Last Friday, a friend and I went to see the annual showing of “RISE: Untold Stories of Bowdoin Women.” Throughout the show, we heard stories from various women, with topics ranging from friendship and romantic relationships to trauma and abuse. One of my favorite stories was about a woman who expressed disappointment in herself for being unable to love her body, despite the environment she grew up in, which she described as being surrounded by women who loved themselves and their bodies unapologetically.
My friend’s favorite story was about a woman with an unusual medical issue being encouraged to go to “vagerapy” (which is, according to the author of the story, a real word). But despite the stories that I did enjoy, I left feeling unsatisfied. One of the monologues shared that night particularly resonated with me. To paraphrase, the author of this story said that they were disappointed by how many of the stories focused on sex, sex-related issues, or romantic relationships.
After a bit of research, I discovered that “RISE,” at its founding, was Bowdoin’s answer to “The Vagina Monologues,” a popular play that deals with issues similar to the ones described in “RISE.” “The Vagina Monologues” can easily be criticized for its strict association of womanhood with the possession of a vagina. It’s a valid criticism, and one that the creators of “RISE” clearly tried to avoid with the renaming of the show. But I think the name change lends itself to other issues. Choosing to name the show “RISE” brings the focus of the show away from sex-positivity and towards the entire experience of womanhood, but so many people still chose to equate womanhood largely with sex-positivity.
While I don’t think that the show should be renamed as Bowdoin’s iteration of “The Vagina Monologues,” I also don’t think the show was able to fully achieve the goal of women’s empowerment when so much of it was focused on sexual experiences. Even though the creators of “RISE” did make it clear that the stories are not representative of all Bowdoin women, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a representation of how many of us think of ourselves. Why are we quick to define ourselves and our womanhood by our sexual or romantic experiences? Yes, sex-positivity is one aspect of women’s empowerment. But the experience of being a woman is much more than that. As Bowdoin women, and women in general, we deserve to see ourselves, and to be seen, as complete people.
Of course, not every woman’s experience is the same, and not every person’s definition of womanhood is the same. I do think there is power in talking about topics some would consider taboo. There is certainly power in working towards a common goal, and to all the women who collaborated to pull off the production of “RISE,” I commend you. I also recognize that I have the choice to add my voice to the story, and I was definitely inspired to submit a story to “RISE” for next year.
I think many Bowdoin women would agree that their experiences as women are complex and challenging. No one wants to be labeled according to a preconceived notion of what it means to be a woman. With “RISE,” we have the power to change those definitions. But there is no power in allowing womanhood to be defined as just one thing when, in reality, it is so much more.
Adelaide Evans is a member of the Class of 2022.