The Vagina Monologues is a play written by Eve Ensler based on interviews she held privately and in groups with over 200 women. Twenty-two years after its premiere in 1996, I had the privilege of bringing one of these vignettes to life on the Stiteler stage at Arcadia University.
When I saw the flyers advertising for auditions last semester, I immediately put the time and date into my calendar. This was something I wanted to be a part of. Auditions came and were extremely informal: I had a monologue prepared just in case, but the two coordinators just had me read a short selection from one of the poems. They greeted me with the same comfort and support that they would continue to offer throughout this entire process.
Over Christmas break, I received the cast list. I was in the show! Attached to the cast list was the script. I scrolled until I saw the title of my poem: “The Vagina Workshop.” It was a duet poem, and, happily, I would be playing “Woman #2.”
As I read the poem, I smirked for a number of reasons. First, I knew that I attended the best university in the world if this was a show that was being put on by students. Second, a part of me couldn’t believe or imagine that I would be able to stand in front of my peers and an audience to recite these body-praising, provocative— and maybe even a tad obscene— words. I’ve never considered myself shy, especially when it came to any form of performance. But even so, this was different. I was going to go on stage and talk about vaginas.
I dreaded the first rehearsal. Was this going to be weird? As absurd as it was, considering we would all be discussing the same subject matter, I felt a little afraid that I would start reading and everyone around me would feel embarrassed, or worse, they would be able to see that I was.
Luckily for my nerves, I wasn’t first on the program. I sat there and listened to young women stand before their peers and speak of sexual assault, share hilarious anecdotes, tell of triumph and even a “not-so-happy-fact,” a poem about the absolutely heart-shattering truth behind female genital mutilation. I did not feel the slightest bit bashful or embarrassed. I felt empowered. By the time it was my turn, I was raring to go. I stood proud next to my scene partner and said things that, upon first reading, may have caused slight blushing, I won’t lie. But within an hour, this group of women and a phenomenal script transformed a vulnerable, daunting space into a place for women.
All of my friends and roommates were thrilled about this aspect of the show, and many came to support. But, when discussing the specifics of one of the more explicit poems, one of my friends laughingly asked, “Why would you talk about that in front of people?!” Without thinking, I responded, “Because we can.”
While my simple response was obviously not my entire motivation for being a part of The Vagina Monologues, it absolutely played a part. There are so many places in the world where women don’t have the option to speak out about anything, let alone something as “private” and “obscene” as women’s bodies. For those women who may never have the option to, I felt it was important that I did, for all of us. These are stories that need to be told.
The Vagina Monologues is not a show that goes quietly into the fabric of a day. It stuck with me just as I believe it would anyone who reads, sees, or partakes in any one of these important pieces of work.
On the day of the performance, 14 women of all religions, ages, races, shapes, personalities, ethnicities, and backgrounds stood on a stage and told a mere slice of the extraordinary story of simply being a woman. This made me feel such a belonging with my sisterhood of women, not just present on that day or on that stage, but every day and everywhere.