Contemplating One’s Vagina

After two years onstage, reciting a Vagina Monologue of my own, I sat in the audience and watched the show for the first time. It was beautiful. And the backstories of the brave women who stood onstage taking on notions of women and sex was just as riveting. I yearned to capture both.

 

On February 18th and 19th, students normally vexed by PowerPoints and programming will pause to contemplate their vaginas.  Performing in Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, two dozen Babson and Olin women will act as agents of empowerment—simultaneously empowering themselves, their audience, and the women the show benefits.

The play’s introduction acknowledges the mere discomfort  associated with the v-word itself, “It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: ’Hurry nurse, bring me the vagina.’ ‘Vagina.’ ‘Vagina.’ Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say.”

 

Yet, by the end of the two-hour performance, the audience becomes desensitized. After constant repetition, the term subconsciously becomes demystified and less ominous; No longer an ugly word, the term  ‘vagina’ is transformed.

During the performance, twenty-one women will stand under the bright lights of Sorenson’s stage to answer the question: “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?” Needless to say, the play requires chutzpah of its actresses. This confidence is what first attracted co-director Jessie Murray, an Olin senior, to the production three years ago.

 

“I was so impressed by the women on the stage—all of them seemed just so impressive in this really powerful way,” she recounted in an email. She saw the show her freshman year–in the midst of a tough break-up.Watching the play gave her the strength to finally walk away from the relationship.

Murray is not alone. Babson freshman Nikki Lamson admitted, via email, that, though terrified to audition, she was motivated by the grave importance of the performance on campuses like Babson and Olin: “Both our colleges specialize in extremely male-dominated fields, and I believe that the brave women who chose to compete against them should have a voice that is heard.”

 

Of course, not everyone is a fan. A year ago, an infuriated Babson alumnus tried to halt the production. According to Murray, “the alum had read a blog post of some sort on a conservative website condemning The Vagina Monologues. Babson was listed as one of the schools hosting a show, and the alum decided to raise his objection by threatening to stop donating to the school,” she stated via email.

 

Co-director and Olin senior Casey Canfield, who was abroad at the time, had also heard of the incident. She praised the Babson administration for standing behind the program and not bending to the disgruntled alum’s demands. “I was really proud that Babson took such a firm stand on the matter,” she offered in email correspondence.

 

The Vagina Monologues are the brainchild of Eve Ensler. According to an interview with Ensler on Radio Curious, the play was spurred by a conversation with a friend about menopause.This conversation, of course, led to a conversation about vaginas, which left Ensler baffled.

Curiosity led Ensler to another interview, which led to another, and another, resulting in over 200.These interviews inspired long-time writer Ensler to develop The Vagina Monologues, which premiered in New York twelve years ago.

 

The play created a safe space for women to remove the “sense of prohibition” around the vagina,“the most sensual and vital thing” in a woman’s life, Ensler states in the interview on Radio Curious. In a patriarchal world that often “silences women” through restraints to “be good” and “be polite”— “women” become “isolated” and “dispowered.” Through the Vagina Monologues, Ensler seeks to teach women to value “their stories.”

 

The philanthropic aspect of the show is the direct result of this newfound empowerment. After the first few shows in New York, “women lined up after the show” to share with Ensler their stories of abuse and domestic violence, breaking the silence that many had bore for countless years.  A victim of domestic and emotional violence herself, Ensler felt overwhelmed and was driven to sit down and “brainstorm” how to use the show to combat violence against women.

 

V-Day is a product of that session. A grass-roots effort born in 1999 to stop “rape, incest, domestic battery, and female genital mutilation,” the campaign designates Valentine’s Day as a day for anti-violence. All of the proceeds from the show as well as proceeds from other items, including chocolate lollipops shaped as vaginas, go towards local half-way houses and centers that support and aid domestic violence survivors.

 

All of the money from the Babson-Olin show supports Web of Benefit. Created in 2004 by former domestic violence victims, the organization is built on a “pay it forward” philosophy. It offers grants to domestic violence victims.

The idea is that these women will eventually help others in physically and emotionally abusive relationships overcome their circumstances—creating a web of support and aid.

 

Perhaps contemplating one’s vagina is a worthy endeavor after all.

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