Photo Courtesy of Spark Theatre Company
Story by Toriana Williams / Contributing Writer
Out of several separate interviews, the word that recurred the most was “empowering” when talking about “The Vagina Monologues.”
“The Vagina Monologues,” written by Eve Ensler in 1996, is an episodic play composed of 200 interviews of women and their experience with oppression, assault and sexual abuse. Twenty-six years later, 28 of Nashville’s own women will perform it at the Nashville performance venue, Exit/In, on Feb. 17 and 18.
Stevie Rae Stephens, who first started performing “The Vagina Monologues” years ago in California, shared what it’s like to be a part of such an emotional piece of theater.
“It’s changed me forever … We stand onstage as a unit of sisters, a unit of warriors, giving a voice to the voiceless,” Stephens said. “Rape doesn’t see boundaries. It doesn’t see color, country, gender, social status or even family. It’s a cancer wreaking havoc on our world, and I can’t just stand by.”
Stephens knew she had to “deliver an experience to a group of girls that was as empowering and impacting” as it was for her. Now she’s the director of the Nashville production.
“It’s a global movement toward ending violence against women,” Stephens said, referencing the nonprofit organization, V-Day, that donates funds to other organizations that seek to stop violence against women. The proceeds of this particular production will benefit the Nashville YMCA and the V-Day movement as well.
The play focuses on empowering women by giving them the opportunity to raise awareness of violence against women.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five women in the United States has been raped in their lifetime, and one in four women have been the victim of severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime. Facts such as these are discussed in “The Vagina Monologues,” along with inequality against women, harassment, incest, sex slavery and more.
However, “The Vagina Monologues” has been criticized in the past for being anti-transgender and focusing on second-wave feminism, which is also sometimes referred to as “white feminism.”
Stephens disagrees with the critiques, saying, “’The Vagina Monologues’ focuses on all women, including trans. In fact, there’s a piece that is specifically aimed at fostering a better understanding of trans issues and acceptance.”
She went on to discuss that feminism, in its dictionary definition, means “social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Period. This is the feminism that I stand for, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ stands for and Eve Ensler stands for.”
The play’s logistics manager, Rebekkah Price, said, “’The Vagina Monologues’ is performed mostly by women who have experienced what this play is about … It makes you reflect on yourself and your own experiences, and you learn that every story is empowering. It gives every woman a chance to speak her truth.”
“Theater is incredibly cathartic, whether you’re telling your own story or someone else’s,” Price continued.
These women use performing “The Vagina Monologues” as a way to cope with and overcome the struggles they have had to endure because of their experience with oppression, assault or sexual abuse. Performer Hannah Lyle talked about her own story that involves similar issues.
“I’ve never been outspoken,” Lyle said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of manipulative relationships with men and women, and this play has given me the power to fight against that. It’s impacted me greatly within the few months I’ve been here.”
Kryslin Williams, another performer, shared that she herself has been violated more than once by people she thought she could trust.
“I have been muted in both situations.”
She admitted that she feels a lot of her negative experiences stem from her skin color.
“Black girls don’t get their stories told. I’m here to represent them,” Williams said.
Other than giving Williams and others room to speak after they’ve been silenced, “The Vagina Monologues” has also gifted her confidence and belief in herself.
“Through this opportunity, I have found that I am a warrior, and I can literally do anything,” Williams said. “I’ve never felt more empowered.”
“This is not a group of angry feminists,” Lyle said. “It might be considered controversial, but it’s meant to be educational and to open a much-needed dialogue about rape culture and violence. It’s something everyone has to hear.”
If you want to hear it for yourself, you can find tickets and more details at www.exitin.com.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Mamie Lomax, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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