Monday, February 23, 2015

Brown bag reflections: Vagina Monologues

On 17th Feb, Women's Studies Center held a brown bag to discuss the Vagina Monologues with some of the cast and crew of the show. The show was held the weekend earlier from Feb 14-16 in Brehmer Theater to a packed audience all three nights. The brown bag began with some of the cast in the audience performing bits of their monologues. The director of the show this year, Natasha Torres '15, then began the conversation talking about her own experience seeing VM for the first time her first year, "I thought it was one of the most radical things I'd seen. There were women telling 'cunt'! I was also like what is wrong with them…" The next year she decided to audition for a role and she has been a part of it every year since. "I hadn't seen my vagina before I don't think. It made me realize I needed to get in touch with myself." Her words were echoed by some of the other panelists Sahara Zamudio, Monica Hoh, Anika Rutah and Nina Cook. Torres also talked about her role as a director, and how bonding within the cast/crew and conversations between them, and fostering that community was the most important aspect of the job for her. She reminisced that the community built around the show without her even realizing it. She also touched upon some of the problematic aspects within the show: its rigidity, and silences for instance. Those two in particular lingered in the discussion even as praises for the show featured in all the panelists' experience. 
Having been a part of the show myself, I have been thinking about the silences within the script myself. I remember Natasha's concerns about it and her efforts to alleviate some of them through the charity element of the show and the clit-tail hour that adds local Colgate experiences to the show. Even then, the show, while phenomenal, can often feel cripplingly inadequate, particularly in its limited inclusion of trans women and their experiences. Not misleading to its name, Vagina Monologues, only does include monologues and experiences--while pioneering and wide-ranging--of not women, but persons with vaginas. It has been a controversial issue for the show in recent years, with Mt. Holyoke College even scrapping the performance of the show entirely for the same reason.
It leads me to wonder however, about how helpful banning or not performing the show is in the big picture. The show is still pretty radical in its concept. Especially at a place like Colgate, so rife in slut-shaming and sexual assault and yet so silenced in the topic of sexuality of women, a group of women leading the stage talking about experiences with vaginas is incredibly powerful. As Hoh talked about her reaction after seeing the show her first time her first year, "That's probably the first time I have heard the word 'vagina' so many times." She is more than likely not alone in her reaction. As she remarked subsequently, "Why is it so?" Why are we not talking about this more? I think the show helped me have more honest conversations with my friends." Similar to Hoh, if the show nudges students on this campus to think about vaginas, and sexuality, and consent, say if it makes a drunk fratbro wonder about his partner's needs for once, then the show has more than done its job. On the show defense, there is only so much awareness and ground one show can cover--and the show already goes for three hours! This is not to say however, that the show couldn't do a better job of including more wide-ranging experiences. For now, maybe one way to go about improving the show without scrapping it altogether would be to encourage those silences to be filled in the optional clit-tail hour, as this year's show tried to. 

-Liza Paudel

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