The decision to focus this year’s “Vagina Monologues” on women of color has upset a lot of people. They have said that this year’s production is betraying the intention of the play, that it is drawing a line in the sand, that it will segregate and divide women. Absent from this debate, however, has been input from the directors of this year’s show. After interviewing Molly Raynor, one of the directors, I gained some valuable insight that has solidified my support for this year’s production.

Jeff Cravens

First, Raynor told me that the main focus of the play is still ending violence against women; this year’s production, however, is going to put a special spotlight on women of color. The goal is not to exclude white women, as many people have claimed. Raynor offered this definition of women of color: “any woman that feels she comes from a historically oppressed or underrepresented community who feels that oppression in a tangible way on a daily basis.” Far from sticking to skin tone, this definition expands the traditional views of race, class and color. The casting process is still underway, but Raynor told me that 59 women of color have auditioned for the play.

One of the reasons for all the controversy surrounding the play is that the directors haven’t made a public appearance yet, Raynor said. Some people think that the directors’ decision was random or irrational, but in fact it was based on a background in feminist history and theory on women of color. I can back Raynor up on this. Last winter, I took a class with her on black women’s captivity and sexuality. In the class, we learned about the unique challenges facing black women, largely stemming from a history of oppression and exploitation. Other than this class, I don’t know the background of the play’s directors and producers, but I’m confident they have good reasons to spotlight women of color this year.

In order to better inform people on these issues, the producers and the directors are teaming up with four University professors to stage a teach-in next week. They will provide some background information, but there will also be an open dialogue for individuals to express their opinions and concerns. The time and location has not been set, but Raynor said this information would be circulated on e-mail lists.

Before learning about this teach-in, one of my classmates scheduled a similar group dialogue on Friday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. in Room 2239 A and B of Lane Hall. The planning of this dialogue resulted from a class discussion in which students disagreed on whether this year’s production will unite or divide women. What we seemed to agree on was that we had the opportunity to make this year’s “Vagina Monologues” a unifying event. The event is not just about who’s on stage – it’s also about the people who put the show on and the people who come to support it. In short, it’s a community effort. Even if we were not women of color – or even women – we could support the show and stand in solidarity with all women.

The fact that half of the directors and producers of the play are white reaffirms this point. White women and men have a huge role in this year’s event, as well as the underlying struggle to promote women’s rights and end violence against them, Raynor said. If individuals are angry about this year’s production, they should try to understand that anger. If white women are feeling excluded, they should ask themselves why they are feeling that way. If they truly believe in what “The Vagina Monologues” stands for, they should invest their anger in the movement.

After speaking to Raynor, I became convinced that women and men of all backgrounds should support this year’s production. Along with attending the show, everyone should come to the teach-in and the dialogue next week, especially those people who have written articles, columns and letters to the Daily. These people, including myself, have already taken a public stake in this issue, and may have inadvertently widened the divisions we hope to bridge. In the end, the outcome of this year’s productions will not rely on the creators of the show or the individuals on stage – it will rely on those of us who choose to stand in solidarity with them.

 

Cravens can be reached at jjcrave@umich.edu.

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