“The Vagina Monologues” has been revised several times since its creation and in 1998 changed from being a celebration of the vagina to a more serious, worldwide movement to end violence against women.
Written by Ensler in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” is a series of monologues read by women, covering topics like sex, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, birth and orgasm. All monologues are modeled after Ensler’s interviews with over 200 women about sex, violence, relationships and their vaginas.
Some monologues are taken straight from interviews, like the interview with a 6-year-old who said that she knew her vagina “had a really smart brain”; others were taken from several interviews, like the topic of hair.
Every year, as part of this revision process, a new monologue, mandatory for all casts performing the show, is added to the collection by the original playwright, Eve Ensler. This year’s monologue is titled “Rising” and encourages everyone to stand up to stop violence against women and girls. While it is not the first monologue to cover this topic, it does approach the topic from the angles of standing up for all the women, not just those who have been abused in the past.
Each year, in addition to the new monologue, each cast selects a performance to be spotlighted. This year, the VCU cast chose to spotlight the monologue “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy,” which tells the story of several transgender people and their experiences changing sexes.
“I decided to include that monologue again this year because it’s really poignant and it’s a group of people that have previously been excluded by ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” said Erin Willis, who has been involved with “The Vagina Monologues” for four years. “I think it’s really important to include trans voices in this production.”
“The Vagina Monologues” occurs in conjunction with V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women. This year marked the 15th anniversary of V-Day, which has organized events in over 145 countries by volunteer activists between Feb. 1 and April 30 each year. As part of V-Day, “The Vagina Monologues” is a nationwide event that has raised over $90 million for local anti-violence organizations.
Each year, “The Vagina Monologues” chooses an organization to receive 10 percent of the proceeds. This year, “The Vagina Monologues” is raising awareness for the project One Billion Rising, a V-Day movement campaign raising worldwide sexual violence awareness.
Despite their intention, the monologues often create small controversies. Some have been questioned in the past by activists for their politically incorrect nature.
“The Vagina Monologues” at VCU included one of the more controversial monologues called “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could,” a favorite of cast member Jessica Skiles.
“It’s an incredible story,” Skiles said. “It makes you think about what is right and wrong and politically correct. Is it OK that that happened? Was it a good thing?
“I also love that she’s talking about her vagina in a very grown-up way, but she doesn’t have a grown-up word for it.”
Although “Reclaiming C–t” is one of the more shocking pieces of the play, it’s one of the cast’s favorites because of its controversial nature and ability to make the audience squirm in their seats.
At the end of the monologue, audience members are encouraged to shout the profanity with the cast, in an attempt to reclaim it.
“I love the idea of reclaiming things,” said cast member Olivia Begley. “A lot of women that I know think that that’s the worst profane word, … but I love the idea of reclaiming that word as something awesome, because it (means) a vagina and vaginas are awesome.”
For last year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues,” Skiles performed “Reclaiming C–t,” but this year chose to perform the monologue “I Was There In The Room,” in which Ensler discusses the birth of her granddaughter and the similarities between the vagina and the heart.
“I fell in love last year with (“I Was There in the Room”) because it made me cry, because it was so beautiful,” Skile said.
Even though most of the monologues used for the play are the same every year, different movements and dances are added each year by the VCU cast. During the piece “Emotional Creature,” Leah Starns tap danced to the side of the stage while Willis did contemporary dance behind Laura Slade, who read the monologue.
“We decided to make it into a musicalized movement thing because Leah … is tapping the rhythm of the piece and I’m the words, since I’m dancing in a more contemporary style,” Willis said. “We’ve always had a dance piece because we’re talking about vaginas. We’re talking about bodies and bodies move through space. They don’t just talk.”
Although the show attracts a mainly female audience, Willis asserted the importance of men coming to the show.
“I think it’s really important for everybody to come, particularly men, just because it’s a really eye-opening experience,” Willis said. “I’ve talked to a lot of guys who appreciate it. … They say that they never realized all the different things that go on, because the vagina is such a taboo. We’re not supposed to talk about it in our society.”
“The Vagina Monologues” exists mainly as a way to increase awareness of violence against women and girls worldwide. Despite the V-Day movement and others working toward this goal, Willis believes that more can always been done.
“You can never raise too much awareness,” Willis said. “(V-Day and “The Vagina Monologues”) are a really great way to get people involved that wouldn’t necessarily be involved in the movement.”
“The Vagina Monologues” at VCU was presented by the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department (GSEX) and supported by the ASPiRE program. VCU’s Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Education by Students organization was present to talk to the audience after the show.