Play tackles taboos to end gender violence

The numbers are impressive: 700 universities and colleges are involved in it; 37 women from the College performed in it this year; it has raised more than $30 million for women and girls worldwide; and it is empowered by one word. Vagina.

“The Vagina Monologues,” created by award-winning author Eve Ensler, is an international production that supports V-Day, the movement to end rape, female genital mutilation, battery, sexual slavery, incest – all violence against women and girls.

The monologues transform a taboo subject into a conversational one, retelling the stories of more than 200 women who spoke to Ensler about their vaginas.

“Women talking about vaginas makes them more confident,” Maya Eilam, senior English and women’s and gender studies major and a director, said.

Fellow director Honor Friberg, senior women’s and gender studies major, added, “It’s saying that the vagina is more than just an organ, it’s a concept.”

The monologues explore a range of emotions, from the comical responses to what does your vagina smell like and what would it wear, to the heart-wrenching story of a Bosnian woman’s rape.

The College has hosted “The Vagina Monologues” for five years, and while the script does not change much, it still attracts a full house annually. Jessica Deringer, junior psychology major, attributes this to the personality each actress brings to her monologue.

“Each person interprets it differently, so you fall in love with new monologues each year,” she said.

Among the standout performers this year were Leslie Stickler, junior psychology and women’s and gender studies major, who threw an on-stage tantrum for “My Angry Vagina.” Eliana Reyes, sophomore communication studies major, had the audience and her fellow actresses on stage bursting out in laughter with her orgasmic moans in “The Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy.”

Marne Clune, senior business administration major, invited the audience to shout out “cunt” for her monologue that reclaimed the obscene word through its phonetic beauty.

Saturday night’s performance was special for Mary Lynn Hopps, director of Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL), the organization that presents the monologues at the College. College alumnae who performed “The Vagina Monologues” over the past five years returned to be honored on stage with the 2006 cast.

“One of the things (‘The Vagina Monologues’) has taught me is how words and what’s underneath them can create powerful bonds,” Hopps said. “It’s what I have seen every year with young women, many of whom don’t know each other, then come together and do this show and become so close in a brief period of time.”

Aida Figueroa, junior psychology and women’s and gender studies major, said she felt this connection with the other women in her menstruation-themed monologue, “I Was 12, My Mother Slapped Me.”

During practices, she said she and the other four students in the monologue would spend most of their time talking and sharing stories about their own first periods. “It’s funny because most people wouldn’t be that open otherwise,” she said. “It’s nice to see people unafraid to express themselves.”

The cast slowly gathered on stage as each woman delivered her monologue, and their unity ultimately extended to the audience. At the end of the show, Hopps asked every woman who has ever been or known a victim of violence to stand and break the silence. Then, she asked everyone committed to ending violence against women to stand – which brought the entire applauding audience to its feet.

This year, V-Day focused the impetus to end violence specifically on “comfort women,” the young women of various ethnic and national backgrounds who the Japanese government forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

The V-Day campaign estimates the number of “comfort women” lies between 50,000 and 200,000 and reports that those surviving into their 70s, 80s and 90s have not received an apology from the government.

The chilling performance of Hopps and faculty members Kay Potucek and Anita Anantharam, who conveyed the comfort women’s pain, reminded the audience of the power of one word that is not taboo but has yet to be spoken: “Sorry.”