This V-Day, the University will host a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” that excludes white women from performing. In an effort to emphasize violence against females of color, the directors decided only women of color would be accepted for this year’s production. The campus found out about this change through an e-mail sent to multiple lists by director Lauren Whitehead. Our colleagues opined (A license to direct, 11/10/2005) in defense of this casting policy by citing the “creative freedom” of the director. We agree that the directors of the production possesses creative latitude with their casting policy; however, discriminating against potential performers solely on skin color is the very definition of racism and cannot be justified under any pretense.
The purpose of V-Day is to educate Americans about the violence perpetrated against women in our society. This ugly reality affects all women, white or otherwise. “The Vagina Monologues,” written by Eve Ensler, provides a forum through which women can educate the public about a problem that plagues their community. Performances of Ensler’s play are dramatic, disturbing to some, but educational for all.
Whitehead’s e-mail says: “I beg of you (minority women), help uphold the mission of this movement: to give women – all women – a voice.” Why then are white women excluded? For the directors to achieve their goal of giving all women a voice they must include white women in the cast. We would be equally outraged if she informed minority women they need not apply and simultaneously claim a diverse cast. We wonder if our colleagues would have been equally tolerant if the directors had explicitly excluded minority women from joining the cast.
Whitehead claims in her e-mail, “Violence against women – happens to women of color at a disproportionately higher rate than it does to our white counterparts.” While she is entitled to her own opinion, Whitehead is not entitled to her own facts. According to a 1998 report by the U.S. Department of Justice, black women are barely more than 1 percent more likely to experience rape during their lifetimes than white women. Additionally, the same report found white women are 3 percent more likely to experience rape that Hispanic women in their lifetimes. This is hardly disproportionate.
Our colleagues opine creative license is an acceptable shield for racism. While creative license is necessary, it is not an excuse for blatant discrimination even if the intentions are noble. Promoting the directors’ abuse of their creative license sets a dangerous precedent to future artistic endeavors because it excludes a whole demographic based on skin color. Ensler intended for the characters in her play to reflect the diverse faces of women who experience violence and increase the importance of V-Day. This interpretation unnecessarily detracts from the message of Ensler’s play.
We feel the directors could achieve their goal of highlighting violence against minority women by other less insensitive means. We encourage them to recast the roles to include ALL women adversely affected by violence, not just those who are “melanin- endowed.” Students should demand that this production adhere to the same spirit of diversity demanded of all other institutions of the University.
Reggie Brown and John Stiglich are LSA juniors. Will Kerridge is an Engineering junior. Mark Kuehn, Dave Russell and Imran Syed are LSA sophomores.