Stopping the violence

“Why stage The Vagina Monologues?” As organizer and co-director of Warren Wilson College’s production of The Vagina Monologues, I’ve been asked this question more times than I can count. Why have I dedicated so much of my life to this play?

This week, two different friends of mine told me they’d been raped by a partner. This week, a co-worker of my mother’s was dragged out of her car by her boyfriend, beaten and strangled. This week, an actress in The Vagina Monologues admitted to me that, prior to being in the show, she hadn’t been able to even whisper the word “vagina.”

As part of the global V-Day movement, The Vagina Monologues is our way of taking a stand against violence and raising funds for groups that are doing the same. Productions of The Vagina Monologues are strictly benefit performances. Over the past nine years, V-Day has raised more than $50 million through such productions. Last year, V-Day Warren Wilson raised almost $4,000 for Our VOICE (an Asheville-based sexual-assault hot line and resource center), Helpmate (a shelter for local victims of domestic violence) and the college’s Women’s Resource Center.

This year, along with 3,700 other communities and colleges in 120 different countries, we at Warren Wilson College performed The Vagina Monologues because violence against women continues to be a huge problem—both worldwide and in our very own homes. We staged these performances because 200,000 women are raped in the United States every year; because one in three women worldwide will be beaten or raped in her lifetime; because a woman is raped in North Carolina every three hours and 52 minutes.

At Warren Wilson, there were 27 known cases of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking last year; so far this year, 25 cases have already been discussed with an on-campus advocate. None of these cases has been formally reported, often because the survivors were afraid of what would happen if they spoke up.

People are taking a stand against violence against women in many ways. There are crisis centers and information centers, lobbying organizations, support groups for survivors, and “Take Back the Night” rallies. The Vagina Monologues seeks to supplement—not replace—these efforts by opening dialogue and presenting compelling stories.

As a community, we cannot end this violence until we accept that it is happening, and we cannot accept that it is happening until we break down the cultural taboo that forbids women to talk about their vaginas. We need to create a space where women can talk about the good and the bad: the beautiful, the heartbreaking, the hilarious.

The Vagina Monologues is a play about women telling their stories: learning how to have orgasms, being beaten by abusive partners, being raped in a war zone. While many of the monologues are upsetting, quite a few are downright hilarious. The Vagina Monologues uses humor as a way to open doors. If we can’t laugh together about sometimes-awkward experiences with our own bodies, how can we expect to support one another when something terrible has happened?

The Vagina Monologues profoundly affects audiences. It informs, and it pushes many people toward further action. Seeing the play helps people examine how our culture perpetuates violence against women: in the media, in our language, and in our relationships.

Through hearing the stories in The Vagina Monologues, many women find the courage to finally speak up about their own experiences. Many productions of the monologues end with a public recognition of “vagina warriors”: women who are survivors of violence. Last year, I stood on the stage as a quarter of the audience rose to their feet to stand as “vagina warriors.” I looked into the faces of these women—professors, classmates, best friends—and realized for the first time how many people keep quiet about what has happened to them.

We perform The Vagina Monologues because we seek to remove the myth of mystery from our culture. Mystery means not being able to say “I was abused,” or “This is what feels good to me,” or “I don’t want to have sex right now.” Mystery and silence are hurting all of us. We do the play to help foster an open society in which we can say the things we need to without having to feel embarrassed or bound by traditional values and prejudices.

Besides raising money, performances of The Vagina Monologues raise awareness, raise voices and raise outrage over what’s happening in our communities. The Warren Wilson production has already begun empowering women to tell their own stories, and we—the women of V-Day all over the world—will continue our efforts until the violence stops.

[Warren Wilson College sophomore Lindsay Popper organized and co-directed V-Day Warren Wilson’s production of The Vagina Monologues]

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