“We were worried about vaginas.” These five words, repeated several times during the introduction to the 2011 Cornell University Performance of The Vagina Monologues this past Saturday at Bailey Hall, reflect not only the sentiment of the actresses on stage, but of many of the audience members in attendance as well. Frankly, I was even a little worried about vaginas and, having never seen The Vagina Monologues before, I was unsure of what this celebration of female reproductive parts would entail.
The show, which was performed on one night only to a sold-out crowd, went above and beyond my expectations. The seventeen different monologues included in the show encompassed a full and complex range of emotions — at times hilarious, disconcerting, poignant and outrageous, the performance was both a celebration of female sexuality and an outright challenge to all of those involved to change the way they think of and treat the women around them.
Each act has a recurring theme of empowerment through a vagina, whether through self-discovery, sexual awakening or startling pain. One particularly memorable monologue, named “My Angry Vagina,” was an incensed rant of all of the modern tortures females are forced to endure, such as OB/GYN appointments, tampons and the like. The raunchiest act of the night, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” told the story of a female sex worker who only served women. The subject matter was beyond explicit, and the entire audience could be heard gasping in shock and laughing with glee at every mention of the clitoris or drawn out moan. Both of the brazen, chest-barring actresses who performed this piece did so with admirable gusto and dramatic flair.
“It is celebrating everything that comes with being female: the good, the bad, the exciting and the scary,” says Schuyler Dalton, a sophomore in CALS with a minor in Feminism, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and a first-time member of The Vagina Monologues cast. “Personally, it was fun to be part of a production with such a diverse and interesting group of women who all supported one another throughout.” Dalton, along with fellow sophomore Arin Grant, performed a monologue entitled “Reclaiming Cunt,” one instance of the show’s ability to weave controversy, humor and activism with success- shocking the audience while making them laugh out loud.
The Vagina Monologues was written and first performed by Eve Ensler in 1996, and has since been published in 45 different languages and performed in over 120 countries around the world. Ensler comprised the monologues based off of interviews she had conducted with 200 women about their memories and experiences of sexuality. Ensler writes, “At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them.”
Each year from February to April, Ensler, the founder and artistic director of V-Day, a non-profit grassroots movement dedicated to ending violence against women, releases her play to campuses around the world. Cornell University has been a part of this legacy for the last thirteen years.
V-Day raises funds and awareness through productions by college students and local volunteers of The Vagina Monologues and other artistic works. V-Day aims to generate broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, striving to combat rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sexual slavery. In 2010, over 5,400 V-Day benefit events took place in the U.S. and around the world.
To date, the V-Day Movement has raised an impressive $80 million and reached over 300 million people worldwide. 90% of the proceeds from ticket and merchandise sales from Cornell University’s performance will go to The Advocacy Center in Ithaca, which provides support, advocacy and education for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and child sexual abuse. As a part of V-Day’s Spotlight Campaign, the remaining 10% of ticket sales from Saturday night’s performance will go to an organization in Haiti dedicated to addressing sexual violence through art, advocacy and legal services.
Each year V-Day, through its Spotlight Campaign, increases awareness by focusing on a specific group of women in the world who are resisting violence. In 2011 the Spotlight Campaign focused on the women of Haiti, including a special monologue called “Myriam” at the end of the play in order to honor Haitian activist Myriam Merlet.
Myriam was one of the most solemn acts of the night, and an emotional and moving piece to end on. Three actresses graced the stage, all adorned in red and black — the required dress colors for any performance of The Vagina Monologues — and channeled the women and girls of Haiti who have been subjected to some of the worst poverty and gender-based-violence in the world. They uttered pleas to Myriam, one of the foremost activists for women’s rights in Haiti until her untimely death during the earthquake in 2010, begging her to return to aid them in their time of need. The monologue ends with the three performers standing in concert, rallying together to fight in Myriam’s memory.
As the evening progressed the squirms and uneasy laugher at every mention of a the word vagina began to subside, replaced with zealous applause and encouraging hoots and hollers. The Vagina Monologues, in all of its lively, inquisitive, and unsettling glory, proved to be an awakening. Worried about vaginas the audience was no more.