Today, I'm going to talk about vaginas. No, this is not an article about my own vagina, nor is it an anatomy lesson or Sex Ed 101. I'm writing this article in light of something amazing that took place at my university this weekend: The Vagina Monologues!
I'm part of For the Women, Arcadia's feminist organization, and The Vagina Monologues is a production we put on annually every February. Around this time every year, the Vagina Monologues is performed at schools and other institutions all around the world, as part of V-Day and One Billion Rising, which is a global movement created to promote awareness of violence against girls and women. It raises money for a good cause, because the proceeds from all performances of this show are required to go to charities that help victims of abuse/sexual violence.
The Vagina Monologues is a play written by activist Eve Ensler. Ensler created this play by interviewing a diverse bunch of women about their vaginas, from which she created a collection of monologues. She interviewed women from all different walks of life-- women of several different ages, shapes, sizes, women of color, foreign women, queer women, transgender women, and even more. Each piece in the Vagina Monologues tells one of these women's stories. They are about all different types of experiences women have had. Some are uncomfortable to listen to because they are about women who underwent traumatic experiences such as rape or abuse. Some are more lighthearted as they are just about various sexual or personal experiences the women may have had or their feelings about societal aspects of being female. Others are on the completely positive end of the spectrum as they are about women expressing how they became completely confident with their bodies. The various pieces of this production range from heartbreaking to hilarious to just plain weird, but they all share a common factor: empowering women and bringing light to issues we face in our society.
I can honestly say participating in The Vagina Monologues the past four years has strongly enhanced my college experience. During my time as a college student, I have grown a lot as a person and as a feminist, and that's greatly due to my opportunities to be in this production year after year. I studied abroad in the first semester of my junior year, and TVM was one of the main reasons I chose to go abroad in the fall rather than the spring. This show is so important to me because not only has it been a chance to continue engaging my passion for theatre (which I haven't quite gotten to do after high school due to Arcadia not having big musical theater productions every year like in high school), but also a chance to engage my passion for speaking out about female empowerment. Combining two of my favorite things: feminism and theater!
I've enjoyed TVM every year I've participated in it. I can even tell you which piece I performed every year (or at least partially, because some of them are split between two or more people). My freshman year I did the "Six Year Old Girl" piece (based on an interview with a six-year-old girl), my sophomore year I did "The Vagina Workshop" (about a woman who attended a workshop intended to help women learn more about their vaginas) as well as "Six Year Old Girl" again (because the girl who'd been assigned to it bailed at the last minute), last year I did "My Vagina Was My Village" (about Bosnian refugee women who were brutally raped by multiple soldiers in a war zone), and this year I did "My Revolution Begins in the Body" (a powerful piece about making our "revolution" happen). I loved all of them, but I gotta say "Vagina Workshop" was my favorite one I've done-- particularly because it involved me having to act out an orgasm (on stage, in front of an audience)! As an asexual and generally shy person, with absolutely zero real-life sexual experience at the time, that was definitely not something I'd ever imagined myself being able to do, but I ended up having a ton of fun with it.
However, as much fun as I've had with TVM in past years, it felt a little different and a little more meaningful this year. I want to point out something that the monologue I did this year as well as TVM in general means this year for me personally and for our society as a whole this particular year. Performing TVM felt more powerful than usual this year, in light of who our new president is and the degrading ways he's talked about women. Many of us are fearful that all the fighting for our rights as women, the very thing this play is about, will be taken back several steps. And that does not stop at just the general rights of women, but of women (and men) who are marginalized in other ways as well, such as those who are POC, from different religions or countries, disabled, part of the LGBTQ+ community, or survivors of abuse and/or sexual assault. There was actually a new piece added to the play this year called "I Call You Body" that Eve Ensler wrote right after the election, addressing all of these issues that we fear may come with this new presidency.
The monologue I was a part of this year, "My Revolution Begins in the Body," kind of speaks to this. It includes statements such as "my revolution is overthrowing the state of mind called patriarchy" and "my revolution is connection not consumption, passion not profit, orgasm not ownership." Being a part of this monologue felt very fitting and empowering to me. Not only because of what it means on a societal scale, but also because of how it resonates with me on a personal level.
There are reasons besides Donald Trump's election that performing "My Revolution" and TVM felt more meaningful to me than previous years, and those reasons are the experiences I had within the past year since last year's production of TVM. I was in a very abusive and unhealthy relationship that, let's just say, caused me to have some of the very experiences that TVM was created to raise awareness about. I was in this relationship at the time of TVM last year, and while some of the issues from it definitely were already going on at the time, I just hadn't recognized it yet. I didn't even do so until after the fact, while I was describing certain behaviors of my ex to multiple friends and they were the ones who pointed out to me that he was abusive. This is because it was the emotionally manipulative kind of abuse. The kind where you can't even recognize it while it's going on because you care about someone so much that it's easy to forgive them, because they promise you over and over that it doesn't mean anything and that they still care for you, although they make no effort to actually stop perpetrating those actions. Even when that manipulative abuse turned physical and got to a point where my ex only seemed to care about me for sexual purposes, I could not recognize these behaviors as abusive at first because I was still so in love with him that, instead of being relieved to get out of the relationship like I should have been, I was completely devastated. It is only now, 7 months or so after the relationship ended, that I've grown to embrace my single life and not constantly feel depressed about my ex, and even at this point I still can't say I'm completely over everything he put me through.
This, along with Trump, is truly the fuel for my connection to TVM this year. My own story is sadly not unique-- I have heard very similar stories from many other girls I know that I've discussed this with. At the end of every TVM performance, as part of the One Billion Rising campaign, all of us in the cast join hands onstage and one by one state why we are rising. This year, I said, "I rise because I'm not just my body or my past experiences, and neither are those who have had the same experiences-- we're worth so much more than that." This was what I meant. I want to eventually see a society where no women or men have to go through the same things I've gone through, especially under Trump's presidency. I want to eventually see a society that doesn't frame women as objects, as beings that are just there for men to enjoy and sexualize. And most importantly, even if this may not happen while Trump is in office, I want to eventually see a society where people of every gender, race, religion, sexuality, disability, and nationality are equally respected.
I am thankful to The Vagina Monologues for fueling my passions about this, as well as fueling my passion for theater. For contributing to my growth as a feminist over the past four years. For helping me gradually feel less ashamed of my body. And most prominently, for teaching me to be a stronger, happier, more empowered woman because of my experiences, not in spite of them.