Conversations that are usually kept under wraps were professed to a full house as 36 Bowdoin women clad in red and black filed onto the stage for Bowdoin’s 16th annual rendition of the Vagina Monologues at Kresge Auditorium.
Sponsored by V-Day, a global organization that works to end violence against women throughout the world, the Monologues broach largely undiscussed topics about the female body and sexuality in an accessible and often lighthearted way.
The show began with cast members reading quotes taken anonymously from female Bowdoin students.
Some statements were empowering, such as, “I’m comfortable with my body, and I’m proud of who I am and the decisions I make.”
Others were laced with inquisitive clarity of thought: “Would you really go to a social house party if you knew that there was no hope of hooking up with someone?”
And still others were simply meant to shock and incite laughter from the audience: “I love bondage. Oops.”
This frank introduction connected the Bowdoin campus to the open and uninhibited style of the Vagina Monologues, a technique that director Emily Ausubel ’13 believes is very effective in addressing issues of female sexuality, body image and sexual abuse to a college audience.
Throughout the school year, student groups like Safe Space, Bowdoin Women’s Association, V-Day, Body Speak and BMASV deal with issues concerning the hookup culture on campus, whether it be preventing sexual assault or promoting healthy body image. The Monologues condenses these issues into an hour-long program that offers fresh perspectives from beyond the bounds of Bowdoin.
“The language and directness used, they are not conversations or ways that you would normally have a conversation,” said Ausubel. “It brings [the issue] right out there to the forefront, with no tiptoeing around it.
Ausubel has been involved in the Monologues during all four years of her college career, two years as a performer and two years as a director. This year, she co-directed the performance with Lydia Singerman ’13, Xanthe Demas ’15, and Callie Ferguson ’15.
When asked to name her favorite monologue, Ausubel turned to “The Flood,” a story told by a spunky, elderly woman who loses confidence in her sexuality after an embarrassing incident as a teenager.
“It’s moving, but also witty, and just fun, and from that you can really understand how the Vagina Monologues can have an impact on people,” said Ausubel. “It’s very representative about how women are silent about so many of these issues—it is important to let them speak about them.”
Ausubel cited how, in this way, “campaigning through theater” is an effective vehicle for conversation. It also enables performers to be less inhibited than they might normally be when addressing these issues.
“I don’t feel like I’m breaking a code with myself,” said Tasha Sandoval ’13, who performed the monologue, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” a piece that features a sex worker who is particularly enthusiastic about moaning. “Putting myself in this mindset and knowing that I’m exaggerating makes it easier to throw myself into the part and be dramatic.”
However, despite the many lighthearted moments, the Monologues are not without their dark themes. Issues like female genital mutilation and rape are addressed with “Not-So-Happy Facts” that performers report in a deliberate and solemn manner under a dim spotlight.
There has been some talk about creating an equivalent performance for men, the “Penis Monologues,” if you will, to which Ausubel feels ambivalent.
“It’s complex,” she said. “The experiences that are addressed in the monologues do happen to women, and men go through a lot of issues around their gender as well, but I think it’s [a little bit] of the ‘dominant’ group feeling sad because they’re not represented, when the whole point is for the more oppressed group—if you want to use an extreme word—to get their voice out.”
On the other hand, Ausubel said, “Why not have their voice and stories be heard as well? I wouldn’t want it to be a competition: the Penis Monologues vs. the Vagina Monologues. But if it ended up getting more men interested in going to the Vagina Monologues, wonderful. I think women need to hear guys’ perspectives as well.”
The Monologues hold auditions, but everyone who tries out gets a part in the show. Ausubel says that participation generally ranges from about 30 to 40 women, except in 2011, when 80 women auditioned.
“I really encourage everyone to be in the show at least once,” she said. “Really dedicating yourself to a show like this and understanding that you are part of a global movement for women’s rights is a very empowering feeling and you end up bonding with all these other women on campus you might not have necessarily gotten to know otherwise.”
Although the Monologues aren’t the words of Bowdoin students themselves, they address issues that are universal on all college campuses. As the performers say at the beginning of the show, “We are Bowdoin…these are our stories.”