a red-letter day: V-Day helps colleges stop domestic violence
For more information, visit the V-Day Web site.

A red-letter event: V-Day gets
personal for a good cause

By Sara Lyle

"'Vagina.' There, I've said it. 'Vagina' - said it again. I've been saying that word over and over for the last three years. I've been saying it in the theaters, at colleges, in living rooms, in cafˇs, at dinner parties, on radio programs all over the country. I would be saying it on TV if someone would let me. I say it 128 times every evening I perform my show."

So starts Eve Ensler's provocative play, "The Vagina Monologues," a culmination of interviews with hundreds of women about their, well, you-knows.

And if Ensler and supporters of the V-Day 2000 College Initiative have it their way, students from 300 colleges around the world will be using the v-word just as frequently come next Valentine's Day.

Coordinated performances of the play began on campuses nationwide last year with the purpose of boosting awareness about women's bodies as well as raising funds for sexual-assault victims, explains coordinator Karen Obel.

This year, more than 50 colleges already are on board, including the University of Oregon and Cornell University.

Each school that signs up to produce the piece on Feb. 14 will donate profits to the designee of its choice, such as the department or organization sponsoring the production, the V-Day fund or local organizations working to stop sexual violence. In 1996, the Justice Department estimated somewhere in the United States a woman is raped every two minutes, the press kit stated.

That's a main reason Obel says she jumped headfirst into the school-based project after the play's 1998 debut.

"At the end of the first event, Eve (Ensler) came out on the stage and asked people to stand if they were victims of violence or knew people who were," she says. "Almost the whole audience stood, including myself."

Performed in New York City, the premiere featured celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie Perez and Winona Ryder, and was catered by CPNet's own Chef Rossi. ("Susan Sarandon ate the strategically placed sun-dried cranberry in the giant dried fruit vagina," Rossi relays.)

The Big Apple event inspired Obel to supervise the annual College Initiative -- a position that puts her in contact with students like Danah Beard from Brown University.

Beard, who directed one of the 65 on-campus V-Day celebrations last year, says the Brown event included about 100 volunteers and sold out each show within hours. But she has even grander plans for February 2000.

"This year, I want to move forward. I am hoping to make a bigger deal out of it -- have a Vagina Week. I want to put the play in a more appropriate place, making it more accessible and comfortable to a larger audience," she says. "... I want to promote pride in our womanhood from every direction."

The computer science major says the female-centric show liberates men as well.

"('The Vagina Monologues') gives women a voice to speak about a topic that is so culturally suppressed. TVM also gives men a voice to listen to when the women around them are unable to express their feelings," she says. "Most men involved in the production came to me and told me that they appreciated that we would involve them because they want to help but don't always know how."

Mary Duffy, an gender studies administrator from the playwright's alma mater, adds, "The message of this play explodes the notion that women must keep their sexuality under wraps."

Duffy, who didn't know Ensler had graduated from Middlebury College in 1975, had begun considering a performance of the "Monologues," even before the Initiative was proposed.

But the national support "made it happen" at the Vermont school, she says. Students publicized the campus event, which raised $500 for a local battered-women's shelter, by passing out leaflets with medical drawings of unlabeled female genitalia headlined, "Test Your Knowledge." On the flip side of the handouts were the correct names and show information.

"Some of the college women couldn't deal with the graphic image - they found it 'disgusting,'" Duffy says. For emphasis, the publicity was distributed during meals outside the school's dining commons.

"TVM demonstrates the importance of art in the process of unlearning our fear and revulsion of that collection of organs which are the site of such pleasure and wonder," Duffy says.


7/15/99