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The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler; a corner-stone of the V-Day project, which works to benefit rape and domestic abuse crisis centres for women. The global campaign against violence towards women is, this year, branded and conceptualized as ‘One Billion Rising.’ This concept is inspired by dance; an art form which enables women to use their bodies freely and take up space. This is a metaphor for women’s demand to take a stand against abuse.
Head Director, Sam Aldridge, informed me that two hundred and three countries are rising towards a future in which the female sex will not be subject to abuse; ranging from violence and domestic abuse to circumcision. One in three women are physically or sexually abused within their lifetime. The monologues provide interview accounts of women’s harrowing experiences, but also positive and humorous appeals to women’s sexuality. This encourages an un-repressed and liberating attitude towards women’s sexuality and, parallel to this, an explicit anger towards the miss-treatment of this sexuality. The money raised by Lancaster University’s campaign will be split, so that ninety percent benefits the Lancaster District’s Women’s Aid, with the other ten percent aiding the V-Day campaign.
The monologues were inspirational, humbling and brutal. The entire female cast provided an outlet for the suppressed and concerned; amalgamating into a performance which was angry, screaming, and desirous of positive change. Empowering and, most importantly, legitimizing of female pleasure and expressed sexuality, the performance focused on allowing and encouraging sexual freedom – one that is not abused or horrified by mistreatment. Gender-equal, and, as Sam Aldridge insisted, not at all ‘men-hating’, the performance focuses on homosexual, transgender and heterosexual relationships. This inclusivity and political correctness pleads for a modernized and 21st century outlook towards the status of women, and abhors those who abuse the idea of gender-equality. When asked if the campaign had received support, Sam Aldridge replied that the Feminist Society, Lancaster University’s library and the Sugar House had been extremely accommodating, but that they had been met with some sexist attitudes. I would like to stress, alongside the director, that the Vagina Monologues are expressive of gender-equality, and are attacking of events in which this equality has been compromised.
Performed in Lancaster’s Sugar House, a small stage did not appear restrictive, but instead emphasized the close-ness as well as intensity of all the woman involved, who were striving as a community to support and inspire change. My Vagina Was My Village, a monologue compiled from the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to rape camps, was intensely powerful, explicit and horrifying – a testimony to the damage of female sexual organs, which are essentially defining and representative of female freedom, pleasure and uniqueness. By stripping away the essence of femininity, and leaving a horror (described a black fishing wire sewn around a dead animal) behind, women are left without a sexual future, nor-be-it any normal or unscarred emotional future.
Women’s rights to be sexually liberated, to not have to apologize for female sexuality and be punished by abuse, was emphasized by the hilarity of monologues which un-repressively celebrated the desirous nature of women. The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy told of a sex-worker who pleasured women; allowing both an outlet for self-pleasure as well as the opportunity to encourage women to be sexually selfish, and not shy away from desire. The range of orgasms celebrated at the end included the ‘Harry Potter Orgasm’, and ‘Gavin and Stacy Orgasm’, both of which inspired peals of laughter, especially Nessa’s infamous ‘OH. OH. OH.’
The constant flitting between horror and humour did not trivialise the extremity of the abusive case-studies, but rather juxtaposed what women’s sexuality ought to be, with what it is not allowed to be. The horror was intensified when contextualised against the pleasure and liberalisation that women ought to feel.
As well as the monologue performances, the cast took the One Billion Rising campaign literally, and began with a dance performance which presented the beauty and tranquillity of innocence unscarred by abuse, and also a flash mob. This embraced a sense of community and standing, which inspired the audience to partake in the performance further. The extremely intrapersonal monologues inspired an empathy that is not usually so penetrating, and therefore affected the audience acutely. The success that the performance had in releasing audience and cast emotion was startlingly celebratory – the evening was an opportunity for release of anger and victimisation, and an encouragement of almost a revolt or revolution of the female sex against abuse.
As the cast repeated, ‘the violence ends now.’ The positive, explicit and revolutionary outlook towards female sexuality and the want for female self-expression challenged any negative or condescending stereotypes of feminism, and instead was charged with empowerment and a demand for equality.
For further information about how to make a difference, please see http://www.vday.org/. Many thanks to the entire cast, as well as the Head Director, the charity, and of course, Eve Ensler.