As I ran around campus this past week telling people left and right to attend the University’s production of the “Vagina Monologues,” I noticed several common reactions. My favorite, of course, was the “All right! Definitely! I support vaginas!” or something very similar, followed by a high five or fist pump. Then there were the people who looked a bit flustered, “‘Vagina Monologues?’ What is it?” and after a brief explanation, they seemed supportive and interested. And lastly there were the men and women who turned their heads left and right, shifted their weight nervously and never really looked me in the face or attempted to answer the lingering question.
What frustrated me most about these responses was not their occurrence, for I assumed that both men and women would be uncomfortable talking about vaginas with a stranger, but their frequency. I was also saddened when I saw “Vagina Monologues” flyers and posters torn off the walls and ripped up, thrown to the ground to be trampled by hundreds of students’ feet.
I can’t imagine that any person is really anti-V-Day. And I don’t mean anti-Valentine’s Day (since apparently that too generates business from Hallmark), but a different V-Day: the movement, the campaign, the coalition of people raising awareness and money to end violence against women. The “Vagina Monologues” is one of the many events that surrounds the V-Day movement and is performed all over the world.
So, I questioned, what is it that prompts such behavior both from the students who rip down posters and those who are blatantly offended by my request to attend the “Monologues”? I should also point out that it is not only at UR and not only students that create this opposition. Protesters of the “Vagina Monologues” claim that the word “vagina” is dirty and vulgar, that the performance corrupts heterosexual relationships and encourages young women to pursue sex.
V-Day, some insist, should only refer to Valentine’s Day, which romanticizes Saint Valentine, who was imprisoned for secretly marrying young lovers against the will of Emperor Claudius II. Founder of the V-Day movement Eve Ensler, on the other hand, attributes V-Day to three different “V” words: Valentine, victory and vagina.
These are three powerful words: Valentine, a martyred saint, a token of love, of appreciation, of respect; victory, a conquest, an accomplishment; vagina, a source of pleasure, sacrifice, beauty, birth and life. “Words,” as Maya Angelou said, “mean more than what is set down on paper.” Words are power, and we all must reflect on the way we use them. When words are used hatefully, the word becomes dirty and so does the subject.
The “Vagina Monologues” reclaim the word “vagina”; they make us aware of what is right in front of us. What we can all take away from the show, from V-Day, from Saint Valentine, is that words (whether “vagina” or “I now pronounce you”) extend far beyond their definitions. Vagina is not a vulgar, dirty word, but in its implementation it has been butchered, abused, disrespected and forgotten. Let’s remember that the word depicts a part of a woman’s body that is so often neglected but deserves to be revered. And, before you trample and ignore that piece of paper on the floor, try picking it up, reading it and participating in a worldwide struggle for equality and respect.
Bombardier is a member of the class of 2008.