By Alec Hudson – Staff Writer
Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues has been a major cultural achievement for the feminist movement since its premiere in 1996.
On Feb. 18 and 19, a group of Centre College students, with funding provided by CentrePlayers, put on two performances of the work to raise awareness about sexual violence toward women and girls. All proceeds from the performances benefited Kentucky’s own Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center in Danville, Ky., and the V-Day organization, which sponsors the play.
The Vagina Monologues is a production unlike most that Centre has put on. The monologues are not fictional – they are real stories of real women that seek to realistically portray the experience of women’s lives in modern society.
Some are amalgamations of the stories of many women, and some are the stories of specific individuals. Yet they are all brutally honest, especially when it comes to the realities of harassment, discrimination, patriarchy, and sexual violence that still plague our modern world.
Because the monologues are true stories, the performances entail less acting and more of a spoken-word style, making each adaptation fresh and unique.
“You’re assigned a piece, look over your piece a few times, meet with the directors for read-throughs, and focus on logistics,” senior Chelsea Faist said. “You’re trying to portray someone else’s story as honestly as possible – you’re not there to be a dramatic spectacle.”
Sophomore Mariah Watkins described the authenticity of each performance as “a display of organic, genuine emotions” rather than a traditional character-driven narrative. “The monologues are genuine,” she said. “Therefore the performance should be.”
The feminism of this production is overt, and that is how the cast and crew like it.
Senior and Co-Director Anna Ellis said that many people assume The Vagina Monologues is “a man-bashing show,” but this misunderstanding is the basis for the production.
“What I have been telling people is that the point of this show is not just to shock and awe and freak people out,” Ellis said. “It’s to make it safer for women to be out on their own at night without having to worry that they’ll be raped; it’s to show people that women as a whole are a powerhouse; it’s to teach this campus that treating women well, like humans deserve to be treated, is no longer an optional thing.”
Faist similarly described the Monologues as important because they force the audience to think about the realities women face everyday.
“We live in a world where narratives such as the ones portrayed in The Vagina Monologues are commonplace,” she said. “We live in a patriarchy where old white men get to tell me what to do with my body, and demand that I keep quiet about it. The Vagina Monologues is all about speaking up, about being a woman and what being a woman entails.”
The presentation of The Vagina Monologues is part of a movement known as “V-Day,” with the “V” standing for victory, valentine, and vagina. The movement sponsors performances of the play from February to April, with most of the productions coinciding with Valentine’s Day.
According to the mission statement of V-Day, its goal is to create “a world where women live safely and freely,” and hopes that because of this, “women spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.”
When asked whether they believed such a movement could truly help end sexual violence and patriarchal tendencies in society, the cast members seemed hopeful.
“True change comes from within a person,” Watkins said. “This production gives everybody a chance to become aware that vaginas are not only a vessel to life or for sexual pleasure, but an attachment of the body that is alive and should be respected because it is attached to people who play such active roles in society.”
Another women’s rights movement sponsored by V-Day and The Vagina Monologues is One Billion Rising.
“Every year there is the set Vagina Monologues script,” sophomore and Co-Director Emily Morrell said, “and every year, there is a spotlight piece at the end that focuses on the sponsored movement for that year. This year, that’s One Billion Rising.”
The movement is a global call to women to gather peaceably outside places where they are entitled to justice – like police stations and courthouses – and dance.
“One Billion Rising is not hateful and aggressive,” Morrell said, “but it’s a movement based in joy and celebrating all that women are and all that we should be. So, we dance.”
With all of the violence and hardship women around the world face, performances of The Vagina Monologues have the opportunity to educate and enlighten the public about the necessity of treating women as equals in our modern society.
More information about the V-Day and One Billion Rising movements can be found at www.vday.org.