The Vagina Monologues Should be an Ongoing Conversation

By Jennifer Long

vmOur society is not yet inclusive or representative of all people’s voices. Women, for example, have a number of experiences related to violence and oppression that still need to be heard and championed.

DePaul’s 18th Annual Vagina Monologues was a reminder of that fact. A reminder, because decades after Eve Ensler wrote and performed the original play at the Off-Broadway Westside Theatre, her words are still recited and are still able to disarm and empower an audience.

I had the pleasure of attending this play on the Lincoln Park campus in early February. It helped me grow in my understanding of DePaul women.

A collaborative effort between The Women’s Center, the Theatre School and the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness, this performance activism entitled “Vagina Monologues” raises awareness of the breadth of women’s experiences through Eve Ensler’s writing and personal monologues written by DePaul students.

It’s performed every year at DePaul around Valentine’s Day weekend, and proceeds from ticket sales support three on-campus organizations: Rape Victim Advocates, A Long Walk Home and Take Back the Halls. In fact, performances all over the country under this name have raised over $100 million dollars in support of women’s and domestic organizations since its inception.

I should have known that this combination of expression, intention and vulnerability would be reviving.

Throughout the play, audience members were encouraged to clap, holler or snap whenever a monologue resonated. I imagine many, like me, lost count of how many times they participated. It was remarkable to be in the presence of brave women who shared their stories and brought the experiences of others to life by reciting monologues. I felt empowered and connected to a community of DePaul women, women everywhere and their allies.

The personal monologues from DePaul students were particularly startling. They opened my eyes to the broad range of our female students’ experiences—experiences I wasn’t aware of at my own alma mater as an undergraduate.

One particular monologue revolved around conversations that had floated around campus last year. These “#triggered” conversations were in response to racial tension and insensitivity toward those suffering on campus due to their race, sexual identity or experience with sexual violence. This monologue was a reminder that we could all do better at thinking about the impact that our words and actions can have not only in the DePaul community, but in all communities.

And then there was a monologue that clearly articulated consent—how it is defined and supported at DePaul, and how DePaul continues the conversation on consent on many college campuses today.

Interestingly, after some contextual research on the subject, I learned there have been conflicting perspectives regarding these performances. Mostly, that the language used and voices represented were too narrow by focusing heavily on a white, middle-class female experience. Arguably, the platform has grown to include the voices of women with diverse backgrounds and varying identities, including transwomen.

One transwoman DePaul student, who had recently passed away, was unable to share her story that weekend. But a draft of her monologue was posted near the exit. By acknowledging her voice in this way, it was clear how DePaul values expanding the platform to include more voices and experiences—in a way that the original performance may not have done decades prior. Surely though, it could still grow to be even more inclusive.

I highly recommend attending this play the next time it is available on campus or in your community. Whether it is “The Vagina Monologues” or any other performance activism for a marginalized or oppressed community, all who attend will leave with a broader perspective of society.

If more people’s voices and experiences are heard, society might become more inclusive and understanding.

While the people in the audience may have had different identities or definitions of feminism, may not have had vaginas, may not have experienced sexual violence and oppression, they can still become allies for the community and help continue the conversation that works to eliminate violence and oppression of women.

How will you help continue the conversation?

Jennifer Long is a DWN member at large and an assistant director of development for DePaul’s Richard H. Driehaus College of Business.

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