Combining activism, theatre, and the word vagina, V-Day McGill – the chapter of the international organization whose main aim is to fight gender-based violence – is mounting their annual production of the Vagina Monologues for the tenth year running. V-Day McGill was founded in late 2002 by Queer McGill, and has since collected over $130,000 for V-Day, and for Montreal anti-violence organizations.
While V-Day’s uninhibited use of the word vagina succeeds in capturing many people’s attention, it also distracts from the real cause that exists behind the show. The comedic yet provocative Vagina Monologues is being performed this weekend to celebrate female sexuality in all its complexity and cast, crew, and members are as excited and dedicated to their cause as ever.
In 1996 a little known yet provocatively titled piece, the Vagina Monologues, first made an appearance in New York City at the Off-Broadway Westside Theatre. Created by Eve Ensler, the production was comprised of a number of monologues performed by several different women, on topics varying from love, masturbation, and orgasm, to mutilation and rape. The pieces explored many of the taboo topics that surround the feminine ‘mystique’, and the vagina in particular. Ensler compiled the pieces from over 200 interviews with women of varying backgrounds on their memories and life experiences. Today, the pieces are celebrated worldwide, each year raising money, criticism, and awareness for the issues they deal with.
Inspired by the Vagina Monologues, V-Day was created in 1998. It is a global movement founded by Ensler to fight violence against women and girls, in all its forms. V-Day’s work can now be seen in countries worldwide, with campaigns as far reaching as the Congo, and outreach work in the form of scholarships, theatre performances, and education programs.
In an interview with The Daily, Claire Hughes – who directs V-Day McGill’s production of Vagina Monologues – described how she has seen V-Day become more positively received since she started her involvement with the group five years ago. She was first drawn to V-Day McGill as a way to pursue her love of theatre and feminism, when the movement was still considered, as Hughes puts it, “fringy.” Although she has seen acceptance grow over the years, she still recognizes that many people are holding on to some of the same stereotypes that have been pervasive in the past. “Because a lot of people have certain associations with gender-based violence, when they think about it they see one particular kind of face, and don’t understand that it’s all over the world and happens in so many different contexts – social, political, economic – it really crosses all barriers,” she explained.
Although many are skeptical at first, it seems that all it takes is some knowledge about the cause for understanding to grow. CEGEP student Tamara Sevunts, who stars in this year’s Vagina Monologues, said that when she first tells others what she is involved in, “a lot of people seem embarrassed, but as soon as they get to know more about the show they get really excited.”
Sevunts also reflected on how being a part of the V-Day movement has affected her. “It’s cheesy, but it’s helped me to open up. Since we’ve had workshops on gender-based violence, it’s sensitized me to those issues. I was aware that they were happening, but I never knew what an impact they had.”
She explained that despite her not being an official member of V-Day McGill, she was welcomed into the Vagina Monologues cast with open arms. After all, this was Ensler’s intention – to promote acceptance and activism for everyone and anyone.
This year, V-Day McGill is donating the proceeds of the production to three charities – Head and Hands, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, and Shield of Athena.
V-Day’s slogan –“V stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina” – explains the cause behind the words. Take a night to be provoked, entertained and deeply moved, and perhaps discover what “V” means for you.
The Vagina Monologues is being shown this Thursday, February 10 to Saturday, February 12 at 7 p.m. in Leacock 132.