Vagina! If it shocks you to read it, to say it or to think about it, that is all the more reason to attend one of this weekend’s performances of The Vagina Monologues. Senior Psychology Major and cast member Holly Andersen, “The hesitancy to attend speaks volumes about our attitudes about that word, and I challenge you to go to overcome that.”
But how does a—ahem—vagina have a monologue? The Vagina Monologues is a play written by playwright and activist Eve Ensler “based on interviews with over 200 women about their memories and experiences of sexuality,” according to the publisher’s website, which describes the high ambitions of the play.
“The Vagina Monologues gives voice to women’s deepest fantasies and fears, guaranteeing that no one who reads it will ever look at a woman’s body, or think of sex, in quite the same way again,” the publisher’s statement said.
Hearing other women’s experiences has been an insightful experience for Sophomore Secondary Education Major and cast member Amaris Gomez, who found the stories stories both“funny and informative.”
“The Vagina Monologues is empowering for women because it gives them the chance to speak about things that are normally kept quiet!” Sophomore Cast Member Leigh Ann Mason said. “Vagina is often considered a scary word, and The Monologues show that it does not have to be if men and women learn to accept it and respect it.”
Mason’s sister, Senior Gender and Women and Sexuality Studies and Communication Studies Major and Katie Mason, is also participating in this year’s performance. She enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of a production she feels positively discusses womanhood.
“The monologues celebrate women in a way that they deserve to be celebrated,” she said. “I am proud to be part of a group of women who feel passionately about ending violence toward women.”
The expansive nature of the women’s experiences, including both “happy vagina facts and not so happy vagina facts,” may be unsettling to some, considering that the topic is “not commonly talked about,” said Gomez.
Ensler recognizes the controversial reaction The Vagina Monologues often elicits from some audience members, but she feels that goes with the territory of speaking openly about subjects often considered taboo.
“Look, the piece is controversial,” Ensler said in a 2000 interview with Judy Bourland of women.com. “It’s not politically correct. And I assume people are going to have responses to it. I interviewed women, and I told their stories. I didn’t make them up,” Ensler said.
Andersen said that the play might cause occasional controversy because some people find it a bit “in your face at times.” She does not see that as a reason to avoid the subject content, however. “These are real things that happen to real people, so why should we ignore them?” Anderson said.
Raising awareness about a variety of issues pertaining to women and sexuality is the goal of the play and its performers. These topics range from what a vagina would say if it could speak to gravely serious issues as well.
Themes of “violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery” are present in the play that led to the 1998 creation of V-day, an organization that “promotes creative events to increase awareness, raises money and revitalizes the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations” (vday.org).
“There is never enough awareness about sexual assault,” said Andersen. “We’re always told [about it], but people don’t realize how prevalent it really is—there’s still the idea that it doesn’t happen [at Gustavus].”
Cast members hope their involvement in the performance can contribute to overcoming these ideas. “Groups bring awareness to campus, but the community as a whole is not that aware,” said Gomez.
The Womyn’s Awareness Center, cast members, individual volunteers and sororities put together a series of V-day events this week on campus apart from The Vagina Monologues. These events included a conversational potluck and fundraising with vagina suckers.
“The money we raise for every show goes to a worthy cause,” Katie Mason said, “That, in itself, is a reason I am thankful that we have this opportunity on campus.”
All proceeds from The Vagina Monologues and other fundraisers benefit organizations working for women—10 percent of proceeds going to V-Day and the remainder to WATCH, an organization working to improve the way Hennepin County’s judicial system deals with cases of violence against women and children.
“We want to create a dialogue about women’s issues, and when they’re visually seen, at least people will start thinking about them,” said Andersen.
Ensler never predicted her theatrical compilation of candid interviews would lead to the success The Vagina Monologues have found. “I could not have imagined that I would one day be talking about vaginas on talk shows in places like Athens, Greece, chanting the word vagina with four thousand women in Baltimore, or having thirty-two public orgasms a night,” Ensler said.
Nonetheless, the play has been translated into 24 different languages, received an Obie Award has been performed across the country, including, of course, Gustavus Adolphus College. And it is not just for women. “A lot of guys will be asking, well, why do I have go—I don’t have a vagina,” said Gomez. Andersen has a question of her own for skeptics. “Why would you not want to see your beautiful [female] classmates talking about beautiful women?” asked Andersen.
According to Leigh Ann Mason, the show is worth everyone’s time. “It is not only hilarious, it also addresses the serious issue of violence against women,“ she said. Senior Political Science Major and cast member Riley Karbon agrees that males should not be deterred by the content’s focus on issues relating uniquely to women. “It’s a show that will invoke many emotions in all genders,” she said.
“I don’t know why you would not want to see The Vagina Monologues,” Katie Mason said, “It is funny, thoughtful and an overwhelmingly powerful production. The Monologues tell a story that every person, male or female, should hear.” Senior Political Science Major John Bussey (male that he is) previously attended and said, “It’s well worth the experience, even if you feel awkward. It’s a good venue to challenge your preconceived notions, and it’s wonderful when you can tell when it’s just as meaningful for the performers as for the audience.”
For those who have seen the performance in years past, Katie Mason is confident that each cast and performance brings something new for audiences to enjoy. “I have heard the monologues dozens of times over the last three years,” she said. “However, each time is more important than the last. I cannot wait for this year’s round of shows to begin.”
The Vagina Monologues will be performed by three different casts at three separate times: Friday in Bjorling Recital Hall at 8:00 p.m., Saturday in Alumni Hall at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday in Alumni Hall at 2:00 p.m. The Sunday cast will be comprised of solely senior members. The cost is $5 per student or $8 per non-student.