According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a woman is sexually assaulted every two and a half minutes somewhere in America. Whether she is white or black, a child or adult, wealthy or poor, a woman – her body and herself – is violated every two and a half minutes. The statistic doesn’t specify the race, age or economic status of these women, and that’s because it doesn’t matter. These are women who said no, and that’s enough.

Angela Cesere

Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” in combination with the broader V-Day campaign, has strived since 2001 to celebrate women’s strength and sexuality, while working against the horrific truth of sexual abuse – until the violence stops.

But this year, the University’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” will not represent the voice of all women. The directors exclusively recruited women of color to come out and audition for the show this past weekend – while politely requesting white women to step aside.

It is a courageous thing the directors of “The Vagina Monologues: A Colorful Production” are trying to do, and any person with appreciation for artistic chutzpah has got to respect their bold choice. Recognizing the dangers of tokenization and providing women of color a venue where their voices can be heard in unison, loud and clear, is an admirable undertaking. The directors of this year’s “Vagina Monologues” have the right idea; they are just doing it with the wrong production.

“The Vagina Monologues” is meant to unite all women in a strong, symbolic, artistic stance against sexual abuse. It is a celebration of women – all women – our bodies, our spirit, our potential, our beauty. Every woman is included in Ensler’s vision. “The Vagina Monologues” is a fusing of all women regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual orientation or age, in hopes of making the world a safe haven for the female sex. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with gender.

There are times to be separate, times to define one another as different and unique. “The Vagina Monologues” is simply not one of those times. The production is an opportunity to find our similarities, our common ground as women – not to exacerbate our differences. The fact of the matter is sexual abuse does not discriminate; unfortunately, it is a great equalizer.

In actuality, the rate at which black and white women are raped in this country is strikingly similar. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey, the lifetime rate of rape/attempted rape for black women is 18.8 percent, compared to 17.7 percent for white women. While it is slightly more likely for black women to experience sexual abuse, the difference is minimal. And even if it weren’t, even if the gap were larger, this is not a subject that benefits from being quantified.

Despite its best intentions, this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” has colorized an issue that should be completely colorless. The directors have drawn a line in the sand – dividing us by race, when we should be breaking all barriers to overcome sexual abuse, together. By drawing this line between white women and women of color, the directors of “The Vagina Monologues” have inadvertently weakened our female coalition.

I was in “The Vagina Monologues” last year. I stood on stage with 26 other amazing women and spoke out against sexual abuse. On stage that cold February night, I felt empowered. Looking around at the 2005 cast, I felt proud. We were an interesting bunch. Feminists, activists, sorority girls, RC theaterettes, theatre majors, Business majors – we had it all. We were not homogenous, and we were not “white washed” – we were a solid group, a united front of strong, diverse women. In fact, in a cast of 27 girls, there were 12 women of color – 44 percent. Not bad for a campus that claims a 24 percent minority population.

This whole discussion, however, begs a far deeper question: Are we really so alienated from each other on this campus – dare I say segregated – that even something as inclusive as “The Vagina Monologues” must become exclusive? Are we really so divided as a student body that we must sacrifice Ensler’s vision of female solidarity in the name of race? Ensler laid the groundwork for unity in her script, but the directors of this year’s “Vagina Monologues” felt compelled to go the other way. Sadly, I think this decision is very telling about the racial dynamics on our campus. The very fact that some women of color felt this production necessary underscores that we have a long way to go before reaching Ensler’s vision. I fear this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” has widened the chasm between white women and women of color on this campus, something that we cannot afford here at the University.

 

Dibo can be reached at wdibo@umich.edu.

To listen to a Podcast of this story, click here.

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