrote themselves were absolutely mind blowing — but hers in particular was really amazing,” Crow said. “Trans-women are women."
All proceeds from event ticket sales will to SafeHouse Center and V-Day, one a non-profit organization, the other a global movement and both dedicated to ending violence against women. As of Saturday night, before final tickets sales were counted, more than $2,500 had been raised.