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Katelyn E. Giovannucci '07 acts out how difficult it can be to look at one's vagina during MIT's production of "The Vagina Monologues" on Thursday night, presented by Stop Our Silence.
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The Vagina Monologues

Written by Eve Ensler

Organized by Stop Our Silence

10-250

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 15-17, 2007

Last week marked the sixth annual MIT production of the The Vagina Monologues, a series of short skits designed to break the cultural taboos surrounding women's issues. Specifically, the production addresses worldwide violence against women and related atrocities by exploiting the power of theater as a forum for uninhibited speech. Young women — typically one at a time, as the title suggests — deliver stories of love, terror, happiness, strife, and hope as told through their adopted characters, most of which are based on the accounts of actual women interviewed by playwright Eve Ensler.

The skits themselves, which are each given individual titles and introductions, vary in subject material from the light-hearted answers given by a six-year-old girl to questions like what her vagina would wear or smell like if it had a choice ("A six-year-old girl was asked ...," Joyce-Marie Gallagher '08) to vivid descriptions of war-time mutilation and rape ("My Vagina Was My Village," Jessica E. Leon '08) to the story of an old woman who rediscovers herself at the age of 70 ("The Flood," Kathleen McEnnis '07). A clear theme pervading nearly all of the monologues is the idea of women forming self-concepts alongside, or often because of, their vaginas, as opposed to forming their identities despite their vaginas, which the play (not unfairly) implicates as the status quo.

Although intended for mixed-gender audiences, skits like "Reclaiming Cunt" (Sally E. Peach '09) and "My Angry Vagina," (Lizz M. Iffrig '10) may leave males scratching their heads. One of the goals of the production, however, is to challenge propriety outright, such that the constituents of that propriety might be reconsidered. Some organizations do not support that sort of holistic interpretation, and subsequently The Vagina Monologues has often met with a large amount of negative press in various communities. For example, "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could" (Kelly Upchurch), which overtly praises a homosexual relationship, and "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy" (Cheryl M. Kwinn '09, Holly B. Laird '07, Julia Kodysh G, Kathleen Connolly '05, Laurel L. Ruhlen '06), a skit centered around transgendered individuals, are often cited with opposition. Alternatively, opponents might simply scorn the general brashness of a production in which the word "vagina" is spoken 128 times. Perhaps, though, being caught off-guard by at least some part of The Vagina Monologues, whatever one's beliefs may be, is preferable to repressing any emotional response whatsoever — after all, the creators are trying to convince members of the audience to rethink their beliefs.

Having previously seen The Vagina Monologues elsewhere, I was surprised at how much more I liked MIT's presentation. Some real talent shone through in "My Angry Vagina," "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy" (Jenn Martinez), "The Flood," and "My Vagina Was My Village" in particular. Others skits were more memorable for the depth of content, including my personal favorite, "I Was There in the Room" (Helen McCreery G). For the gorier pieces, like "My Vagina Was My Village" and "Crooked Braid" (SiRui Xia '07, Silpa Kaza '07), I found it difficult to separate factual account from poetic license. Just how far does "based on a true story" go? I finally eased my doubts at V-day's Web site (http://www.vday.org/contents/victory/success). Here, women from around the world submit their personal stories of pain and triumph; these are probably not unlike the stories Eve Ensler based the original Monologues on. The domain contains a multitude of other resources as well, including statistics of violence and abuse compiled by the World Health Organization and contact information for organizations working to lower those numbers. In keeping with this spirit, the overwhelming majority of the proceeds from the MIT production went towards organizations working to end domestic abuse.

Under the slogan "Until the Violence Stops," productions of The Vagina Monologues are being held worldwide between Feb. 1 and March 8 this year (actually, you have to get special permission to host it on any other dates). So if you missed it here, there's always Melbourne or Kathmandu.