The Vagina Monologues empowers women

2013-04-15_Vagina_Monologues_Shweta

Shweta Gulati

Jeane Rich and other cast members rehearse the Austin edition of ‘Vagina Monologues.’ The play attempts to confront social restrictions on women’s sexuality and educate audiences about violence against women.

Jourden Sander

The shock value of saying “vagina” out loud in public is not lost on the cast members of “The Vagina Monologues,” whose purpose is to encourage women to be more comfortable with their bodies. 

Created 15 years ago by Eve Ensler, “The Vagina Monologues,” sets out to confront society’s social restrictions on women’s sexuality while raising awareness about violence against women.

Laramie Gorbett, producer and cast member of the Austin production of “The Vagina Monologues,” said the play portrays women from diverse backgrounds discussing issues that are often considered taboo.

“I think the idea is to give a voice to things we don’t really talk about,” Gorbett said. “Including our bodies and our vaginas and sex and sexuality, but also sexual violence. What started out as just a few women’s stories has turned into literally a global movement. That’s the whole idea: to give a voice to those who have experienced violence, and to inspire empowerment, and to motivate people to take action.” 

Ensler interviewed 200 women about their bodies, sex, sexuality, good experiences and bad experiences. From these women’s stories, she created “The Vagina Monologues:” a fun and comical celebration of women and their vaginas, but also a serious discussion of women’s issues. 

Starting on Broadway, the play received quick attention, and expanded internationally. Ensler, however, created a list of rules that had to be followed in order for the play to be performed. Every production of the play must have a local beneficiary that helps end violence against women and girls.  

The Austin production of “The Vagina Monologues” has two local beneficiaries. The first being The Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking, an organization working to help minors who were forced into the sex trade. The second is Empower Art, a nonprofit started by Gorbett to help surviving women cope with family violence and sexual violence they have faced. 

Gorbett said the cast, who often refer to themselves as vagina warriors, represent a wide range of women including teachers, law enforcement, comedians, actresses or women who have never been on stage before.  

Cast member Adriana Duarte discovered “The Vagina Monologues” while working for the Austin Police Department Victim Services as a counselor for female audience members in case they were triggered by the material in the play. Because she was empowered by the play, Duarte began getting more involved. 

“Hearing the word ‘vagina’ over and over again in this context makes women feel more comfortable with it,” Duarte said. “And hearing a description of an orgasm, or of the anatomy of the vagina that we all know but we don’t talk about because it’s not politically correct. And also to demystify the word ‘vagina’ and take power away from the offensive words that are used to describe the vagina.” 

Susie Gidseg, fellow cast member, said the female genitalia is surrounded by a social stigma. 

“Why is it not okay to have sexuality and to have body parts?” Gidseg said. “I still don’t know. But us putting it out there forces people to realize that if they blush when they say or hear ‘vagina,’ something’s up.”

Gorbett said the play is a good medium to educate people about the violence women face, but particularly the violence that young women face. 

“Unfortunately young women, whether they’re in elementary school, junior high or high school, are exposed to these things that the play is talking about,” Gorbett said. “Whether it’s rape or incest, or teen dating violence, these are real things that effect people here in Austin but also all over the world. The thing that is important, that I think even a teenager could see is the overall strength and the bravery it takes to tell your story.”

Cast member, Roxana Ortega-Hart, said she hopes women watch the play and realize there are women all over the world experiencing these issues. Working in the Family Violence Unit for the Austin Police Department, Ortega-Hart feels a personal connection with the play’s manifesto. 

“Through my job I work with a lot of victims, so I feel like I’m doing this on behalf of those victims,” Ortega-Hart said. 

Gorbett said “The Vagina Monologues” isn’t against the male sex or “anti-man” at all. The play attempts to educate audiences about violence against women while getting people to talk about women’s issues. 

“The play is a call to action,” Gorbett said. “It pushes the envelope and forces people to think. Some of these issues may make you uncomfortable, but you’re not gonna walk away without feeling something.”

Printed on Thursday, April 18, 2013 as Monologues celebrate the female voice