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Vaginal discourse opens minds

The Vagina Monologues
Smith Memorial Student Union
3rd Floor ballroom
Feb. 20-21, 7-9 p.m.
$10 students, $12 general
With attendance at a 2001 “Vagina Monologues” show filling the 18,000 seats of Madison Square Garden, it appears that the trappings of “modesty” may finally be on their way out, being replaced by a new policy of openness and appreciation. Thanks to Eve Ensler’s “Monologues,” inspired by interviews with more than 200 women of various backgrounds, the vagina has entered the popular consciousness as something other than an embarrassing vessel of birth. Instead, the monologues have helped to spur communication between women about the many ways that their bodies affect their lives and how they have dealt with the vaginal taboo.

As a man attending last year’s “Vagina Monologues,” it was obvious that I was not the target audience. My own part, after all, has been celebrated in architecture and design for as long as human records exist. The monologues make, fortunately, no concessions to men and make no apology for their brash assertion of empowerment.

While reading the monologues on paper can make it easier to understand the specific people who are giving their stories, seeing a group performing the monologues live has a different and even more important function. The performance celebrates not only the individual experiences of women, but, to an even greater degree, encourages openness and community within groups of women. Those delivering the monologues tend to huddle in a group, delivering the monologues not so much to the audience as to one another, encouraging women in the audience to build communities where they can relate their own stories.

While a great deal of the material focuses on sexual violence, an important topic that deserves all of the exposure that it receives, the essence of the monologues deals with women confronting sexual stereotypes and learning to admire their own stigmatized bodies. Sadly, a confrontation with instances of sexual violence is too often an obstacle that must be overcome in order for a woman to be fully comfortable with her body. In a society that has conditioned women to blame themselves for attacks, opening a dialogue with other women who have had similar experiences can be profoundly enlightening.

The performance, like every performance of the “Vagina Monologues,” will be raising money for select local charities. All of the profits made on Thursday and Friday will be matched by the non-profit V-Day organization. The funds will be used to help fund groups working to stop violence against women and will assist those who are survivors of violence. In 2003, V-Day is expecting to donate $10 million to smaller organizations, grassroots groups that often find themselves strapped for funding, as the U.S. government tends to take little interest in their cause.