By Summer Wong
Carly S. Taylor felt like she was in a cage, trapped and without anybody to talk to: Can’t talk to guys, because that’d be cheating; can’t talk to girls either, because they know guys. Her heart tightened from the overwhelming feeling of suffocation, and every time she walked on Ring Road to get to class, she was constantly reminded of what she couldn’t have and all the possible friendships denied to her. Carly had been in an abusive relationship for two years, and at the time, she didn’t know she had a voice or any possibility of getting out. And that was when an opportunity to perform in — and later direct — the Vagina Monologues came in and changed everything.
“[My boyfriend] always told me that I was worthless, that nothing I could ever do would make anyone else love me, so I might as well stay with him. He told me a bunch of terrible destructive things like that,” said Carly.
On the surface, Carly is a 20-year-old third-year college student majoring in psychology. She’s a part-time nanny who loves having meaningful interactions with children. She likes to dance and sing loudly in the shower, spend time with her loved ones and with her six-month-old husky Sami. No one would ever guess that this cheerful woman is a survivor of an abusive relationship that has turned into an experience that drives her to empower other women to overcome similar struggles.
“The relationship was more emotionally abusive than anything,” said Carly. “He came to visit one day and he was just so angry that one of the guys in my hall knew my name. He completely blew up on me.”
He wanted to control her. What she was doing every moment of every day, who she was with, why she was with that person, and even what she was wearing had to go through this process. Carly’s everyday routine consisted of a daily “outfit of the day” text sent to her boyfriend for inspection and approval, to which he would say “yes, you can wear that” or “no, don’t you dare wear that.” T-shirts weren’t allowed because it showed too much skin. Red flags were flashing right in front of her eyes, but Carly believed that she loved him enough to deal with his unreasonable demands. She told herself everyday that all of this would pass, and that one day he would realize she was good enough to be trusted. She later realized what red flags were, and that they were all there.
However, Carly’s involvement with the Vagina Monologues gave her the moral support she needed. It made her realize her independence and reminded her to stand up for herself. It would be two years into this abusive relationship before Carly joined the Vagina Monologues team and realized that it was time to let go of something unjustly sinking her down. A huge passion for addressing women’s issues and gender-based violence motivated her to take up leadership roles. Carly climbed up the ranks, first as a performer her freshman year, and eventually the president of the Vagina Monologues club and the lead director of their yearly productions. This space was a place where she felt secure and safe, and this year she was fortunate to be able to provide a space for others to feel the same.
“It was through the Vagina Monologues and the moral support system that I had there that I figured out that I was my own person, and I can be my own person and I have the resources and people who will be there for me and help me get out of these terrible terrible things,” said Carly.
Carly started to slowly phase him out. Texts went unanswered, visits became shortened and eventually, the relationship terminated, as she pulled away from a relationship that no longer positively served her.
V-Day at UCI — a local chapter of the national organization — has more than ten years of strong, ongoing history, raising money and awareness in a global movement to support the end of gender-based violence. This chapter has a yearly student-run production put on to entertain and educate, focusing on the female- identified experience. All the money that is raised is donated to various beneficiaries, such as the UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE), UCI’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center (LGBTRC) and an organization that fights domestic violence, Human Options, all of which share the same ideals.
The Vagina Monologues represents the voice of those individuals who do not have the opportunity to speak up. Impactful monologues from women from all walks of life contribute to a moving performance that leaves its audience snapping enthusiastically in support. Stories range far and wide from pubic hair to women who are systematically raped as a tactic of war. For this year’s event, frightening statistics about sexual assault and rape were taped to the back of a couple of chairs as an added effect.
“According to RAINN, one in four American college women will be sexually assaulted or raped,” one read.
Songs meant to empower women, like Beyonce’s “Feeling Myself” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” blasted from the speakers before the show and during intermission. Tears rolled down some performers’ faces as they recited the heart-gripping monologue “My Vagina was my Village.” Expressive and angry hand motions displayed tortured vexation, while the additional use of humor lightened the mood of a very serious subject. These monologues showed audiences that these issues that may not be seen every day still actually happen. At the end of the show, people who were victims of sexual assault, rape, or stalking were asked to stand up, and a shocking approximate of 70 percent of the crowd got up from their chairs.
“There are so many other people like me who don’t even know that what they’re going through isn’t them just being crazy, or ‘it’s just part of life’ and ‘just happens’. I want to help someone somewhere with something, whether it’s getting them out of an abusive relationship like I was, or making them feel comfortable with the fact that they don’t align themselves with the gender binary, or anything small like that. That’s why I dedicate my time to it, and it makes me happy helping them out.”