Rowan production of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ sheds light on gender issues

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Last week, the Student Center Ballroom served as a space for people to share stories of something often not discussed: vaginas.

“The Vagina Monologues,” a show originally written and performed by Even Ensler, first premiered off-Broadway in 1996. Ensler created the multiple monologues in the show after interviewing hundreds of women around the world about their vaginas.

Rowan University’s Women’s Center in the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution put on their own production on Monday, Feb. 27, inviting students and faculty to attend. A group of self-identified women, non-binary people and one transgender man performed a combination of Ensler’s works as well as some original monologues written by students.

Alesha DeBose, the graduate coordinator for the Rowan Women and Inclusion Programs and director of the show, was inspired to put on “The Vagina Monologues” after seeing it as an undergraduate at the university. She also finds it shares important messages that need to be talked about in the current political climate.

“I think it’s our duty as the Women’s Center and standing up for women’s rights and everything that has to do with intersectionality, that we need to put this on,” DeBose said. “I was even more driven to do so when 45 [Donald Trump] got elected to office, and with all the rhetoric and hatred that surrounds that campaign, I thought we had to.”

The monologues covered a variety of topics. Ensler’s works told the story of several women’s experiences with their vaginas, whether that was the discovery of their sexuality, moments of oppression, or calls to bring attention to an important body part that receives no love, at least not publicly.

Many people who took part in “The Vagina Monologues” had the sentiment that there needs to be less of a stigma surrounding vaginas.

“I think it’s important we talk about things revolving around the vagina,” said Thomasina Cherepes, a sophomore biology major and performer in the show. “It shouldn’t be this mysterious, dark place that people shouldn’t talk about.”

Gabrielle Longo, a freshman psychology and sociology major, agreed with Cherepes. Longo performed the coveted Ensler monologue titled “My Angry Vagina.” The monologue talks about all the tortures a vagina endures, such as tampons, medical exams and birth, but also speaks to the oppressions many females face because of their gender. The monologue brings important issues to light, matching the theme of the rest of the show.

“People don’t really talk about them [vaginas], which is kind of ridiculous because 50 percent of the population have vaginas, so why aren’t we talking about them?” Longo said. “I thought a whole night dedicated to talking about vaginas was going to be really amazing.”

Although Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” is praised for being groundbreaking in its topic and begins many important discussions, it is criticized for not being intersectional, according to DeBose. The monologues feature the same type of woman: cisgender and typically straight. To combat this, DeBose made sure she had a diverse production team and encouraged her diverse cast to write original monologues that told their own stories.

One such person to do so was Hamish James Silva, a junior communication studies major and transgender man. He performed a monologue about his journey being transgender and the implications that come with being a transgender man who has a vagina.

“I was going to do a piece that was already prewritten, but they wanted me to do something individual to me because there was no piece written like that because no one’s had my experience, just like no one’s had anyone else’s experience. Mine was even more of a snowflake,” Silva said. “There was a lot that I wanted to go into, but I didn’t want it to be sad or super edgy or ‘everything sucks because I’m trans,’ because that’s not true. I’m pretty funny and I have a lot going on in my life, so I wanted to reflect that, and it just so happens I have a vagina.”

Another performer, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared the story of her rape when she was a young teenager; it was the first time she shared her story in its entirety to a large group of people. She wanted to emphasize the problem of victim blaming, and how that kept her silent about her experience for so long.

“I feel better overall for writing it and saying it. People need to understand that the victims are never at fault and if you look at the numbers and statistics, it’s shocking,” she said. “Even while I was speaking, two people had to leave the room, so more than likely if you’re talking about issues surrounding [rape], you’re going to find people that have been through the same thing or similar things.”

The audience, made up of mostly women with some men, was receptive to the stories that were shared. Each monologue was met with applause, and some even received snaps of approval as the performer was speaking.

Sophomore biology major Lena Donato was happy to hear the diverse stories, many of which she connected with.

“As a very sexual female, I know it’s difficult to be a very sexual female without being immediately put into a certain box,” Donato said. “I think it’s very important to talk about female sexuality and everything that comes with that.”

Hanna Dietrich, a sophomore biomedical engineering major, is very involved in the Women’s Center and enjoyed seeing a show like this performed at her school.

“I liked how they did a lot of work by Eve Ensler but they also added their own monologues,” Dietrich said. “Stories like this aren’t always told and if you don’t share them, people live their whole lives without knowing about them.

“It’s also important to share them for the people who are like, ‘Wow, I’m not the only one who’s gone through that experience.’ It provides a sense of community.”

That community and support system is essentially why “The Vagina Monologues” was written, and why it still gets produced to this day. For Longo, that was one of the most important aspects of performing the show.

“You never know who’s going to be in the audience. I think with a lot of these pieces, there could be someone in the audience who hears a piece and it moves something in them,” Longo said. “I think even if we hit one person who doesn’t feel alone anymore, that other people feel like this, then we did our job right.”

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