From irreverent stories of female sexuality to heartbreaking accounts of rape and genital mutilation, last night’s sold-out production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues left Cornellians with plenty of shocking stories to tell their valentines. The performance was held in support of V-Day, a worldwide campaign that proclaims Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate women and protect all females from violence and abuse.
Since 1998, performances of The Vagina Monologues have united women on college campuses across the United States, with proceeds from ticket sales going directly to local anti-violence organizations. Cornell has participated in the V-Day College Campaign for all four years of its existence, says its director, Karen Obel ’88.
“V-Day is a movement to stop violence against women and girls, and we do that predominantly through performances of The Vagina Monologues,” Obel said in an interview last week.
“I think one of the nice things about the College Campaign is it brings that mission to a local grassroots level and empowers young people who are the leaders, shapers and messengers of the future.”
Esther Baker, director of public relations for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, joined the cast this year. Baker portrayed a sexually repressed, middle-aged New Yorker, who claimed, “It’s a cellar down there, very damp…I haven’t been down there since 1953!” Following the performance, Baker had much to say about her role in The Vagina Monologues and its impact on her.
“It was an amazing experience to not only be part of a group of women here from Cornell, but to know that you were part of something so huge that was happening tonight, on so many campuses, with the same message, for the same purpose,” Baker said. “It’s humbling to be a small part of something so enormous.”
The cast, made up of students, faculty, and various community members, recounted the sexual experiences of a variety of women, from young girls getting their first menstrual period to seventy-year-old women who had never experienced an orgasm. Some of the monologues extracted unrestrained laughter from the audience. Cast member Jennifer Good, a current Ph.D. student in Communications, performed a monologue entitled, “My Angry Vagina,” during which she ranted about the maltreatment of her vagina by tampons, thong underwear, and gynecologists.
“My vagina is pissed off!” Good exclaimed in her monologue. “Thong underwear? What is up with that?”
During the monologue “Wear and Say,” cast members Kathy Luz Herrea, an electrician for Cornell’s planning design and construction department, and Jennifer Weinbaum ’04 reported the responses of women who were asked, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” The original responses ranged from “a pink boa” to “an electrical shock device to keep unwanted strangers away” to an emphatic “Armani only.”
A segment of the show devoted to rape and genital mutilation highlighted the indignities suffered by Afghani women under the rule of the Taliban government. Narrator Janet Shortall, assistant director of Cornell United Religious Work, gave a moving performance entitled “Under the Burqa,” a monologue intended to depict the daily sufferings of repressed women in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. About10 percent of the money raised by the performance will be donated to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA).
“It was very powerful and shocking,” said audience member Elizabeth Turner ’05. “Funny, sad, amazing, inspiring … I don’t even know what to think.”
In case audience members failed to grasp V-Day’s feminist message, chocolate “vagina pops” were available for purchase at the door, and complimentary boxes of mini-Tampons were scattered across the auditorium. The performance concluded with an account of a childbirth, which Eve Ensler added to The Vagina Monologues after witnessing the birth of her grandchild.
Archived article by Meghan Barr