“The Vagina Monologues,” a play written by Eve Ensler in 1996, tackles issues such as sexuality, gender, and violence against women, all through the eyes of a diverse cast of women. Drawn from interviews Ensler did with 200 women, the play asks the question “what does it mean to live in this world with a vagina?” This past weekend, a group of Swarthmore students put on their own production of the show.
The Intercultural Center Dome is not the first place you would expect to see a play. It is essentially a conference room, complete with sterile lights and a projection screen. It also lacks a stage. However, when a group of women walked to the front of the room, uniformly dressed in black with red flowers pinned to their chests, none of that mattered. A couple of microphones, some stands, and a single dimmed light was all that adorned their makeshift stage, but the performers were captivating enough. The content of “The Vagina Monologues” is what makes it entertaining, not intricate staging.
In typical Swarthmore style, the performance did not start right on time. A few minutes after 5:30, the performers, comprised of Kathy Nguyễn ’ 21, Grace Dumdaw ’21, Gabi Rubinstein ’20, Carole Lee ’21, Sierra Raskie Jeska ’22, Natalie Balbuena ’21, Clio Hamilton ’22, Vanessa Meng ’20, and Danielle Rossetti ’21, walked to the front of the room and began the show by yelling in unison that they are, “worried about vaginas.” From there, each woman took her turn by reciting a monologue. The topics they covered were varied, from the taboo nature of pubic hair and stories of women learning to love their vaginas, to heavier monologues about genital mutilation and sexual assault. There were stories about a woman’s life-changing experience at a vagina workshop, a female sex worker, and a woman’s first sexual experience with another woman. Throughout the show, there were skits about how women answered the questions, “what would your vagina say if it could talk?” and, “what would your vagina wear?” One particularly striking monologue, performed by Gabi Rubinstein, was told from the perspective of a seventy year old woman about the embarrassment and shame that she associated with her “down there,” and sex in general.
Due to casting circumstances, there were no transgender women in the production, but in order to showcase this perspective, the cast played a video from another performance of the play featuring a transgender woman performing the monologue, “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy… Or So They Tried.” It was evident that the show wanted to promote inclusivity and this video helped make the play not only about people with vaginas, but about anyone who identifies as a woman and is affected by that identity. The inclusion of the video also did not disrupt the flow of the play, even as we all waited for the projection screen to slowly come down.
“The Vagina Monologues” is about more than just vaginas; it is about embarrassment, anger, love, sex, abuse, shame, and a host of other emotions. During Swarthmore’s production, there were light moments, times when the audience erupted into uncontrollable laughter or could not help but smile. There were also sobering moments when discomfort flooded the room as the audience was forced to sit with the devastation and reality of the words and stories inspired by real women.
At the beginning of the production, Raskie Jeska provided a content warning for the potentially triggering subject matter feature in “The Vagina Monologues.” Audience members were encouraged to step out if they needed to, and a CAPS counselor was seated at the back of the room to provide support if needed. The inclusion of this content warning was an excellent acknowledgement of not only the sensitive nature of the play, but also of the sensitive and complicated time which which that we are living.
Sexual assault and violence against women are at the forefront of national news, as well as devastating issues here at Swarthmore. Given the college’s history of years of protest and unrest related to sexual assault on this campus, Swarthmore should be worried about vaginas. This production comes at an important time in which we might be asking ourselves what it means to have a vagina or identify as a woman at Swarthmore. “The Vagina Monologues” does not actually offer the answer or provide any large revelations pertaining to this question, but there is definitely something comforting about sitting in a conference style room and watching a performance under a single fluorescent light about vaginas and womanhood, and listening to the stories that are not ours but could very well belong to us or our mothers or sisters or friends. We are worried, and we probably should be worried, but for an hour and a half in the IC dome, I was a little less worried.