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V-Monologues troublesome

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Each year during Winter Term, the Carleton community puts on Eve Ensler’s 1996 play “The Vagina Monologues,” which highlights topics of sexuality and violence against women through a series of monologues. As this year’s performance draws near, producers, directors, and actors in the play have introduced a discussion about the relevance and potential problems of “The Vagina Monologues” and its connection to the anti-violence V-Day movement. This year’s performance is scheduled for Saturday, February 21st.

Producer Ingrid Hofeldt ’17 said that “from the perspective of a lot of feminists at Carleton, who are well versed in issues such as these, say that there are a lot of issues with it.”

On Wednesday, February 11th, the cast hosted a public lunch designed to “reflect on personal experiences and responses to the globalization of the V-Day movement” and the potential problems with the play.

One of the three past participants chosen to speak about their experience, Emily Clark ’17 said, “I think there are still some issues with “The Vagina Monologues.” It definitely caters to the version of a white, upper class woman, which could be better expanded upon to include more diversity.”

Activism Coordinator Melanie Xu ’17 said that “there was one particular monologue about female genital mutilation” that caused problems. While it “is a practice that affects a lot of women all over the world, we cut that out because it was the only representation of third world women’s issues, and that was a really negative and sensationalized piece that is not representative of all women’s experiences.”

Furthering the problematic elements of the play, Hofeldt noted that there are “token monologues. It’s like those are like ‘okay, now we’ve covered this issue’ versus all women’s issues.”

Aspects of the gender identity monologue also created dilemmas for the cast. Because all of the actors portraying the gender identity monologue are cisgender, producers worried that “they couldn’t fully represent that group,” said producer Moriah Arnold ’17.

“So we thought long and hard about it, and in the end we decided to keep it in the production. It’s a very under represented population that needs to be heard, so overall, while it is problematic, we are going to include it with a little disclaimer,” she said.

Arnold said, “The Vagina Monologues have not changed much” since the play was written, “which is not good. None of the monologues really represent a college student’s experience, and that’s not good because our audience is mostly college students.”

While these issues produced problems for the cast and caused some to question the effectiveness of the play, this year’s production decided to include disclaimers in the programs to demonstrate the play’s potential shortcomings and generate discussion.

Although Ensler prohibits changing the script, Xu said “We did try to modify the scripts this year in whatever way that we can to increase certain representation, and also decrease misrepresentation.”

According to Hofeldt, “we also helped organize a discussion with the GSC, so there’s a reflection week where people can talk about The Vagina Monologues” and its disputable themes.

Although this year’s production has spurred criticism, each cast member emphasized the importance and positive qualities of the play.

At Wednesday’s lunch, Tiffany Thet ’17 maintained that The Vagina Monologues “can be a platform to bring out a larger conversation about vaginas, women, women’s sexuality, and sexual violence against women. Not just including women in the conversation, but all genders.”

“Although there are voices missing and there are some tropes that are implied that are problematic,” echoed former cast member Rachel Clark ’15, “my monologue was true to one person’s experience, as I think that all the monologues are. There is value in that even if there are problems. We can use that as a jumping off point to generate conversation.”

In addition to sparking dialogue Arnold said that the play creates community and “brings people together, it brings women together. When you’re actually at the event, there’s this power in the room.”

Despite the issues in and relevance of The Vagina Monologues, Hofeldt emphasized the positive aspects of Carleton’s own production, which donates all proceeds to the HOPE Center, a local organization dedicated to the victims of sexual and domestic violence.

“Regardless of what’s problematic about these monologues, we are raising money to go to this organization that’s going to help a lot of people. At the end of the day, that’s what I go back to.”

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