Rutgers showcases the multidimensional aspects of femininity in "The Vagina Monologues"
The Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) at Rutgers sponsored the first of three performances of playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s internationally award-winning play, “The Vagina Monologues,” Thursday night at the Livingston Student Center — honoring the millions of women affected by violence every year, according to the VPVA website.
“The Vagina Monologues,” published in 1994, was hailed by The New York Times as “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade,” and has been translated into 48 languages and performed in more than 140 countries, according to Ensler’s website.
“She interviewed hundreds of women and asked them basically about their real life experiences with their vaginas and just the history around being a woman," said Maddy Zijdel, director of the show and a peer education coordinator at VPVA. "She interviewed old women, young girls, prostitutes, but also women from different countries.”
All these stories and interviews then became monologues, she said.
By turns funny, tragic and empowering, the event not only facilitated awareness about violence against women in the United States and around the world, but also captured the many facets of womanhood — from tampons, to frustrations about rape culture, to self-acceptance.
Proceeds from the annual event — as well as from the buttons and T-shirts for sale — will go to the Middlesex County Center for Empowerment, which is the rape crisis center in Middlesex County, Zijdel said.
She said that VPVA works closely with the Center for Empowerment, because if a Rutgers student is sexually assaulted and wishes to complete a rape kit, they may go either to the hospital or to the center.
“Rutgers is just one dot in a map of thousands of these going on across the world,” said Brady Root, the executive director and producer of the Rutgers show and the prevention education coordinator for VPVA.
Four years after publishing “The Vagina Monologues,” Ensler and a group of women from New York City established an organization called V-Day on Valentines Day in 1998, according to the V-Day website.
Since then, local V-Day activists have performed “The Vagina Monologues” and other pieces worldwide as a way to raise more than $100 million in support of “grassroots anti-violence groups, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and safe houses” from the United States, to Kenya and to Afghanistan, according to the website.
“V-Day is the vehicle that gets the activism out to the communities,” Root said, explaining that any university, city or organization can receive the material to perform “The Vagina Monologues” for no cost.
For Ria Rungta, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, performing in "The Vagina Monologues" was a way to experience something new.
“This is not only my first 'Vagina Monologues,' but my first time acting on stage ever,” she said. “I am a hard-core science major and this is completely out of my comfort zone."
Rungta explained that as a transfer student from India, she has wanted to be involved since learning about "The Vagina Monologues" from her mother several years ago, who saw the show performed in India.
In an effort to pull in additional voices from the community, Root said that this year’s show will feature three original pieces in addition to Ensler’s monologues: two spoken word pieces and one song accompanied by the conga drum.
“It’s not just for women to come to watch it,” said Loren Linscott, the director of VPVA. “It is women-centered, but I think men can learn a lot from the perspective and the experiences that are being shared.”
Linscott added that last year a fraternity attended as an entire group to see the performance. “At first they were totally awkward, and then you look over and they are pretty much comfortable and laughing and feeling a part of it,” he said.
The show includes a learning aspect for both men and women, he said, but especially for men.
There are serious topics and serious social issues that are taken on, Linscott said, but because it is intermingled with humor, it shows the multidimensional aspect of being a woman.
Despite its focus on femininity, the show is not only about heterosexual white women, Zijdel said. It takes on topics from all around the world. The show talks about the seriousness of genital mutilation in one monologue, transgender women in another and more.
The show covers an array of experiences and emotions, from the tragedy of rape in “My Vagina Was My Village,” to the revelations of a tax lawyer turned sex worker in “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” to the observations of a woman witnessing her granddaughter’s birth in “I Was There in The Room.”
Cristal Flores is a School of Arts and Sciences senior whose performance included a monologue called “The Angry Vagina.”
“It is very easy for me to embody the emotion behind each line, because we have a lot to be angry about," she said. "Society tells us to act a certain way or tries telling us what we should be doing with our vaginas.”
Root said that there are even one or two alumni participating in the event, to represent the fact that these issues persist beyond college and that there are always ways to be connected to the activism.
Abby Weinick, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore performing in the event for the second time, said that she hopes people walk away from the show having learned something about ending sexual violence.
“This is not an individual’s problem," she said. "It’s an everybody problem, and change starts when there’s a recognition of a problem and an ability to see where one can be an advocate in their community, social and professional circles.”