Vagina Monologues fleshes out a ‘culture of vaginas’

Naseem Syed

“We were worried about our own vaginas. It needed a context of other vaginas– a community, a culture of vaginas. There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding [vaginas]– like the Bermuda Triangle. No one ever reports back from there,” Clara Greskoff ‘18 recited from the opening of The Vagina Monologues to a large turnout Feb 9 in Bomberger Auditorium.

The monologues, written by Eve Ensler in 1996, were originally adapted from interviews with over 200 women. The performances thoroughly explored a “culture of vaginas” by examining topics such as body image, sexual empowerment, LGBTQ identity, gender transition and orgasms. The monologues also addressed issues such as sexual assault, female genital alteration and domestic abuse.

The Peer Advocates, a prevention and advocacy group on campus, organized the event to educate about sexual misconduct and offer a supportive space for open dialogue.

Sam Hageman ‘18, a Peer Advocate, directed this year’s rendition of The Vagina Monologues.

Hageman emphasized that the monologues are meant to desensitize people to the word “vagina” and normalize its use in everyday language.

“[The monologues] reinforce that the body is nothing to be ashamed of.  In college, students are rediscovering themselves mentally, emotionally – but we don’t [usually consider] physically as well,” Hageman said.

Rehearsals for the monologues began last December. Hageman strongly urged the students involved to openly interpret their monologues in a way that brings out their personality and the emotional journey of the words.

“These [monologues] are stories of  women that couldn’t speak on their own.” Hageman said. “We put it up on a platform to say– ‘Hey, this is a vagina and these are its problems’–and mixed it up with comedy. This is how you represent other women’s voices.”

Hageman decided to direct after doing her Summer Fellows research on the theater of social justice with theatre professor Dr. Meghan Brodie. She was interested in how theater of social justice could be used a tool to communicate, in making social justice issues accessible to the audience.

Hageman, a theater major, took a directing class with theatre professor Domenick Scudera last spring, and performed “My Angry Vagina” in last year’s monologues. Originally majoring in biology, Hageman said seeing the monologues as a freshman influenced her switch in major.

Senior Skye Gailing also chose to perform a piece close to her research as an anthropology major.

After writing an research paper on “the feminist reclamation of the word cunt” in her Structure of the English Language class with English professor Dr. Kara McShane, Gailing spelled out the word in “Reclaiming Cunt” to replace its pejorative connotation with a positive description of what it really is:

a vagina.

“[Considering that] the Vagina Monologues are based on interviews–the monologues are  a piece of scholarship that I’ve cited in my research,” Gailing said. “[Ensler] took a constructive way to turn academic work into activist work and make it accessible to the public. This inspired me to take a creative approach in my work.”

In “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” Rae Hodenfield ‘18 dressed for the part of a sex worker, with dildo and tassel in hand, to destigmatize the profession in offering a validating perspective in her character’s free expression of sexuality.

“Sex work is stigmatized as this ‘fake and disgusting last chance for survival’ – but it’s not. Some use [sex work] to supplement their real job to support themselves. Some, like the character I played, feel empowered by [their work],” Hodenfield said.

Hodenfield acknowledged that there seems to be a problem with being a woman and being sexual in society.

“I’ve been called a slut, but this monologue helped me not only feel okay about being sexual, but proud and empowered,” Hodenfield said. “Everyone should see that vaginas come with pain, humiliation and ugliness – but also power, beauty and love.”

Biology professor Dr. Rebecca Roberts performed “I Was There in the Room,” a monologue about childbirth and the awe of a grandmother as witness. Hageman reached out to Roberts after seeing her work in sophomore Tom Armstrong’s recent film, Tune Out.

Beyond supporting students in the classroom, Roberts believes professors ought to model that a full life encompasses more than work.

“I am a teacher, a scientist, a student, a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, an artist. Participating in the Vagina Monologues was just one more way to engage with students,” Roberts explained.

When Dr. Roberts got home the night of the performance, her 9-year old daughter had drawn her a bouquet of flowers.  Her daughter asked her what the show was about. Roberts said, “It’s a show about being a strong and powerful woman.”

Her daughter made a muscle with her arm and said, “I’m a strong woman!”

“That is why I did it,” Roberts explained. “all of us should feel that way.”

Hageman noted that there was a larger turnout for the event in Bomberger Auditorium than in previous years, especially among first-year students.

The Class of 2021 contributed overwhelming support from the beginning- their class president, Carver Wolfe ‘21, organized a fundraiser with the class council and designed an advertising campaign that had a strong presence on campus, Gailing said.

Wolfe also performed the piece “Six-Year Old Girl,” which highlighted how young children understand their body.

“Freshmen, no matter how they identify, should walk away from this show with a newfound openness to starting a dialogue about self-awareness and identity,” said Wolfe.

Proceeds from the event were donated to Laurel House, a comprehensive domestic violence agency in East Norristown, PA that offers resources for those affected by domestic violence and their families, according to Hageman.

The Peer Advocates also reached out to the Victim Services Center in Montgomery County, PA, to table the event.    Hageman explained that the group wanted to offer students access to resources and remind them of its presence in the area.

“The Peer Advocates are evolving – we do similar work, but on a smaller scale. We want to adjust how we educate people and our approach to providing sufficient support, especially in the reporting process,” Hageman said.

Free ‘vagina cookies’ baked by members of Queer House are available in prevention and advocacy educator Jessica Oros’ office in lower Wismer. A donation of $5 is suggested– proceeds will go to Laurel House.