Let’s talk about vaginas

In the midst of the 10th anniversary Vagina Monologues performance, the show’s voices ‘remind everyone that equality for and respect of women isn’t optional’

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Vagina Monologues performances.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Vagina Monologues performances.
Photo: 
Anna Thomas, ArtSci ’10
Anna Thomas, ArtSci ’10

Sometimes when I’m in a large group of people, I think about this statistic: one in four Canadian women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. One in four.

Last Thursday in my linguistics class on language and power, there was a student presentation about the language surrounding “Just Say No” anti-rape campaigns. Research by Kitzinger and Frith given in the presentation found social conditioning surrounding refusals makes it difficult for women to “just say no.” Instead, women use non-verbal or more implicit verbal refusal tactics which may be misinterpretated or ignored. The presentation began with a disclaimer saying the article was written “from a feminist perspective” and went on to say it was “anti-male.” The class discussion resulted in the conclusion that women should say what they mean—“If women don’t even know what they want, how should he?”—and if a woman didn’t refuse blatantly with the word “no,” consent could be implied.

I spent most of this class waiting for someone to put up his or her hand and disagree. For someone to say there are extenuating circumstances, sexual advances aren’t always explicit, “Yes” isn’t the default answer. No one did—but then, neither did I. Maybe I just didn’t want to be discounted as “feminist,” too. I went home and ranted. I went to a Vagina Monologues rehearsal and ranted some more. I was angry with myself for not having said women don’t ask to be raped, saying “I’m tired” does constitute a refusal and that this kind of dialogue has made women blame themselves for being raped.

But I said none of those things. And the fact is, had I not been involved in the Vagina Monologues, I may not have realized any of these perspectives, or had a medium in which to express them.

This year is the 10-year anniversary of V-Day—the first Vagina Monologues performance—which is both a cause for celebration and despair. It has been 10 years of brave women, scared women, angry women, sad women and empowered women getting up on stage and talking about vaginas and the issues, dangers and joys of having one. Seeing the Monologues last year made me realize, as many don’t, the privilege I have by being in the three of four women who haven’t been assaulted. It made me think about what it means to live in a society where one of the most degrading swear-words refers to a part of my body. It made me wonder at and admire the women who were on the stage in front of me. This year as an actor in the show, I have had the incredible opportunity to meet, laugh and cry with some of these women, and the experience has broadened my perspective.

The Monologues are important because they encourage dialogue between people. For women, it’s incredibly empowering to see and hear other women’s stories and to realize we’re not isolated in our experiences or feelings. For men, it’s of utmost importance to be included in this dialogue and to understand male privilege in how it relates to and affects our society. It’s paramount for everyone to understand “feminism” isn’t a bad word, or an insult, or something to disclaim. Until the violence stops—and one in four Canadian women can tell you it hasn’t—we need new interpretations and new voices joining the Monologues discourse. These voices remind everyone that equality for and respect of women isn’t optional, and that it hasn’t yet been achieved. We can’t assume just because we occupy a very privileged space as Queen’s students we don’t experience, witness, stay silent about or propagate acts of oppression ourselves. The Monologues and V-Day help us realize how little we talk about women’s issues every other day of the year.

Not everyone will like the Monologues, understand the Monologues or be part of the Monologues, but as long there’s violence and oppression, we need something like the Monologues to start dialogue, raise questions and get people thinking—and talking—about vaginas.

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