Since its first performance in 1996, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues has sparked a global movement known as V-Day which has worked towards putting an end to incest, battery, female genital mutilation, rape and other forms of violence against women. The Vagina Monologues returned Saturday night to an enthralled crowd in Bailey Hall, and like years prior, it did not disappoint.
The play begins with the history of The Vagina Monologues — primarily telling the story through interviews with women of all backgrounds about their vaginas. Black women, young girls, sex workers, Asian women, transgender women and more are represented, enforcing the intersectionality the play brings to light. The events portrayed within the monologues are true. They illustrate stories of hardship and triumph that occur on a daily basis in the lives of women across the globe.
During the first monologue, the star of the show is introduced … many times, that is. The vagina and its many euphemisms that have been garnered over the decades and by those of all cultures are made known right off the bat. From the opening line, it is clear that the vagina has gained an infamous reputation in its name, subject matter and representation. The monologues hope to show differently.
The segments following this attention-grabbing introduction were creatively constructed and brilliantly executed by all of the performers. While “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” delighted audience members and amassed peals of laughter, others like “My Vagina Was My Village” and “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy … or So They Tried” silenced the room in solemnity. Through its depiction of topics ranging from the wonders of the female body during childbirth to the experience of being a transgender woman, the monologues hit hard.
All monologues but one were written by Ensler, the other being a student-composed feature. This year the spotlight monologue included performances by two women from the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, which serves as the sole provider of sexual and domestic services within the area. The speakers touched upon their work at the center along with the roles they play in the lives of victims and survivors within the Tompkins community.
As for the cast? Post-show excitement was a tangible feeling. Performers came rushing into the main dressing room with triumphant praises for their fellow cast mates, cries of “We did it!” and even some powerful line reiterations. For Zara Schreiber, performing in The Vagina Monologues was an empowering experience in both portraying the real life stories of women and girls along with embracing empowerment with her fellow performers. Some young women found their outfits to be sources of liberation as well, as some segments proudly displayed bras and lingerie.
Co-director Nikita Lakhani felt it was important for the play to give voice to topics that are often pushed into the dark because of taboos or fears of being dismissed. The play ultimately forms a conversation about important subject matters and provides a way of encouraging audience members to step past their comfort zone and engage in this conversation as well.
Other cast members found the show to be equally empowering and a way to display sexual agency in a compelling light. The vagina becomes destigmatized and embraced as the magical organ that it is. The play serves as a way to articulate common incidents that often aren’t brought up in day-to-day conversations.
“When trying to sell tickets I always say if you are someone who gets uncomfortable talking about subjects like this, you are exactly the person who should come to this show,” Callie Aboaf says.
Sponsored by the Cornell Women’s Resource Center, the play pledges to donate 90% of proceeds to The Advocacy Center of Tompkins County. The remainder of the ticket sales will be given to V-Day’s 2019 Spotlight on Women in Prison as well as detention centers and formerly incarcerated women.
The Vagina Monologues are more than just a traditional Cornell production. It’s a reflective and informative art that conveys topics relevant to everyone. These monologues are important. They show us the oppression women continue to face but can overcome through demonstrations exactly like this. It won’t be long until the play rolls around next year. Mark your calendars early, because it’s a good performance and a necessary one at that.
Isabelle Philippe is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.