UCLA students will be able to add their answers to these questions when “The Vagina Monologues” returns to campus this March in an effort to increase awareness and discussion of women’s sexuality and violence against women.
Originally performed in 1996, the play by Eve Ensler is a series of monologues, some funny, some dramatic, all connected to the vagina. Productions are often organized in campaigns known as V-Day that have become increasingly popular on college campuses. These events, as described on the V-Day website, aim to raise money and awareness to “end violence against women and girls.”
In its sixteen years of performance, the play has consistently seen accusations of vulgarity and criticism of its frank sexuality. On college campuses, attempts to organize V-Day campaigns have spawned protests and even campus-wide bans, often from conservative religious organizations.
One such organization is the Cardinal Newman Society, which describes the production as a “sexually explicit and offensive play that favorably describes lesbian activity, group masturbation and the reduction of sexuality to selfish pleasure.” As part of its mission to revise Catholicism on college campuses, the society actively tries to shut down V-Day events at schools around the country.
Although “The Vagina Monologues” has faced no direct opposition on UCLA’s campus, for first-year public health graduate student Echo Zen, producer of the show, V-Day is more necessary than ever in light of continuing inequality. When combatting organizations such as the Cardinal Newman Society, Zen said “we have to compensate by being louder and louder.”
Zen cites hatred and fear of women’s sexuality in public policy, especially in the past two years, as a clear reason for reinstating “The Vagina Monologues” at UCLA.
“People say what’s destroying the country is women being hedonistic sluts who have sex without reproduction … I don’t think it’s hyperbole to state that anti-women policy is violence against women.”
Zen, who spent a year making videos for Planned Parenthood, lists instituting abstinence only policies, denying health care to rape survivors and repealing laws about domestic violence as more subtle ways in which violence against women occurs every day.
“Society blocks out women’s voices,” said Zen. “We need V-Day to create a space for those voices.”
Although students may agree with this sentiment, the mere title of the show can be intimidating and off-putting, let alone the actual content of the monologues. For second-year communications major and theater minor Kausar Mohammed, another producer of the show, fear of discomfort should not deter theatergoers. If anything, UCLA students should come to learn about the very issues that are found controversial.
“These things aren’t talked about. So if you’re uncomfortable, good. The ones who are uncomfortable should come see it the most,” she said. “The show puts everything in a light where it’s not uncomfortable. It’s a different ways of looking at things.”
That a play discussing pubic hair, moaning, rape, and masturbation generates controversy is hardly a surprise, but nevertheless, the audience should try to view the play within the context of art, said Mohammed.
“When you put something on stage like that, it puts the audience in position where it’s not about ‘do I support this’ or ‘I can’t believe they just said vagina.’ It’s about it being art. It puts it in different context.”
For the actors of “The Vagina Monologues,” performing this content can be what first-year theater student Cinnamon Frost described as “nerve-wracking.” However, Frost and her fellow actors overcame the awkwardness of the play through a cast sleepover party. By sharing personal stories, the actors made the monologues more relatable and easier to discuss.
Frost hopes the audience will see the humor in these potentially discomforting scenes. “When we actually perform, we’ll know what makes the audience uncomfortable. But it makes us laugh, and we hope the audience will laugh too.”
Still, Frost said, “I’m definitely not inviting my dad.”
After a year’s gap in what had been an annual tradition, “The Vagina Monologues” will return to UCLA in the Northwest Campus Auditorium on March 2 and 3 through a collaboration of Bruin Feminists for Equality and Social Awareness Network for Activism through Art. The ORL co-programmed event will be free to UCLA students with a suggested donation of five dollars. Ninety percent of funds raised will go to L.A. for Choice, a local organization the supports pro-choice activism, with the remaining 10 percent going to the V-Day Campaign.
Ultimately, the students behind the production of “The Vagina Monologues” hope it will provide a space for women’s voices and encourage rape awareness even after the event has ended. In light of a sexual assault on campus near what is almost universally known as the “rape trail,” it seems such discussion is still necessary for the UCLA community.
According to Zen, “We want every day to be V-Day, even if we aren’t saying it out loud.”
This story will run in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem, online now.
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