This week, people may have some certain things on their minds: roses, pink cards and chalky candy hearts. But this week is also V-Week, an event put on by the AS ROP Women's Center to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and female empowerment.
V-Week began as a V-Day (Feb. 14), a worldwide effort to end violence against women and girls that was started in the ‘90s by Eve Ensler, according to Elizabeth Monk, a second-year member of Women's Empowerment and Violence Education (WEAVE).
“In setting aside February 14th as V-Day, we are showing the community that we recognize and acknowledge that violence against women is a major issue that affects all of us,” Monk said. “It helps to create a safer community in which survivors of violence can be supported and all women can feel empowered.”
V-Week at Western celebrates and acknowledges V-Day by scheduling events and performances of the Vagina Memoirs, Kime McClintock, co-coordinator of the Women's Center said.
“Since we no longer do the monologues, our V-Week isn't necessarily associated with that movement,” McClintock said. “But we still are trying to maintain that same idea of ending violence and then also empowering women to take control of their lives or to educate themselves about…whatever it is they want to learn or be passionate about.”
This year, several events will be taking place throughout the week, including an art show and a concert. The following week, five performances of the Vagina Memoirs are scheduled. Jenny Henley, co-coordinator of the Women's Center, said that the week and the Memoirs play a national and local role.
“One of the great…facets of V-Week is it's a national campaign but it's [also working] to directly help and support local community work that's going on,” Henley said. “Also I see it as a gear-up for the Memoirs, to get people really excited, [to] saturate the campus with issues of gender and get people thinking, and also [to] create safe spaces and intentional spaces for women to be showcased, whether it's their art or their music.”
From Feb. 9 to 16, “Women Step Up! V-Week Art Showcase” will be on display in the B Gallery, located in the Fine Arts building. Misty Fall, a Western senior who coordinated the show, said she wanted to create an opportunity for women to express themselves artistically.
“I feel like…the art world and the world at large is dominated by white males. The marginalized people definitely deserve to have their expressions shown and have venues and space for that,” Fall said. “It's a really exciting personal mission to get more venues out there.”
The pieces on display in the gallery include oil paintings, photos, collages, mosaics and even body casts. While the memoirs emphasize the storytelling aspect of female expression, the art show tells another side of a woman's story through a different medium, Fall said.
“I think art is a powerful, valid medium for expression,” Fall said. “I feel like art is accessible to a lot of people.”
Another V-Week event is the Vagina Boogie, a concert featuring bands Forever, Connecticut Four and Madeleine Easton, will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 in the Fairhaven Auditorium. The event is intended to showcase female musicians and get attendees excited about the Memoirs, McClintock said.
“It'll be…an awesome space to get together, celebrate women musicians and have fun being women,” McClintock said. “Obviously men are welcome to attend, but it's very women-positive. [It's] safe-space oriented and that'll...be a really nice segue way into Vagina Memoirs.”
The Memoirs, which will be performed between Feb. 17 and 21, consists of a group of women who will each perform their own monologue for the audience. The event will examine all the various identities, including gender, sexual orientation, and race and ethnicity, Henley said. Henley and McClintock listed social stigmas, social oppression, the healing process, community, family relations, queer community, concepts of gender fluidity and gender presentation as some of the many issues to be explored.
“It's not necessarily the genitalia-specific event that some people might think, when they think of the agina Memoirs,” Henley said. “It can be if someone wants to do a piece about their vagina. [But] especially this year, it's exploring the idea of legacy and subversion of gender and what is the status quo of gender dynamics.”
Admission is free, but all donations will go to Lummi Victims of Crime and Womencare Shelter.
There is no set template for the Memoirs, Henley said. In past years, performers have done poetry, prose and song, she said.
The Memoirs are intended to make women feel less alone and identify with each other's struggles, McClintock said. It can be a powerful experience to find out that someone else is feeling the same way, she said. In addition, the event will give women an opportunity to be heard.
“The voices that are normally excluded are women, people of color, people who are minorities as far as sexual orientation. Those are the voices that we want to spotlight,” McClintock said.
Hearing these voices can have a profound effect on the audience, McClintock said. Being able to connect with a certain monologue can be empowering and reassuring, she said. The Memoirs support the idea of building up people who have been silenced and marginalized, Henley said.
“[For] any social justice issue that you really want people to rally behind …I think you have to be pro something as opposed to anti something,” Henley said. “You can only go so far with an anti platform…as opposed to the Vagina Memoirs excluding men, I think of it more as re-centering women who are normally excluded from major discourse…It is more about building up than anti something.”
Henley emphasized that because everyone is so interconnected, the collective well-being depends on understanding that gender stereotypes hurt everyone and people need to work to support each other in coalition and ally-building activities.
“Obviously it's really hard to be the first person, to raise your hand for something…I see the Memoirs as kind of like that first hand,” Henley said.