The Vagina Monologues return to campus, engendering open dialogue
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 03:03
Cohen Auditorium late last month filled to capacity for an unfamiliar and intensely personal purpose: sharing the stories of women and, more specifically, their vaginas.
This year marked the return of the Vagina Monologues, a series of monologues compiled and written by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, to Tufts for the first time since 2010. The monologues are based on more than 200 women’s interviews that Ensler conducted and then published in 1996.
The collection of 15 monologues in the Tufts performance centers on the female experience including both comedic stories and darker, more intimate accounts.
“The monologues bring us through a wave of emotion, women’s experience, [and] address a lot of issues of women’s empowerment, violence against women [and] experience in general,” senior co−director and producer Dani Moscovitch said.
Nearly 20 years after the book’s publication, the play is still popular and performed often. Moscovitch and co−producer and director senior Stella Benezra accessed the script easily from the official Vagina Monologues website, which offers rights to the script for free in exchange for a promise from the users that they will donate funds raised by the show to a local organization fighting violence against women and girls. Senior and stage manager Samantha Jaffe reported that over $7,000 had been raised from the shows to benefit the Transition House, a shelter for battered women in Cambridge, Mass.
According to Read Our Lips, a website for Tufts women to post anonymously about their female experience in connection with the Vagina Monologues, a portion of the funds will also go towards the V−Day campaign. V−Day is a global activist group that works to end violence against women by putting on events such as the Monologues.
The process of bringing the show to the Hill began this fall, when Moscovitch and Benezra held auditions to form a 22−person cast. They also convened the Vag−Team, a group that coordinated fundraising and publicity events for the Monologues.
“A lot of the fundraising that we planned ended up being really great community−building,” Moscovitch said. “It was about as much, if not more, about promoting the messages and values of the show throughout the year and how we were going to do that together.”
However, the main purpose of the show was to bring attention to conversations about women’s issues such as sexual violence, consent culture, sex positivity and sexual health.
“Basically, it’s really important to us to — we say this a lot — to reclaim the conversation,” Moscovitch said. “Bringing that dialogue and that conversation to Tufts through the show and through our events [was] our mission.”
Jaffe says that these issues are very relevant in light of the recent publicity surrounding sexual assault within the NESCAC at Amherst College and continuing conversations on the Hill on these topics.
“I would say it’s been particularly salient this year,” Jaffe said. “It’s gotten a lot of attention from the activist community that already existed at Tufts ... I think that now is a timely moment for it.”
According to Director of the Women’s Center Steph Gauchel, opening up the dialogue to different audiences can be one of the most beneficial aspects of an event like this.
“I think that because the students put on the show, students’ friends and family come to see the performance,” Gauchel said. “People who don’t normally engage in this [now] can.”
Gauchel said that these frank conversations about sex, sexual pleasure and the relationship a woman has with her vagina are important and are unfortunately too often considered taboo.
“Sexual violence is also a conversation that doesn’t happen enough in terms of how often these things are occurring,” she said.
In addition, several of the monologues aim to open up dialogue surrounding words like “vagina” and “c−−t.”
“It legitimizes these conversations and these platforms,” Moscovitch said. “It’s not weird to say ‘vagina’ or to talk about the issues that are brought up after you see the show.”
Along with bringing complicated topics to the foreground, discomfort remains a significant side effect of the Monologues. According to Moscovitch, for instance, one member of the audience got up in the middle of the show and left the auditorium.
Freshman Monologues cast member Sofia Adams, who is also a photo editor for the Daily, said that feeling uncomfortable should prompt questions about why that discomfort arises.
“Being uncomfortable is definitely a legitimate feeling for being in a situation like that,” Adams said.
During a monologue entitled “The little coochie snorcher that could,” a woman talks about impaling her vagina on a bedpost. Jaffe said every time this part of the monologue was performed, the audience laughed.
“Everyone was laughing out of sheer discomfort. They didn’t know what to do except laugh,” she said. “You want people to have these reactions ... you want it to bring up emotions — that’s the point. And it’s not going to be every emotion and it’s not every woman’s story.”
Moscovitch and Benezra said that they try to avoid generalizing the experiences expressed in the show to all women.
“People take this show as being the voice of feminism,” Benezra said, “It’s one piece of work, it’s one interpretation of people’s experiences — it can’t be representative of all women.”
“We wanted to make sure that people didn’t assume these were answers but rather question−starters,” Moscovitch said.
According to senior Emily Wyner, who also performed in this year’s show, the cast, crew and several audience members met last Friday to follow up. They discussed several of the many complexities and confusions raised by the Monologues.