February 27, 2009

Vagina Monologues Move Sparks Outrage

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The Vagina Monologues has been performed at Cornell for the past 11 years as part of V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. While V-Day promotes creative events to raise awareness about these issues, a new debate over the performance space has taken center stage.

The Vagina Monologues is a compilation of numerous monologues, each relating to the vagina, read by a varying number of women.

[img_assist|nid=35617|title=Facing opposition|desc=Vagina Monologues executive director Julie Cantor ’09, left, and artistic director Liana Mancini ’09, who is also a Sun columnist, stand outside of Sage Chapel.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

Last October, the producfor a performance on March 7. However, two weeks ago Cornell United Religious Work, the University’s interfaith network that oversees religious spaces on campus, informed the team that the venue would be changed to Annabel Taylor Hall, according to Julie Cantor ’09, executive director of the Vagina Monologues.

Kenneth I. Clarke, Sr., D.Min, CURW director, affirmed CURW’s support for the Monologues, which are traditionally held in Annabel Taylor.

“CURW supports the message and advocacy on behalf of women integral to the Monologues… The Vagina Monologues — which challenges traditional views of sexuality — provide an important voice to campus and community discourse. Hosting this event in the Annabel Taylor Auditorium reflects the CURW commitment to contributing to the educational mission and intellectual life of Cornell University,” Clarke stated.

The Vagina Monologues ticket proceeds are donated to the Women’s Advocacy Center in Ithaca to end violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery abroad.

Since Annabel Taylor only seats 360 people and Sage Chapel seats 820, the number of performances was increased from one to four. Two performances will take place at the Robert Purcell Community Center Multipurpose Room, according to Cantor and Mancini.

The change creates additional complications such as the financial loss from tickets already printed specifically for Sage Chapel, and the limited number of performances permitted by Eve Ensler, the Monologues’ playwright. Ensler permitted two performances before performers must pay for the rights to the script. The production team had to contact the national V-Day campaign to gain permission for multiple performances, according to Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center.

“It was a disappointment for everyone involved. Because it is a fundraiser, and the money goes towards stopping violence, there is really a commitment from the students to fundraise,” Weiss said.

CURW is allowing the production team and cast to use Annabel Taylor Hall for free and donating $500 to make up for any loss, Clarke said.

“We decided to make the switch from Sage Chapel to Annabel Taylor Hall for the Vagina Monologues because, in faith communities, a chapel is not simply a venue for performance … not only for faith communities, but also for people who use the chapel, still others for just an opportunity to center themselves to take a break from the pace of a frenetic busy campus of hardworking busy people. We want to respect the character of that place,” Clarke said.

Clarke explained that CURW has received criticism that the change in performance space implies it does not want sexuality issues discussed. But if that were the case, The Vagina Monologues would not be held in Annabel Taylor, an interfaith center.

“I also understand very well that in many cases religious communities have not dealt with issues of sexuality well, have ignored issues of violence against women and we want to provide an opportunity, a space for discussion,” Clarke said.

The directors and cast members feel differently. The decision to change the venue has affected cast morale and the preparation for the change in venue size, Cantor explained.

“The issues that we’re bringing up –– talking about rape, talking about vaginas, talking about things people like to ignore –– are very important and bringing them into the Sage Chapel venue would have highlighted the dire need for us to talk about these issues,” Cantor said.

Liana Mancini ’09, a Sun columnist, stated that at a meeting with CURW representatives last week, it appeared that certain monologues were particularly problematic, such as the “Reclaiming the Cunt” monologue.

“I completely 100 percent believe that they are setting an example with the Monologues. What other production is going to come along that is going to be as controversial as the Monologues,” Mancini said.

“I don’t see how it’s possible to look at an event like this and say that it’s not an act of bigotry,” Mancini added.

The debate caused by the venue change will not end after The Vagina Monologues performances next week. CURW and the production team are hoping to hold a discussion about religion and sexuality to further the dialogue, Clarke said.