hen you hear the words “V-Day,” you probably think of Valentine’s Day, right? You think of the color red, love, women, poetic words and sex. Well, although February 14th did not take place during this past weekend at Penn, you would still not be wrong.
The Vagina Monologues is a play comprised of monologues written by Eve Ensler. Her inspiration for each monologue came after she interviewed a number of women, asking for their thoughts on sex, relationships, violence, and, of course, their vaginas. However, The Vagina Monologues is much more than a play. It has transformed into a movement: the V-Day movement.
The goal of the piece and of those who choose to produce it, perform it, or be affiliated with it is to raise awareness about violence against women and girls. For V-Day Upenn’s 15th year, the organization paired up with WOAR (Women Organized Against Rape), Philadelphia’s only full-service sexual abuse crisis center, to further educate people on violence prevention, victim rehabilitation, and much more. They aim to let survivors and their families know that they are not alone, that there is a community of people who are fighting for their rights.
This year’s rehearsal process began in late November and spanned across the semesters until the show premiered on February 10th, 2017. Throughout that time, an incredible, intelligent, and diverse group of self-identified femme folk assembled each week to educate themselves and each other on topics spanning from gender and intersectionality to violence prevention and how to be an active bystander. Education was the goal, and performance was the product.
Now, I’ve been in shows before, but twelve years of stage experience could not have prepared me for this. This wasn’t just any play. Every single cast, crew and board member seemed to be pouring their souls into this show in a way I’d never seen before. Many of them bravely shared their most intimate stories both on and off stage, showing themselves as true heroes by speaking up in the face of the silence V-Day is determined to break. Then the show ended, as many V-Day performances around the world do, with a small ceremony that leaves the silence not simply broken but shattered: the Call to Rise.
The Call to Rise is a three step process: first, if they feel comfortable doing so, survivors of sexual violence are asked to stand. Then those who know a survivor rise with them. Finally those who may not have experiences of their own but who vow to help end the violence rise as well. To be on stage and to watch an auditorium filled with hundreds of people rise to their feet and stand in solidarity against sexual violence was an experience unlike any I’ve ever had. I think it is that moment, that feeling of being united in spite of all of the hate that tries to tear us apart, that makes The Vagina Monologues so powerful and what makes thousands of women all over the world continue it’s legacy year after year after year.
Image courtesy of V-Day University of Pennsylvania 2016-2017