Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Vagina Monologues

On our first week back at Wake-Up Wednesday, we were visited by three cast members of The Vagina Monologues. The play, written by Eve Ensler, will return for its 10th production at Tennessee Tech on February 15th, 16th, and 17th (for more information, see the link at the end of this blog). The proceeds from the performances will benefit a number of national and local organizations including Genesis House, Planned Parenthood, and The Tennessee Coalition for Women.
Holly Mills, librarian at Tech, began our conversation with her experience as a cast member of The Vagina Monologues. Fairly new to acting, Mills told us that she was, “not always good at standing up and shouting loudly enough to be heard.” She’s finding her footing, though, as she rehearses her monologue about a woman who had a good experience with a man and came to love herself as a result. While the concept of learning to love yourself through an experience with a man may seem foreign to young women today, it’s certainly something worth talking about. Self-love should evolve from a woman’s own being; however, sometimes we need a little help to see ourselves in a flattering light. Considering the sensitive material in The Vagina Monologues, we asked Mills if she was worried about performing the play in conservative Cookeville. She replied, “The older I get and the more polarized the country gets, I just say what I need to.” Good advice for all.

Robin Ridley, 1998 graduate of Tech, shared her unique experience as a transgender woman. As a member of a group often excluded from female-only activities, Ridley said “It’s particularly important to be included as a woman.” She is performing the trans monologue that was added to the play in 2005. Ridley told us that she entered activism through her transgender identity and serves as the face for transgender identities in the Cookeville area. We asked her what it was like to not be accepted among female feminists. The early waves of feminists were extremely anti-trans insisting that the transgender community were only men attempting to infiltrate the movement and often banning them from activities. Ridley offered us a scientific perspective on transgender people. Transgender people’s brain structure is more similar to their identified gender than their assigned gender. This is due to a complication during pregnancy. The hormones responsible for brain structures went awry while the hormones responsible for genital development worked correctly creating a disruption (for more information, see http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/). These scientific explanations are important and incredibly enlightening; however, the thing to remember is the inclusion of transgender women in the fight against violence and oppression. One of the ideas of The Vagina Monologues is to bring together women from all walks of life. Ridley’s inclusion in the Cookeville production accomplishes this goal wonderfully.

Our last guest is a veteran of Wake-Up Wednesday. Jenn Ulschak, local ASL interpreter, gave us a more in-depth history of The Vagina Monologues and its activism work. Eve Ensler uses all the money raised through the performances of the play to fund events to stop violence against women. For example, she has built a safe-house in Kenya to protect nearly 200 girls from genital mutilation, a common practice in the area. Ulschak was honored to interpret at the Nashville Women’s March recently. She told us that she had learned of lateral violence at the march. Lateral violence happens when people on the same level (i.e. women) turn on each other rather than joining forces. Ulschak said that, “It really matters that we stand up against oppression.” I’d have to agree. She told us that she saw The Vagina Monologues in 2015 and it changed her life. Now, she has the chance to not only get back on the stage for the first time since high school but perform the play that changed her life. Ulschak’s monologue is about birth. She herself has had two natural births and recommends it to other women. The right to give birth to your children naturally is sometimes a tricky one. While I have no children of my own, I’ve run across this issue many times in my short life. When my little sister was born, I remember being horribly frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to see her or stay with my mom in the hospital. More recently, I came across a disturbing recollection of Diane di Prima’s first birth in the 1950s. She wanted a natural birth but was forcibly put out and not allowed to witness the birth of her daughter.

These issues are only three of the many that will be covered in The Vagina Monologues. Please join these incredible women and many more in Derryberry Auditorium for this year’s production. This week at Wake-Up Wednesday join us with Susannah Leary for a conversation about sexism in the Hebrew Bible.

Information about the Vagina Monologues can be found at: https://www.tntech.edu/cas/english/bdph/seasons