Zonke Frazier stormed onstage from the front row of the very full audience there for the February 2016 performance of the Vagina Monologues at UCI with the outraged proclamation, “my vagina is angry!”
In a verbal assault, Frazier laments the uncomfortable experience that vaginas have to go through like the intrusion of tampons (“a wad of cotton stuffed up there!”), gynecologist visits (“cold duck lips”) and douche sprays (“make it smell like roses when it’s supposed to smell like pussy”).
Frazier’s piece was one of the 20 monologues that the feminist playwright Eve Ensler wrote in 1996 after interviewing hundreds of women about their vaginas, a typically taboo topic, and the monologues pull from every phase of womanhood and every experience with the vagina: orgasm, discrimination, rape, birth, and discovery of sexuality.
Even though the Vagina Monologues are performed nationwide and this is UCI’s 14th annual show, the actresses are still able to represent their roles with their own unique experience. Because this is not a typical theatrical production but very much an activist piece of art meant to provoke audiences, it requires conviction and interpretation for these symbolic roles.
“Everyone comes in with different experiences,” one of the three performers of the “Short Skirt” piece, Moniqua Markham said. “Where they are mentally and in their heart when they do each piece, you can really see how individual each piece is, and what it means to everyone. It’s just great, including for me, to really take my experiences and the way I feel about these issues and put that into my piece.”
“Short Skirt” emphasizes that a woman’s skirt is not an indication of “easiness,” or “asking for it,” or “lack of intelligence,” and for Markham that is very personal. Her mother was raped walking through a park late at night in shorts, a fact Markham was not aware of until she was older, and she wants to spread the message that victim-blaming is not the answer to sexual assault.
In another more playful piece, Becca Rowland, a 2nd year Drama major, challenged her conservative upbringing in “The Vagina Workshop,” in which her character attends a yoga-mat group session to find her clitoris and induce orgasm, something some women never achieve or avoid doing.
“I was raised with a very romanticized idea of sex and intimacy and romantic love,” said Rowland. “It’s been a really interesting journey with this piece and just with this process, being surrounded by other women and realizing that this is a part of me. I can claim for myself, even if it’s the decision to not have sex, it’s my decision to make because it’s about me. It’s been really empowering.”
Others like Danielle Mariano, a third-year computer science and art double major, are narrators who introduce pieces.
“The narrator gives a lot of unknown context for a lot of things. I give factual information that 200,000 women are raped in America and 20,000 to 70,000 women were raped as a systematic tactic of war in Europe and it just gives so much more power to the piece,” said Mariano. She introduced one of the most painful monologues, “My Vagina Was My Village,” in which a woman raped in the Bosnian War by six soldiers for seven days loses her love and positivity towards her vagina as it is physically destroyed.
Going back and forth between humor, awkwardness, playfulness, discomfort, and tragedy, the Vagina Monologues represent experiences that every woman or every person with a vagina can relate to, and it is meant to challenge and expand our comfort zones. As a work of activist and feminist theatre, the piece is meant to inspire a reaction and conversation.
Carly Taylor, a third-year psychology major and the lead director of the Vagina Monologues, had a certain vision for the show.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to talk about things that they are uncomfortable with,” Taylor said. “You should always be willing to dive into a conversation, especially if it makes you uncomfortable. That’s the best way to learn and that’s what we’re here for—to set the conversation, whether it’s about what it’s like to be a woman with a vagina, what it’s like to be a woman without a vagina, what it’s like to experience the pressure and crazy things that women experience.”
As a concluding audience activity, Taylor stated the statistics of sexual assault, rape and stalking in the U.S. and on college campuses and asked anyone who was a victim and survivor to stand. Next, she asked anyone who knew a victim to stand, and lastly, everyone who promised to help prevent this from happening again, bringing everyone to their feet and then giving a well-deserved standing ovation to the cast and crew that brought the Vagina Monologues to UCI.