It is a tradition for college campuses around the country to perform Eve Ensler’s celebrated performances. The performance consists of various monologues performed by actors talking about vaginas (of course), but also the empowerment of women to take control of their body and speak their truth. Bringing these performances to USF is a staple for College Players every spring.
While the monologues are meant to encourage female empowerment, this empowerment felt exclusive to many throughout the years. It did not include other voices who felt that the monologues did not create a space for them. The director of this year’s “Vagina Monologues” is Anju Kasturiraj, a third year critical diversity studies and sociology major. She expressed that “the monologues are dated and do not include the voices of women of color and queer individuals.”
The monologues come from mostly white cisgender, straight women perspective, and do not offer the other experiences regarding sexuality and empowerment (or disempowerment) that other individuals faces. That is why this year, the monologues were called by the cast as the “Non-Vagina Essentialist Intersectional Feminist Vagina Monologues” to express that while the monologues create a form of empowerment \particularly among white women, this cast wanted to reclaim the monologues and state the importance of highlighting the voices that are left out of the conversation regarding gender and sexuality. The cast was mainly made up of people of color, and several cast members identified as queer. This was the physical representation of the change in the performance of these monologues.
Before the performance, there was an interactive gallery of work by the cast members or friends of the cast. This featured series of paintings, poems and photos on the walls of Fromm Hall’s Marasachi Room. Viewers were allowed to walk around and look at the art, which helped set the tone for the performance for the evening, allowing viewers to get a first glance at the direction this performance was taking. This brought the performance from the stage and onto the walls to explore further the importance of art to create empowerment amongst individuals– allowing for the interpretation of the various artists’ views on sexuality and gender. The performances themselves were the traditional monologues performed as they were written, but the cast was able to highlight the importance of looking at these monologues in an intersectional non-essentialist view.
“The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” particularly struck me. It was about a women being abused as a child and then being able to discover her sexuality through an intimate evening with an older woman. The performer, second year student Eli Ramos, identifies as non-gender binary, and allowed their own identity to give the monologue to give new meaning. These life experiences show that our constructed perception of sexuality and gender is not just black and white.
The cast was also able to add other narratives that are often left out in performances of these monologues, like college campus rape and sex workers rights. One of the most meaningful parts of the performance was the opening scene, a video created by the cast that showed the various cast members in scenes where they are being purely themselves (smiling, glancing into the camera and fiddling with their hands) while text went across the screen expressing how important it is to include and hear the stories of our trans sisters, our non-binary friends and the women of color in our lives.
This year, the performance reflected the need to push for more intersectional inclusivity that does not just invite the people who have been left out in the past, but allows them to speak and highlight their own experiences and lead in the way we re-evaluate feminism, sexuality and gender.
The performance ended with a group piece by the cast that highlighted their own experiences and struggles while showing that these are the voices that need to be heard and honored in a time of resistance. The poem highlighted the undermining someone’s identity as Chicana, to not acknowledging the pronouns used by those that identity as non-binary. Hearing these truths are important because it gives a face to those who society has silenced. While the traditional monologues themselves might be dated, it is important to reinvent them and create open dialogue about why we need to change the way we talk about sexuality and gender. This year’s performance of the “Vagina Monologues” was able to do just that by giving a powerful, thoughtful performance of pure love.
Photo Courtesy of Pawin Sae Chen/ Foghorn