“My Vagina is angry,” opens one of the segments of the Vagina Monologues. And get ready, because we have just been ushered into the one week specifically reserved for the power, the rage, the confrontation and, yes the anger, of the vagina—and the women attached to them. In short, welcome to V-week.
“Once you start thinking about it every week is penis week . . .the point is there is a distinction in the experience between men and women in this country-and on this campus, everything from academics to social interactions ,” Rhiannon Andreini, co-coordinator of the Women’s Center explains on the need for V-week as an affirmation of the feminine experience.
V-week is probably one of the most popular themed-weeks of the year, bearing a designated focus on feminine agendas and primarily raising awareness of, and calling for, a stop to violence against women.
How it started: 1996 introduced Eve Ensler’s answer to feminine empowerment—the explication of the vagina, “The Vagina Monologues.” Since its inception over a decade ago, thousands of women have been allowed a forum for their voices, cries and even orgasmic moans. Ensler, a survivor of incestuous sexual abuse, created the monologues after interviewing approximately 200 women about their sexual experiences. Inspired by these stories, and driven by a lust to empower women, Ensler sculpted the stories gathered from the interviews into a series of monologues, all of which she initially performed herself in a one-woman show. As the show gained popularity, the different segments began to be performed by multiple actresses, and soon the monologues disseminated across America, eventually becoming a staple at universities across the nation, including Western.
Ensler created V-day, Feb. 14, as a call to arms to stop violence against women and raise awareness. V-day quickly amassed into V-week as the popularity and awareness of Ensler’s causes grew, and here we are, finding ourselves in the midst of the Associated Students Women Center’s most climactic week of the year. The Women’s Center will premiere Western’s annual production of the monologues Friday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, while also sponsoring V-Week. The Vagina Monologues will run through Sunday, Feb. 18th. The Women’s center won’t be completely focusing on vagina-talk however, and will also be presenting “A Few Good Women,” the Upfront Theatre’s all women improv comedic performance on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., admission is free. Also, Neko Case, of the New Pornographers, will be performing a sold-out show in honor of V-Day on Wednesday.
“I think we have such a fear about addressing painful and messy things, you know, like how it’s such a shock to people that violence takes place in women’s homes usually by someone the victim knows,” Jessica Tracey, co-coordinator of the Women’s Center said on the confessional approach of the Monologues. “No one wants to go there because they think that these things happen to other people, or it’s scary, or it forces people to address what’s wrong.”
The monologues and Ensler, notorious for their shared unabashed sexual discourse and cathartic confessional-like soliloquies have, however, met criticism. The Women’s Center’s coordinators do admit to the Monologues’ tendency to marginalize minority groups, a common criticism. However, both coordinators have been working with this years Monologue’s cast to address such critiques, according to Andreini. They’ve asked cast members to internalize and acknowledge some of the Monologue’s flaws, and to recognize the social repercussions and meanings that underlay the work. Hopefully, the outcome will be a socially aware resonance that will shine through the cast member’s performances.
Criticisism continued, traditionally, as right-wing conservatives have always had qualms with the pro-masturbatory, sexually hedonistic and lesbian aspects of the Monologues, some of the most biting criticisms have been dished out by other feminists. Betty Dodson, a prominent sex educator and a founding mother of the pro-sex feminist movement, in her critical article “Vagina Monologues & V-Day,” criticizes the Monologues for their preoccupation with male enacted violence, the constant blame on the patriarchal order, rather than more of a focus on sexual autonomy and liberation.
Other criticisms have included the monologues perception as anti-hetero. The monologues also have been accused of endorsing statutory-rape in a lesbian context. Specifically, the monologues’ segment, “The Coochie Snorcher That Could,” received much controversial attention. The soliloquy is a segment where a woman recalls her first positive sexual experience at the age 13 with a woman much older. Ensler has since changed the age to 16 and has threatened to sue any groups performing the original version. Even with Ensler’s editing, it is hard to dispute that the monologues do have a preoccupation with the negative depictions of female victimization at the hand of a male dominated society. However, the Women’s Center coordinators feel the Monologues act as a necessary communicating, violence awareness tool, despite such criticisms.
“I think that there’s a fine line between victimization and being able to share a story, and not being able to share a story and being silenced is kind of like the biggest victimization of all,” Andreini said. “I think the fact that these women were finally able to share these stories with Eve Ensler is survival, is like quintessential survival.”
Coupled with Ensler’s Vagina Monologues is Western’s own unique production, the Vagina Memoirs. The memoirs differ from the monologues in that, as the monologues are a pre-written play, albeit frequently revised, the memoirs are a compilation of Western’ students’ own monologues, their own personal stories that they perform themselves.
“The power of the memoirs comes from the fact that it’s people up there reading their story—that it’s their story,” Emily Barker, one of three directors for the Vagina Memoirs said. “The monologues are great, and they raise a lot of money for different organizations, but the memoirs—the performers are really emotionally invested in what they talk about.”
The memoirs, established at Western approximately four years ago, have traditionally competed for attention with the well-known monologues. The memoirs act as a sort of supplement to the monologues, or even a reactionary step to the monologues, if you will. However, though the memoirs are a next-step-approach to the monologues, they are not completely absolved from the shadow of some of the monologues.
“With the memoirs we want to give participants free reign to write about whatever they need to write about, but if that happens to deal with issues of victimization that’s just a reflection of where our society is at. And I also feel that that can be looked at as negative, but for the people performing, it is generally for them a very empowering and affirming experience,” Barker said.
This year, to avoid competition with the Monologues, the Women’s Center has moved the Memoir performances to the week after V-Week. Performances of the Vagina Memoirs start on Tuesday, Feb. 20th at Fairhaven College Auditorium and continue on Thursday, Feb. 22 at The Connection at Anything Grows, Friday at the Fairhaven Public Library and on Saturday Feb. 24th at the YWCA Ballroom. All performances start at 7pm and are free.
Continuing in the reverence of the vagina, or body parts in general, a new Viking Union Gallery exhibit focusing on body image stereotypes will also be accompanying V-Week. The exhibit, entitled, “The Skin I’m In,” will display student and locally created works of art that address and respond to body image issues. The show will run from Feb. 12 through March 2, with a reception on Feb. 22 from 6 to 8 pm. The exhibit is being sponsored by the Positive Body Image club in conjunction with the Women’s Center. Hopefully such positive women-loving exhibits as these can help put the Vagina back in V-day, and take away some of the violence. Donations will be accepted at all V-Day events for the global V-Day campaign to stop violence against women, as well as for Lummi Victims of Crime and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services.