Smile Politely

The Vagina Monologues at U of I

Tuesday evening the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Illinois hosted a sneak peak at The Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler in 1996 to celebrate femininity and more particularly… the vagina.

The monologues, each performed by a different cast member, tell the true tales of women’s experiences with their own vagina. Topics range from sex, masturbation, menstruation and birth, as well as the more difficult subjects of rape, genital mutilation and the social stigma surrounding abuse.

The play originally opened in New York in October of 1996 and has since been translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. Although it was met with criticism for a negative portrayal of male and female relationships, the play was such a success that Ensler founded V-Day, a global activist movement dedicated to ending violence against women and girls.

Each year between February 1st and April 30th, groups of women across the globe produce a performance of the play. This year, V-Day at the University of Illinois will host their production on February 27th and February 28th at 6:30 p.m. in the Lincoln Hall Auditorium. Proceeds will benefit V-Day at UIUC and the Center for Women in Transition, a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Damaris Rodriguez, a student at the university and president of V-Day at UIUC and director of this year’s monologues, joined the production three years ago with her best friends and had participated ever since. Aside from picking the cast of 24 women and organizing rehearsals, Rodriguez and the crew sell t-shirts and vagina pops (cake pops shaped like a vagina) to raise money. Though she acknowledges the fact that her job can be difficult, she wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It has made me a much more confident and empowered person. It has taught me to be accepting and understanding of other people’s experiences and stories and it has taught me to be open with myself and others,” she says. “This show is inspiring and empowering and I am very thankful to be a part of this amazing production.”

Ensler was first inspired to write The Vagina Monologues after discussions with her close friends about their sexual experiences and relationships. From there she conducted interviews of over 200 women of various ages and race in her New York City apartment. A few of the diverse voices include a six-year old girl, an elderly New Yorker,  Afghan women under Taliban rule and a Bosnian survivor of rape.

Sarah Mowitz, who first saw the monologues while she was on a date her sophomore year, is a senior at the university. She now serves on the executive board of V-Day with Rodriguez. Tuesday she performed The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy, a sex worker’s description of her career and the pleasure she took in fulfilling other women’s desires. This year she will be performing My Angry Vagina, a humorous take on tampons and the tools used by gynecologists.

“It’s exciting to be like… this is something for me. Although I do it because part of it is activism and part of it is doing a good thing, it’s really just cathartic and therapeutic to me.”

What contributes to the uniqueness of the monologues as well is that Ensler continues to travel the world and collect women’s stories for further contribution. Since its inception in 1996, a new monologue has been added every year since.

I’m excited for the future to see the new monologues,” says Mowitz, “not only to see where they’re coming but who is telling them.”

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