I still clearly remember the first time I pronounced the ominous V-word. It was during the first day of my formal sexual education class in middle school, and I was in 5th grade, sitting in a room full of equally bewildered and apprehensive 12-year-old girls.
“Before we begin,” the instructor said, “repeat after me. Vagiiiiiiina.”
The word itself would have been enough to make all us prepubescent Limited Too shoppers blush. But the added super annunciation of the word sent us well over the edge, and we promptly erupted into spasms of hysterical giggling, taking the teacher at least five minutes of shushing to calm us down.
This was essentially the atmosphere this past weekend at the Emory Feminists in Action’s production of The Vagina Monologues
, a somewhat notorious play by Eve Ensler. Ensler wrote the script based on about 200 interviews she had conducted with women of various ages and backgrounds about their attitudes on sexuality and their relationships with their bodies. Proceeds from the event went to benefit the V-Day campaign, Partnership Against Domestic Violence and The Tiana Angelique Notice.
The play, which is performed at Emory every year in correlation with V-Day, an international effort to raise awareness of violence against women, employed a minimalist approach. The stage design consisted of a semi-circle of chairs and dim lighting. The cast members took turns stepping into the spotlight in the center of the stage to deliver an anecdotal monologue.
As the cast members launched into shocking dialogues about traditionally taboo topics concerning vaginas — including intimate descriptions of sexual encounters and the difficulty of examining one’s own vagina in a handheld mirror —, it seemed that us audience members, despite representing a wide range of ages, had all been reduced to 12-year-olds again: uncomfortable, shy and giggly about discussing anything that had to do with the “down there” parts.
The unexpected rawness of discussing intimate subject matter in such a completely uncensored way made us squirm, but the nature of the play also challenged the audience to question why such subjects seem unmentionable. Rather than simply raising awareness of certain issues, the play shoved them in your face.
“It definitely pushed the limits of what we do talk about on a normal basis, but having it out there is probably a good thing,” College freshman Alizeh Ahmad said. “Just to know that it’s out there, that people are dealing with those things everywhere.”
In addition to humorous segments such as a spiel about reclaiming the C-word and a hilarious tirade against what are marketed as feminine hygiene products, the play explored darker issues such as female genital mutilation and rape as a wartime weapon.
Some of these monologues, including “My Vagina Was My Village,” a speech performed by College sophomore Melissa Reyes, upset the audience. In this part of the play, Reyes takes on the character of a woman who had been raped and assaulted during military conflict.
“My monologue is emotionally challenging,” Reyes said in an e-mail to the Wheel
. “However, this experience overall has been empowering to me, since I have been able to bond with my cast on a deeper emotional level while standing up for our vaginas and vaginas everywhere.”
The atmosphere of “Say It” — during which six cast members acted the part of “comfort women,” or women who were kidnapped by the Japanese military to serve as prostitutes during World War II — was even heavier. Some audience members were in tears.
“I’d never actually considered these issues, so to actually come to such an event and talk about the mission — promoting awareness of sexual assault is accomplished through this,” College senior Arjun Seth said.
“Many people believe that violence against women is an isolated problem far away, or is an issue of the past,” Keerthana Nimmala, co-president of FIA, wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel
. “But I think that once you see the Vagina Monologues ... your view of these issues is forever changed, and you can no longer think, ‘This doesn’t happen here.’”
The play ended with a full-house standing ovation, and many members from the audience lingered afterward to congratulate actors. Many audience members registered with FIA’s mailing list, and it seemed that everyone walked away in deep discussion of topics that had been raised by the production.
“I think we are very lucky in the Emory community to have a large number of supported organizations that deal with these issues,” Nimmala remarked, referring to programs such as the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, Sexual Health Awareness Group, the Center for Women at Emory and the Sexual Assault Prevention Education and Response program at Student Health and Counseling Services.
Sara Marie-McClintock, a nursing student who was an audience member but has five previous years in the production, agreed that such organizations were central to the mission against sexual violence. She also remarked that The Vagina Monologues
production can have a great impact on the community.
“If we take it in and truly understand what they’re trying to say, which I think the actors there portrayed very well, it’ll actually effect that change,” she said. “If we take that with us and spread that word, ... we’re not only stopping at this performance. We’re taking it further and we’re making it better.”
— Contact Catherine Cai.