The Vagina Monologues remind females to use womanhood as personal empowerment.
When Erin Morales-Williams was 11 years old, she heard the word c— for the first time. She was in the car with her mother, driving past a car accident, when she heard a man yell out to an older woman who seemed to be in her 70s, “You f—–g c—! How could you do this?’ Apparently, the older woman had caused the accident, and the man used this word to express his rage towards her.
Confused, Morales-Williams turned to her mother who explained that c— was a very bad word for “down there.”
Years later, Morales-Williams — a professor and doctoral student in the urban education program at Temple, has taken back the “very bad word” through her performance of “Reclaiming Cunt” in The Vagina Monologues, the famous play by Eve Ensler.
Sasha Gamburg, the co-director of Temple’s production of The Vagina Monologues said Eve Ensler started The Vagina Monologues as an opportunity to educate people about the violence against women in a way that allows women to celebrate their bodies and themselves in a positive, supportive way.
For thousands of women — whether they are a cast member of the show or an audience member — this message has been brought across through the very relatable characters of which the monologues are based upon.
When Morales-Williams received her part for the show, the memory of her hearing the word c— for the first time flashbacked to her.
“I thought about the story and what that meant to me at 11 years old, and I don’t think my mind fully grasped what it meant. When you use words like “c—,” or even “p—-,” you cut down on the organ,” Morales-Williams said. “There’s a way in which you yourself want to disassociate from that word and what it represents, especially when it comes as a mudslinger. I think ‘Reclaiming Cunt’ was me reclaiming it for that 11-year-old girl. It was reclaiming some of the humanity that was lost for myself and for that older women—particularly for that older woman.”
But whether they refer to it as “c—,” “down there,” or even “coochie snorcher,” the truth is, many women don’t talk about their vaginas. Often, it is perceived as taboo to talk about women’s bodies or issues that concern women’ bodies – something that productions of The Vagina Monologues hope to change.
The monologues themselves range from light and hilarious to heavy and heartbreaking, touching on nearly every subject women face in their day-to-day lives. Morales-Williams, who also runs a Vagina Workshop — much different than the one mentioned in the show — said the spectrum of emotion that emerges from watching The Vagina Monologues and being conscious of the vagina is one of the most important message the audience can grasp. The other is the message surrounding womanhood.
Daphney Beltram, who performed “My Angry Vagina,” explained why it was so important to celebrate womanhood.
“When you hear the monologue about the women in sex slavery in the Congo, you realize that in some places, it’s a man’s world,” Beltram said. “In America, we have a lot of freedom, even the freedom to put on this production. I think it’s especially important for us to see that many women in the world must hide their female bodies, must live their lives by the rules of men and have no independent thoughts or feelings.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to love ourselves, express ourselves and relate to one another. Being a woman is a beautiful thing.”
This message about womanhood, however, can sometimes come across the wrong way, with many people skeptical that The Vagina Monologues might really be a feminist movement.
This is the way Sara Sutsko, a sophomore, felt until she learned more about the show and decided to come see it for herself. After watching the show, she enjoyed it so much that she was left speechless and could only talk in short sentences.
“Wow, funny and awesome! What every woman is thinking,” she said.
But what about the men?
Jesse Carbonaro from New York came to see the show to support his girlfriend and was one of very few males in the audience. Like most of the males there, the show surprised him, and he learned a lot, he said.
“I thought it was an awesome show,” Carbonaro said. “Some parts were totally crazy, and I didn’t expect it to be like but I thought it was good. I don’t know what I expected coming into the show, but I definitely didn’t expect there to be so much openness.”
Morales-Williams said this reaction is typical of the males in the audience, and all the cast members agreed that more males should come out to see the show.
“I do think it’s important for men to watch the show, particularly heterosexual men,” Morales-Williams said. “Oftentimes, heterosexual men want this thing that they don’t want to talk about. So what does it mean in your own understanding of your sexuality to want the vagina, to desire the vagina and to pursue it. But to not understand all that it represents, and to not understand all the things that surround it?”
Gamburg also said she felt it was important for men to see the show to help carry on the messages it represents.
“I think that issues that affect women affect men as well. The violence against women, et cetera, are things that men can be allies for and help prevent from taking place,” she said.
One of the ways in which The Vagina Monologues gets its strong messages across is through its openness and vulgarity.
Jordan Lipids, a freshman film and media arts major who did the monologue titled “The Vagina Workshop,” said she felt the show’s robustness was the best way to force people to pay attention.
“You sort of need to throw it in their faces,” she said.
Tekara Gainey, a junior anthropology major who was also part of the cast, agreed.
“Women’s sexuality as a whole is something that people try to hide from,” Gainey said. “But it’s not scary. It’s something to be proud of, something to appreciate and love. To have that robust aspect of the show kind of makes it more enjoyable.”
Christeen Vilbrun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.