WIN presents The Vagina Monologues

Two plays promote awareness of violence against women

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The cast of The Vagina Monologues

THIS IS WHAT "BETTER PEOPLE" LOOK LIKE. Members of the cast of The Vagina Monologues take time out from preparing for this year’s production to pause for our photographer, inspiring what is likely our most generic cutline ever.

For centuries, the only “V” associated with Feb. 14 for most people was valentine and the main purpose of the day was celebrating the romance shared with their significant others " or sulking.

But to an ever increasing number of people over the past decade, there have been other “V-words” associated with this date " words like “Vagina,” “Violence” and “Victory.” The initial source of this change can be attributed to Eve Ensler, an American playwright, activist, and writer of The Vagina Monologues.

The Women’s Issues Network is performing its rendition of Ensler’s play on Feb. 16-17 in the McKellar Room on the second floor of the UCC.

The Vagina Monologues is a series of dramatic monologues written by Ensler in 1996. The play was inspired by her interviews with 200 women about their views on sex and relationships. All of the women seemed to share feelings of guilt and embarrassment about their bodies. Instead, Ensler saw the vagina as a tool of empowerment through which women could achieve total femininity and individuality.

She set about writing the piece in order to celebrate the vagina, thus, every monologue somehow relates to that subject. Some simply deal with its being a physical aspect of the female body. Some deal with the variety of names for it, while others focus on its connection to things like sex, menstruation, birth and orgasm. Even rape and mutilation are topics in the monologues.

These more serious topics made The Monologues an effective means to spread awareness of worldwide violence against women. This is why, in Febuary 1998, the purpose of the piece changed from a celebration of vaginas and femininity to a movement to stop violence against women.

Over the next few years, The Monologues and the V-Day movement to end violence against women ballooned in size until, in 2007, there were more than 3,000 V-Day events taking place around the world. To date, V-Day has raised over $45 million in support of abused women and educated millions about violence against women.

While The Vagina Monologues is V-Day’s largest fundraiser, it is not the movement’s only enterprise. It’s also responsible for the Karma Program (karama means dignity in Arabic) " a group that spans nine Middle Eastern and North African countries and works year-round to protect women from violence from every angle of society and politics.

Critics have protested that The Vagina Monologues vilifies men without giving them a chance to join the cause. Noted feminist critic and author of Sex, Art and American Culture Camille Paglia has criticized V-Day for “turning Valentine’s Day, the one holiday celebrating romantic harmony between the sexes, into a grisly memento of violence against women.”

Recently however, Ensler joined forces with a number of other authors and created a new series of monologues entitled A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, A Prayer (MMRP). This new play, which contains monologues about the lives of women from all over the world, including Afghanistan and Darfur, Sudan, also incorporates male characters. In honour of V-Day’s 10th anniversary, MMRP will be performed for the first time at Western on Feb. 16.

The new play does away with the more lighthearted sketches found in The Vagina Monologues in favour more serious topics, resulting in a more sombre performance.

Sarah Scanlon, V-Day veteran and producer of this year’s Vagina Monologues, says this is especially evident in pieces like MMRP’s closing monologue “The Fur is Back,” where the audience is called to take time out of their daily lives to consider the lives of the unfortunate and abused.

Shawna Peters, a third-year English and Women’s Studies student, calls the V-Day campaign and The Vagina Monologues the most empowering movement to which she has ever been a part. Her enthusiasm about the event has only increased since she got the chance to meet Ensler two years ago. Peters said Ensler stressed the importance of continuing the V-Day fight.

“It’s clear that to her,” Peters says, “ending violence against women is not an abstract idea but something that’s concrete and possible.”

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