Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mentioning unmentionables

Students use 'Vagina Monologues' to stimulate discussion about women

March 12, 2003
"The Vagina Monologues," a production written by Eve Ensler, opens at Wharton Center's Pasant Theatre on Thursday. —

Vagina.

OK, let's be honest. That's hard to write, difficult to read and embarrassing to say. No one wants to talk about ... well ... "down there."

It bothers us - all of us. Women blush (and they have vaginas), heterosexual men cringe (and they're supposed to like vaginas), and even gay men get uncomfortable (and they, let's be honest here, are indifferent to vaginas' existence).

You'd think - at least - lesbians would love to talk about vaginas. But even that's too often a stretch of the imagination.

Vaginas simply are uncomfortable fodder for conversation. They've never quite been mainstream enough to talk about.

But watch out. A movement is afoot to put vaginas - clitoris, labia, vulva and all - in your face.

You can't avoid them anymore.

Public orgasms

It's not often that you can walk into a room and find a group of women moaning. Yup, moaning - with deep, panting, exasperated groans.

You know, the kind of moaning that embarrasses your mother.

But that's what "The Vagina Monologues" is for. Well, not so much the moaning, but getting past the embarrassment of talking about women's bodies and really addressing women's issues.

Until recently - "The Vagina Monologues" wasn't published until 1998 - it just hasn't been socially acceptable for women to talk about sex or their bodies. Vaginas, and everything that goes along with them, have been a source of shame.

"It's just not something you talk about at the kitchen table," psychology junior Mirjana Nikolovski said. "Maybe we need to take it to the kitchen table.

"There's no reason for it to be shameful or hidden. It's something that gives you pleasure and makes you happy."

And here it comes - again. For four years, a group of MSU students has used the all-female show to break the silence about women's bodies on campus. This year's show, which includes Nikolovski as a performer, opens Thursday.

The monologues in the show are sometimes funny, sometimes scandalous, sometimes deeply sad and always thought-provoking. But they all carry one simple message.

"In one word, I'd say it's empowering," said Tiffany Mitchenor, a telecommunication senior and performer in this year's show. "It makes me feel good about who I am and all the parts that make me a woman."

The campus production is a part of V-Day, an effort founded by "Vagina Monologues" author Eve Ensler to raise awareness about women's issues.

It's an in-your-face undertaking. Be prepared to hear frank talk about sex, violence against women and, of course, vaginas.

There's a whole lot of talk about vaginas.

"People don't like to talk about it because of embarrassment," said Jessi Michelotti, a general management and Spanish sophomore and monologue performer. "It's not a bad thing. Vagina - it's a body part."

Vaginas to end violence

Nationwide, the V-Day movement (the V stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina) has raised more than $14 million in its five years of existence. Its goal this year is to raise awareness of violence against women and encourage women to begin speaking out if they've been assaulted.

At MSU, 20 cases of sexual assault were reported to campus police in 2001, the most recent numbers available. But sexual assault experts say most assaults aren't reported. A college with 10,000 students could experience more than 350 rapes a year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

"The social stigma that's associated with sexuality in general has a negative impact when there's been a sexual assault," said Holly Rosen, director of MSU Safe Place, an on-campus domestic violence shelter. "That makes it more difficult for victims to come forward and talk about what they've experienced."

"The Vagina Monologues" is one way Rosen sees to break that silence and end the violence.

Proceeds from this year's MSU production go to Safe Place and The Listening Ear Crisis Intervention Center, a crisis hotline service that sometimes deals with sexual assaults.

And organizers of the monologues hope they can create a dialogue to counter recent events such as the "Girls Gone Wild" taping near campus this semester and reports of increasing sexual harassment at South Complex's midnight screams event during finals week.

"It's an issue that's way too often brushed under the table because people don't want to talk about it," said Kim Drotar, a social relations and women's studies sophomore and show organizer.

Vaginal barriers

But it's not necessarily an easy thing to start a dialogue about vaginas, even when it's for a good cause.

Even the performers of the show have a rough time getting started talking about vaginas.

"I haven't even invited my dad and he wants to come see it," said Mitchenor, who performs the inspiration monologue, "The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could." "But I'm just scared to have him come."

The biggest obstacles, though, come from people who don't understand the purpose behind the show. There's no doubt "The Vagina Monologues" is a raw look at a taboo topic, and that can push some people too far.

Fliers for the show that include the words "cunt" and "pussy" have been torn down from hall bulletin boards (the show tries to reclaim these words from their negative connotations). And some residence hall officials have denied requests to hold tampon drives for the women of Safe Place.

"It throws people for a loop they're not used to," said English and studio art sophomore Arielle Popkey, who helped organize the campus show. "But it's not a nasty show at all."

Enough about vaginas

And, of course, there's the hurdle of convincing men that the show is worthwhile for them, too.

"It's fun and it's also hard for them to see, but it's good for them to see," said performer Kelly Megel, an advertising and telecommunication junior. "They can just say their girlfriends forced them to see it."

At times the show is critical of men, but the cast and crew of more than 60 women are hardly man-haters. Many have boyfriends and close relationships with their dads.

And no, there's not a P-Day to honor the problems men face or a "Penis Monologues" to share the stories of men's troubles.

But there's a simple solution to that.

"It only cost us $88 to put on this show," Drotar said. "Write it and put it on."

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