By Madison Griffin
As the Vagina Monologues celebrates its 20th birthday in 2016, many people are asking—is the play still relevant to women today?
The Women’s Center at the University of Idaho will be performing its 14th annual production of the Vagina Monologues this year. The show caps off our Body Positive Week—running from Thursday through Saturday at the Kenworthy Theater downtown. Tickets can be purchased at the door or (for a little less) in advance at the Women’s Center or at Eclectica—in the Safari Pearl Comic Shop on 3rd and Jefferson. The money raised from ticket purchases will go to benefit Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, which works to support survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Latah and Whitman Counties.
Check out the show February 18th-20th at 7 pm.
Whether you’re a “Vagina Monologues-Virgin” like myself, or a Vagina Monologues-Veteran, the show still has something to offer. It acts as a rite of passage for many women in college, it benefits a local nonprofit, it brings awareness to the worldwide problem of sexual violence, and it unites women globally through campaigns such as One Billion Rising.
A Little Herstory
The Vagina Monologues first premiered in 1996. It was originally performed by Eve Ensler, the author of the play. As its popularity spread, more actors were brought in until each individual monologue had its own performer. Eve Ensler has interviewed more than 200 women for these monologues and continues to write a spotlight monologue every year to bring attention to new issues and new voices.
In 1998, Eve Ensler helped found V-Day, a global campaign working to bring awareness to violence against women and girls worldwide. To date, the campaign has helped to raise more than $100 million to bring an end to rape, battery, female genital mutilation, incest, and sex slavery. Every February, performances of the Vagina Monologues celebrate V-Day by donating all profits to local groups fighting domestic and sexual violence.
On V-Day 2012, One Billion Rising, representing the number of women who are victimized by sexual violence in their lifetime, started the largest mass-movement in human history to end sexual violence. Every year, millions of women participate worldwide by gathering together and dancing. Why dance? According to Eve Ensler, “Dancing insists we take up space… Dance is dangerous, joyous, sexual, holy, disruptive, and contagious and it breaks the rules.”
Not many plays can claim to have started a revolution.
So, why is this play still relevant 20 years later?
To answer this question, I’ve interviewed Jessica McDermott, a performer from our local show, an MFA nonfiction candidate at the University of Idaho. She has dedicated a lot of her time to activism—and to “activating” her community—through her work at the university’s Center for Volunteerism and Social Action, through her writing, and through her travels (most recently to Sierra Leone).
“The vagina monologues are still relevant because the fight for women’s equality isn’t over. Since the beginning of any feminist movement there has been a conservative back lash that attempts to undo progress. One must simply look at the arson done at the Pullman Planned Parenthood to see this is true. Perhaps sadly, all of the monologues are still relevant today. There is still Female Genital Mutilation that happens across Africa, women are still systematically raped during times of war or even not at times of war, women still fear to show a sincere sexual desire, women still worry that their vaginas are gross. To quote the end of the opening piece, I’m still worried about vaginas.”
-Jessica McDermott, 2016 performer
For the performers, the play offers an opportunity for women of very different experiences and backgrounds to come together united under a single message. And, it’s fun! Jessica says Courtney Kersten, the director, also an MFA candidate, has been excellent at encouraging the cast to really push themselves to delve into their characters. Sam Opdal, the associate director, and Bekah MillerMacPhee, the producer, have also played a big role: “Courtney and Sam (and Bekah) have done a great job of making us feel a part of something larger than ourselves.”
Besides being a historical rite of passage for young women, the play works to engage us on the local level with global issues involving women. And participating in the event is just as fun as performing in it! Alanna Okun, a Buzzfeed contributor, in “Do We Still Need the Vagina Monologues?,” claims that “Perhaps nothing else unites women, especially in college, as effectively for the purpose of combating female assault on a global scale and for talking about issues that are deeply personal (and often unaddressed). Putting on and going to see ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is a kind of activism that hardly feels like activism at all.”
Jessica shares similar thoughts: “The Vagina Monologues is an amazing way to show you support local and international programs that work to help keep women safe and respected. It’s worth the money.”
So, if you want to join me in dropping my Vagina Monologues V-card on V-Day, or join me in celebrating what it means to have a vagina, come to the Kenworthy opening night—February 18th at 7 pm—or to either of the showings on the 19th or 20th.