Spread the Word

Clare Lowther

Marti Jo Briggs said the reaction is usually negative when she says the word.

People often gasp, shake their heads or ask her how she can say the word.

For so long, it’s a been a dirty word — not something people said in public.

But thanks to the smash Broadway show, times are changing.

And the word isn’t so scary.

The word is vagina.

And it’s coming to the Hill.

Briggs, a Bowling Green senior, is one of about eight students performing in Western’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” at 7 tonight in the Gordon Wilson Theater Lab.

The students who are performing and the crowd that is watching will be taking part in what some may call a worldwide phenomenon.

And the show won’t hold anything back.

The conception

Eve Ensler’s concept for the Vagina Monologues was simple.

The monologues are a series of stories based on true stories women told Ensler about their most intimate part. The stories are about rape, menstruation, self-discovery and learning to enjoy sex. Some are sad, others funny.

“As Eve tells it, she hadn’t planned to write (The Vagina Monologues),” said Karen Obel, an acquaintance of Ensler and director of the V-Day College Campaign. “But one day, someone made an off-hand comment about their vagina that surprised her and caught her attention.”

Shortly thereafter, Ensler traveled worldwide, eventually talking to about 200 women between the ages of 6 and 72 about their lives. She asked them questions like, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” and “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?”

Their stories ranged from the tale of a 72-year-old woman who had never had an orgasm to the account of a young Bosnian woman’s rape.

“At first, women were reluctant to talk,” Ensler said on the one-woman show’s Web site. “They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them.”

“The Vagina Monologues” began in 1996 as a small off-Broadway, one-woman show performed by Ensler. It was immediately a critical success and received a cult following. From there, the show grew in popularity and became what it is today.

“I could not have imagined that I would one day be talking about vaginas on talk shows in places like Athens, Greece; chanting the word vagina with 4,000 wild women in Baltimore; or having 32 public orgasms a night,” Ensler said in the introduction to “The Vagina Monologues.”

Raising awareness

Ensler was performing “The Vagina Monologues” when she developed the idea for an organization called V-Day.

She found that after her performances, women would often come to her dressing room and share their own experiences. Ensler felt that she needed a way to share these stories with the public and to also raise awareness of abuse against women around the world.

Ensler and others began working on V-Day in 1997. They thought communities all over the world could work to educate people about problems and oppressions facing women. The centerpiece of the education would be a performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” and all money raised would go to an organization that would benefit women.

On Valentine’s Day 1998, V-Day was born in New York City. The original V-Day centered around a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” starring Whoopi Goldberg, Calista Flockhart, Glenn Close and Susan Sarandon.

Since its conception, V-day has raised $14 million, $7 million of which was raised last year alone.

Reaching more audiences

Shortly after the original V-Day, Ensler and others began working on a campaign to bring V-Day to college campuses as a way to reach a new audience.

“It was a huge success, but we realized it was a limited event,” said Obel, who has served as director of the campaign since it began. “It was only one night in one place in New York City. We wanted to reach more people.”

Over 665 colleges and universities are participating this year — a record number.

Anyone affiliated with a university can organize a V-Day for her school. She merely needs to sign up, then the V-Day organization provides material and guidelines, Obel said.

The guidelines state that men can participate in V-Day, but they cannot perform in “The Vagina Monologues.” Also, all proceeds must go to an organization that benefits women and girls.

In 2002, the college campaign raised nearly $2 million for the V-Day fund.

“The college years are a turning point and growth point,” she said. “The people are coming into their own as individuals. A lot of people are leaving college, and they don’t have confidence in their bodies and selves … If they do that, that means we have failed them.”

Western’s performance

Briggs, a women’s studies minor, decided to participate after hearing about V-Day in her women’s studies class. She said she had heard about the performances from previous years and was familiar with the premise of “The Vagina Monologues.”

“It’s so empowering and truthful,” she said. “As soon as I got the script, I couldn’t wait to do it.”

This is Western’s fourth year participating in V-Day. The performances were previously put on by students in Western Feminist Thought, but this year participation was open to all students.

Briggs will be performing “My Angry Vagina” and “I Was There in the Room.”

“My Angry Vagina” tells the story of a woman who is upset by tampons, gynecological visits, thongs and other indignities done to her vagina. “I Was There in the Room” is an account of the birth of Ensler’s granddaughter.

All participants this year are female. One male initially signed up to help organize the event, but he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.

Bowling Green sophomore Katie Hollowell is also taking part in “The Vagina Monologues” for the first time this year. She will be performing “Because He Liked to Look at It,” about a woman learning to enjoy sex, and “The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could,” about an abused teenager’s lesbian awakenings.

Hollowell said although she is somewhat nervous about the performance, she is more concerned about her parents’ reactions to the performance.

“I’m worried about what my mom will think,” she said with a laugh. “(My parents) are going to hear me say the v-word.”

Admission to the show is $5 at the door and all proceeds will benefit the Hope Harbor Sexual Trauma Center, a local center that offers counseling to women who have been raped or sexually abused.

Whitley City junior Alisha Brewer, who serves as narrator for “The Vagina Monologues,” said Hope Harbor provides counseling for women who have been raped or are the victims of sexual abuse.

Jane Olmsted, director of the Women’s Studies program, said she felt both the audience and the students who participated would benefit from “The Vagina Monologues” and would be surprised.

“It’s just not what they expect,” Olmsted said. “It’s funnier and more poignant.”

Obel hopes that everyone who sees the show will take something from the performance.

“Women need to love and respect their bodies and know that they deserve to be loved and respected as women,” she said. “They have the right to be safe … Nobody’s body should be dealt with in any way other than a loving, respectful way.”

Reach Clare Lowther at [email protected]