By Emily Klingman
Most people shy away from discussing their genital areas, but not the leading ladies of The Vagina Monologues.
Susan Stahley, substance abuse and sexual assault prevention coordinator, is directing this year’s production of The Vagina Monologues, a collection of tales told by 36 participants from Rider, aiming to share women’s stories and spread awareness of the issues they face.
“I think it’s a fun way to bring attention to a lot of different issues,” said Stahley. “The monologues themselves have a range of different things. Some of it’s funny, but it also tells the stories of women.”
The monologues first came about when author Eve Ensler started talking with her friends about their vaginas and their experiences. As the conversation expanded to over 200 women from all corners of the world, she was hearing all different stories. She heard about people who were raped, who had weird experiences, and even somebody who went to a vagina workshop to learn more about hers. Ensler then started asking a series of questions to the women she spoke with, such as, ‘What would yours wear?’ ‘What would your vagina say?’ ‘What would your vagina smell like?’ and out of those responses she compiled what would become The Vagina Monologues.
Stahley describes Ensler’s monologues as having “just taken [everyone] by storm.” According to Stahley, just in the area around Rider there are five performances including ones at The College of New Jersey and Princeton.
“Where I live in Flemington, New Jersey, I read in the paper that they’re doing a version of it,” said Stahley.
The performances are strongly connected to a movement Ensler began, called V-day. Participants of the movement are able to perform the monologues for free, starting in February and ending in April.
“You don’t have to pay for the rights to do it, but any money you raise has to go to a woman’s organization that is helping women — and men — in domestic violence situations,” Stahley said.
The profits from this year’s performance at Rider will benefit Womanspace, a local organization that runs a 24-hour hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault, operates a shelter for women and families, helps women and men who are dealing with sexual harassment and violence.
“We work closely with them,” Stahley said. “They’re going to be working with us, with students on our campus as needed — we’re working on developing that right now — so it just seemed natural to donate our proceeds to them.”
Stahley hopes Rider students will take away a new awareness of the issues that women face by hearing the different stories that Ensler collected over the years.
“She writes these pieces, and it brings it to attention, it brings it to the forefront, but it does it in such a provocative way that it brings in audiences,” Stahley said.
The pieces Stahley mentioned include stories about “a woman who had a bad experience, so, therefore, never had sex again, and also women who have been raped; child abuse; there are some facts about genital mutilation, about how the clitoris has more nerve endings than a penis many, many, many more.”
For senior Elissa Fredeen, participating in the production of the monologues is important in raising awareness and breaking taboos.
“Vaginas are such a significant part of womanhood and yet they are incredibly taboo,” said Fredeen. “Hearing multiple perspectives not only increases empathy and respect for a woman’s body, but it also makes the whole ordeal less scary.”
Fredeen believes the messages the monologues send can effect change everywhere, even in today’s typical household.
“Like so many other people out there, my father can’t even bring himself to say the name of the play. Instead he says ‘The V Monologues,’” said Fredeen. “Ladies do not deserve to be self-conscious about their genitals because society has given it a less desirable connotation, making it difficult to talk about.”
Harnessing the passion of the performers like Leeds and Fredeen, Stahley believes the performance will leave the audience with a feeling of empowerment.
“To feel empowered when you walk out of there, to feel strong and to kind of feel together,” she said. “And it’s not just for women. I think anyone [can] feel women are powerful and respect them.”
Performances will take place March 30 and March 31 at 7 p.m. in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater.
Printed in the 3/25/15 edition.