Each year universities, colleges and communities host the Vagina Monologues. Folks like to explore the controversy of the play, the novelty of the name, but it's rarely acknowledged what these performances actually mean to the women in them: community, solidarity and strength.
In Canada, one in four women will be sexually assaulted before age 16 and only ten per cent of sexual assaults are actually reported. If cases do go to court, the long term emotional and psychological damage is often incredibly severe and entirely discounted. Slut shaming, sexist comments, sex-negativity and shaming of women are taken as par de course humour because of this institutionalized sexism and women are taught to be ignorant and ashamed of our bodies: especially our vaginas.
I've done the monologues four years in a row now and each time we start, there are always a handful of girls who are saliently uncomfortable. Who talks about their vagina, their public hair, their sexuality, their experiences and desires in such an unabashed way? It's shocking at first and the practices are rife with nervous giggles. However as we continue, the cast starts to interact and things start coming out. Women from all walks of life, mothers, first years straight out of high school, older women, queer women, all start sharing stories because they see themselves in the monologues. And we see patterns, political connections. What begins as one woman's experience becomes a dialogue, a collective conversation where women can be open, frank and supported.
Even after multiple sexual assaults reported at Carleton University this year and the infamous declaration by University administration that a 2007 rape on campus was the victim's fault, nothing has changed. I've never found any outlet on campus as moving or healing as the Vagina Monologues.
Though the monologues provide this empowering community while raising thousands of dollars for local feminist charities, it's wildly under appreciated. Two years ago Carleton administration decided to start charging the club that hosts the monologues, Vaginas Against Violence, for space to perform on campus, despite other charity oriented events, like Relay for Life, getting space for free.
This year, CUSA (Carleton University Student's Association) also denied Vaginas Against Violence their club funding. It's taken the good will of service centres on campus and the individual efforts of certain councillors to even get enough cash together to host the play.
The monologues are moving, entertaining and cover a wide variety of topics, but the show isn't about Eve Ensler. It's about what the audience can't see - the solidarity of the cast, the strength of women performing their stories of abuse, of embarrassment and personal growth.
Carleton University Vagina Monologues are Saturday night at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door with the proceeds going to the V-Day foundation and the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.
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