The V Speaks: ‘The Vagina Monologues and Our Voices 2019’
By Julia Chin, Staff Writer
“If your vagina could speak, what would it say?” This past weekend, this was the question that The Vagina Monologues asked of Gettysburg College.
The episodic play was written by social activist Eve Ensler in 1994 and has endured as a quintessentially college-age production ever since. The work is a collection of monologues that reflect the experiences of over 200 women of diverse backgrounds whom Ensler interviewed during the play-writing process. Many discussions in these interviews focused on the women’s sexuality, abuse, and gender discrimination. Performances of The Vagina Monologues gained immense popularity and encouraged women across the globe to share their stories.
Once Ensler realized the impact her work had on the fabric of social culture, she established V-Day on February 14, 1998. This 501(c)(3) organization is dedicated to the termination of global violence against women and girls, using the profits from art forms like Ensler’s to spread awareness of gender-based violence and donate money to victim service agencies. Only in the month of February, National Dating Violence Awareness Month, does Ensler allow her play to be performed across the globe, donating the profits to charitable organizations for survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.
On Friday, February 22, over forty Gettysburg College students strode into the CUB ballroom, cloaked in confidence and a variety of red attire. A quartet of fruit slices with the caption “If this fruit could talk…” was featured on white shirts worn by some audience members, sold alongside tickets for the night’s showing of The Vagina Monologues & Our Voices 2019. All proceeds generated by this Women’s Center production would soon be on their way to Survivors, Inc. of Gettysburg.
The first half of the production, The Vagina Monologues, opened with an introduction by Marion McKenzie ‘19, one of the show’s three co-directors alongside Mariam Martinez ‘21 and Caoilainn McKenna ‘21. Now a senior, McKenzie has been involved with The Vagina Monologues since she was a first-year. She says that back in 2016, she felt inspired to go beyond her comfort zone and participate due to the monologues’ support of Survivors, Inc. in Adams County.
Thirteen monologues followed, ranging from the comedic anecdote of “The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy” to the tragic story of graphic rape in “My Vagina Was My Village.” Overall, the short, spoken segments took on a very feminist voice that provided an outlet for both resistance in “My Angry Vagina” and reclamation in “Reclaiming Cunt.” Each episode was a reflection of the women’s experiences that Ensler gathered twenty-five years ago, and each was welcomed by a round of enthusiastic cheers from the packed audience.
However, the performance did not end with The Vagina Monologues but continued to include a brand new section titled Our Voices. On the last page of the pamphlets handed out at the show, there was a brief note regarding The Women’s Center addendum, describing Our Voices as the “homegrown” half of the production. It stated that this platform “was created in hopes of providing the opportunity to amplify less heard voices of other self-identifying underrepresented women groups, including women of color and transwomen, as well as individuals who identify as gender non-conforming.”
Previously, Leigh Richard ‘19 had added a note before “The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy,” letting the audience know that not all women have vaginas nor are all people with vaginas women. For context, the monologue opened with the line “I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as separate things.” In response now, Richard has argued, “This is incorrect. As Marion said in the opening, vaginas do not mark womanhood. I chose to keep these opening lines in the monologue to keep the integrity of her experience as it was written around 30 years ago. We are now several steps ahead in our understanding and study of gender but that was what she knew, and kind of like Looney Toons putting up an acknowledgement of problematic content before some of their older cartoons to show that they are aware of its presence rather than trying to pretend that it did not happen by removing it, I thought it worthwhile to keep and address that segment upfront.”
Thus, they express the need for Our Voices. Richard further remarked that The Vagina Monologues alone “does not give a space for AFAB [assigned female at birth] trans folx. I wanted to write my own for the Our Voices section, but I got nervous because my own experience is not the same as others. I cannot be ‘the’ representative for the trans community, especially since my being gender-fluid gives me a different perspective of myself and my own body.” However, their favorite part was listening to stories shared by peers. “I feel like I got to know a sacred part of their lives,” they reflected.
McKenzie expressed similar views, saying, “Watching Our Voices come to life and see such powerful women share a piece of themselves and their experiences with the audience— that was something I felt honored to have been a witness to.” She added, “I believe Our Voices was a creation originally thought of by one of the other directors, Mariam Martinez, but the three of us together, in conjunction with Valentina Cucuzza, were able to breathe life into this new portion of the show.”
Each of the stories shared in Our Voices was intimately personal and inspiring; however, Melanie Pangol ‘21 nearly brought the house down in applause. Entitled “To My Weightlifting ‘Oppressors’ Fellows,” Pangol’s fierce, spoken-word speech followed her undertaking of weightlifting for the past two years and the microaggression she had experienced mostly from white, cisgender male athletes at the campus gym.
“Our Voices had absolutely gave me a space where I have been able to express my identities,” Pangol later said. “Due to my first year experience in the monologues I felt extremely conflicted because I realized that it only centered around white cis gender feminism, especially in seeing that most of the participants were white sorority girls. This was seen as that the program coordinator did not made an effort to include marginalized voices, and that to me was extremely problematic since white cis gender women need to realize that they need to stop occupying spaces (spaces that historically have prioritize their voices) and instead use their privilege to give access to marginalized voices. Therefore, white feminists not only need to address that womxn have live and gain various forms of organic knowledge but also actually start to practice what it means to be an ally and stop undermining us through lip service.”
“Nevertheless,” Pangol clarified, “I am also aware that my piece has also some problematic aspects in regards to prioritizing a muscular body over others types of bodies. What I mean is that I have a privilege of not having problems with body image disorder, I am full body, I have no experience with eating disorders, and I have access to a healthy tool such as the gym. Therefore my struggle within the gym is a struggle that has become the dominant perspective which invalidates other types of body struggles. It is necessarily for me to address this problem with my piece because if not I will be doing the same thing that white cis gender sorority girls did with my experience in the last year Vagina Monologues.”
“I want all womxn that have felt voiceless to realize their own power,” Pangol concluded. “Being a transnational queer woman of color on campus is extremely overwhelming because I feel like I have to pick my fights, but this does not mean that I have no power because at the end of the day knowing who you are and where you stand not only in this campus but in society is an act of resistance.”
With all this emphasis on inclusion and diversity, McKenzie noted that this will be the last year that the college’s Women’s Center will perform The Vagina Monologues. “Although I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of The Vagina Monologues for the past four years, and I am so thankful for the ways it has made me grow, I am excited to see the campus move on from its message, because it is problematic in its lack of representation of intersectionality,” she said after the final performance on Saturday. “I am sad it took us this long to raise these questions, but I know Mariam [Martinez] and Caoilainn [McKenna] are going to do amazing things with this show in the future to move away from the problematic and exclusive nature The Vagina Monologues has showcased in the past.”
“Providing platforms and support to marginalized groups is incredibly important,” she additionally declared. “All of us brings a unique and different perspective to share, and it is up to all of us to listen and learn from one another in order to make progress and build each other up in the face of discrimination and violence.”
Though Gettysburg College is saying goodbye to The Vagina Monologues, McKenzie promises that in future years, Our Voices, or some variation of it, will continue to be performed, proving the Women Center’s final statement that “our future is bright, fiercely feminist, and INTERSECTIONAL.”