Vagina Monologues promote dialogue about violence against women

Rachel Alexander

Once a year at Whitman, a dozen women stand on stage and talk to the audience about their vaginas. The Vagina Monologues is well known as a provocative and edgy piece of theater, but it’s also part of a global movement called V-Day, which aims to end violence against women.

“We get you in the door with the sexy tagline,” said McKenna Milici, president of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE). “But you’re going to walk out with a lot more than that.”

V-Day was started by feminist activist Eve Ensler, who wrote the Vagina Monologues in 1994. Every year in February, March and April, Ensler gives the rights to the play away for free. In exchange, groups performing The Vagina Monologues pledge to give all ticket sales proceeds to groups working to end violence against women.

Whitman’s showing is put on by FACE and Voices of Planned Parenthood (VOX). The show runs Friday, Feb. 25 to Sunday, Feb. 27, with shows at 7pm in Olin 130. Ten percent of ticket sales to go the international V-Day campaign for their spotlight cause, which will be the women and girls of Haiti this year. All other proceeds are donated to local organizations: Walla Walla Planned Parenthood, the YWCA and the Step To Emerging Possibilities (STEP) women’s shelter.

“We’ve always thought it was really important to donate to local organizations,” said Milici. “We’re part of a larger community.”

Senior Nina Neff, who works as the case manager for the STEP shelter, has seen the impact violence can have in women’s lives.

“Women come in with a very narrow sense of what’s possible,” she said. When asked what goals they have for themselves, Neff has heard women say they want to find a boyfriend who hits them less or a nicer shelter to stay at.

Although theater may seem an unlikely venue for breaking the cycle of violence against women, Milici believes the show helps builds awareness.

“It’s a great way to get a lot of people who otherwise might not take an interest in gender issues,” she said.

The act of producing and rehearsing the show also allows performers to form a close-knit, supportive group. Rehearsals involve discussions about the feelings inspired by the monologues: something Milici refers to as “vagina bonding”. Senior Liesl Olson has participated in the show for three years, and said it allows for important dialogue about gender issues.

“It’s very empowering to be up on stage and talk about your vagina,” she said. “It’s a very taboo subject.”

Rape and sexual violence are also discussed in the show. For Milici, the monologues on these topics are an important way to let women who have been victims know that they are not alone.

“Whitman as a campus is a pretty safe place,” she said. “But there are people who suffer from sexual abuse here, who suffer from sexual harassment here.” Unfortunately, the perception that Whitman is a safe, happy campus can make it harder for victims to process their experiences. Milci said women find themselves asking, “Whitman’s one of the happiest campuses on earth: how could I have been raped?”

For Neff, the issue of violence against women is personal. She has been a victim, as has her mother.

“I feel like I’m in a place where I can take some of the negative experiences I’ve had and use them to help other women,” she said.

At STEP, she helps clients identify their strengths and work toward life improvement goals.

“I really want to see our clients value themselves,” she said. “I don’t think our culture encourages women to value themselves.”

By empowering women to talk about their vaginas openly, Olson believes the The Vagina Monologues can help them value their bodies and feel more confident.

“If women feel more confident about themselves, maybe they can find the confidence to say no or get out of an abusive relationship and go find help,” she said.

For Milici, the take-home message is also about valuing women.

“Don’t take the women in your life for granted,” she said. “Don’t take their bodies for granted. Don’t take their souls for granted.”