Audience members and performers unite over vaginas
Editor’s Note: This article initially had incorrect data concerning the number of females that have experienced vaginal mutilation in their lifetimes. The error has now been corrected.
A sell-out for both nights of its performance, “The Vagina Monologues” made a large impact on the University of Massachusetts community this weekend.
Held in Bowker Auditorium on Thursday and Friday night, each show offered standing-room-only seats to viewers who were too late to find seats, but wanted to see the show no matter what. The audience members varied from college students to parents of performers with flowers in hand to other community members and a few young children. All came to experience the widely-spoken about interpretation of over 200 women’s accounts of their bodies in a performance authored by Eve Ensler.
The overwhelming success of this performance was only one indication of its appeal. The show reveals the fears, anxieties, joy and pain women had in association with their vaginas, and how their experiences shaped their lives forever.
At the opening of Friday night’s performance, staff from the Everywoman’s Center were seated outside the auditorium, selling t-shirts and water bottles sporting “The Vagina Monologues” title in purple, as well as chocolate lollipops in the shapes of men’s and women’s bodies. Shania Twain’s “Man! I feel like a Woman!” greeted audience members as they stepped into the auditorium and a mix of similar songs swum through the crowd as before the slightly delayed start to the performance.
When the lights finally dimmed, five female members of the production staff, Rosaline Abraham, Angela Bruns, Caitlin Baker, Yesenia Rivera and Dawn Kennedy took the stage to introduce the show and touch upon what would be happening in the next two-and-a-half hours. They mentioned the availability of counselor advocates who stood at the rear of the auditorium for the entirety of the show, as some of the topics mentioned have been known to bring deep emotion to some audience members.
As the female participants began to emerge, decked out in all black clothing with accents of purple accessories, they explained the basic premise of the show – to uncover the emotions and experiences women have had with their vaginas.
According to the introduction, although some women cringe when even hearing the word vagina, once women are asked about their own genital area, they can’t stop talking about it. As one performer exclaimed, “Women love talking about their vaginas!” And so began the journey into the many facets of “The Vagina Monologues.”
The monologues addressed many of the insecurities women have about their vaginas – from hair to lesbians to marital bliss. One skit, “The Flood,” was taken from the perspective of a 72-year-old woman, reminiscing about her experience with rejection and embarrassment caused by her excessive vaginal fluid. The monologue was well executed by Emily Myhrum Adams, who took the character of the elderly woman, too scarred by her experience that she stowed her vagina along with her memories in the dark cellar of her mind.
Audience members witnessed the portrayal of how women view the impracticalities of what their vaginas are subjected to – feminine products, uncomfortable doctors appointments and thong underwear, to name a few.
Other monologues touched upon more serious subjects, requiring strong reflection and thought. Coming to the show with an open mind and a certain amount of mental preparation was necessary since many of the monologues were, at times, emotionally overwhelming, and included issues like rape and violence. No matter what the subject matter, however, the performers remained poised and honest about the character they portrayed.
“Under the Burqa” was a moving monologue delivered by Dawn Kennedy that discussed the unbearable suffering that women in Iraq experience on a daily basis as a demeaned part of society, forced to hide beneath heavy clothes. The vivid language and passion in her voice silenced the auditorium, as the words humiliation, fear and tombstone cut into the air, and feelings were described as “suffocating while still screaming inside.” One could only wonder how Kennedy herself did not break down while delivering words of pain and suffering.
According to the background given on this piece, 103 million girls in 28 countries have experienced vaginal mutilation. While this mostly occurs in African countries, the account of “Under the Burqa” was written by Ensler after a visit to Afghanistan in 2000, while they were under the control of the Taliban.
“A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery;” delivered by Caitlin Baker, Erika Sian, Quincy Lacwasan, Kayla Fasano and Sarah Shepherd; was an interpretation of the everyday guides people use to get by in life. However, this guide was for those teenage girls whose worst nightmares have been turned into harsh realities. Directions such as, “Never look at him while he is raping you,” were the only ways to make life only slightly more bearable for these girls, and encouraged and supported girls who have gone through such tragedies.
By far the most powerful monologue of the evening was the shocking portrayal of four women, now aged between 70 and 90 years old, who were placed into Japanese sex slavery during World War II. “Say It for the Comfort Women” described Japan’s dehumanizing acts against women, as well as furthering their hardship by refusing to release a formal apology to the women affected by the violence. At the time, these women were threatened or tricked into working as sex slaves to the Japanese military, like approximately 50,000-200,000 other women and girls.
The story of recovery and perseverance of these “comfort women” was as mesmerizing as it was chilling, leaving the audience emotionally drained. Performers Hannah Reuter, Susan V. Callender, Sunny Lie and Carolyn Reed gave a poignant performance and embodied these women so much so that it was possible to picture the real women standing on the stage, demanding their fair apology, leaving the audience with nothing but respect for their strength.
The attitude of the show quickly picked up however, with one of the more eccentric acts of the night, which illustrated the use of nicknames for the vagina. This piece was followed by “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” which elicited screams and cheers from the audience, especially with the mention of props.
Throughout the show, the performers were able to bring an element of UMass into the mix, evident in their mention of the Bursar’s Office, the “UMass moan,” which sexualizes the UMass cheer “go, go U, go UMass,” etc., as well as the mention of accepting Amherst as a vagina-friendly town.
Without witnessing this show for yourself, it is impossible to fathom how many ways there are to think about a vagina. The monologues portrayed vaginas as villages to some women, and to others a place filled with hardships. Still, others viewed it as a place of mystery and fascination. Some vaginas were angry while others were made happy. Some were just “little coochi snorchers.”
“The Vagina Monologues” is a production that is essential to watch. Increasingly, the environment is becoming saturated with images that disrespect women. Our minds are muddled by various assumptions about how a woman should act and where their place in society should be. These monologues reaffirm the fact that women decide who they want, what they want and how they want it.
Elyse Horowitz and Marianne Kim can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.