This evening, Bowdoin V-Day, an organization dedicated to fighting sexual violence against women and girls, will end nearly 20 years of performing “The Vagina Monologues” due to debate about the Monologues presenting a one-dimensional, outdated portrayal of womanhood. In its place, V-Day is debuting the student-written show, “RISE: Untold Stories of Bowdoin Women.”
The show is directed by Amanda Spiller ’17 and Emiley Charley ’17, and was written by the team of Spiller, Mariam-Boubacar Nimaga ’17, Rebecca Fisher ’17, Ellie Heywood ’19 and Aziza Janmohamed ’19.
“There had been talk the past couple of years about how conceptions of female sexuality and gender had sort of changed,” said Heywood, who in addition to writing RISE is a leader of V-Day. “I think [‘The Vagina Monologues’] doesn’t show the nuance and complexities and intersectionalities of being a woman and other identities on this campus and so it doesn’t have that universality that it used to have.”
There were also complaints that the writer of “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler, distanced the women’s stories from the truth by conducting group interviews and then writing the monologues herself. RISE was written based on the stories of women on Bowdoin’s campus collected through submissions in an online forum and interviews. The directors and actors of the show made efforts to stay as true as possible to the women’s stories, while still preserving anonymity.
“It is a play, but we also want to be cognizant and conscious of the fact that these are stories on campus, and so we have acting but it’s much more subtle and it’s much more true to the words,” said Heywood.
Rebkah Tesfamariam ’18 did not participate in “The Vagina Monologues” in the past years, but is acting in RISE this year.
“I think there’s something really special about knowing there’s someone whose story on campus I have the privilege of reading to the campus, and bringing to light some more serious and funny and important issues that people might not feel comfortable with sharing in the other spaces,” she said.
The women who came together to present RISE hope that knowing the stories being performed come from Bowdoin students will stimulate conversation about the issues that come up in the show.
“I hope that people really question their interactions with people on a romantic or even on a friendship level after this, because there’s the weight of knowing there is a woman on this campus who feels this way,” said Tesfamariam.
Heywood is confident that RISE is more effective in showing the nuance and complexity of intersecting identities than “The Vagina Monologues.” However, she recognizes that the show cannot cover the entire range of female experience.
“You can’t recognize and can’t represent the totality of experiences of womanhood on this campus, and there’s always going to be a story missing,” she said.
Heywood hopes that in the future more stories will be added to RISE, making it a more complete representation of the experiences of women at Bowdoin.
“It’s always an ideal, and that’s what we’re sort of pointing towards, hopefully in the right ways,” she said.
RISE will be performed tonight and tomorrow night in Kresge auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the Smith Union info desk and all proceeds will be donated to Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine.