Return of “The Vagina Monologues” raises controversy, cast says it empowers campus

Photo+courtesy+of+the+Vagina+Monologues+Cast

Photo courtesy of the Vagina Monologues Cast

Dora Kreitzer, Print Managing Editor

“The Vagina Monologues,” an episodic play written by V, formerly Eve Ensler, will be performed by Bucknell students, faculty and staff on Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Trout Auditorium. 

Written in 1994, the play explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, female identity, genital mutilation, sex and power, vaginal reproduction and body image. The play draws its stories from interviews with over 200 women of varying ethnicities, sexualities and races. 

The play follows the content of the original interviews — many monologues are spoken verbatim, and any edits to the stories by V were approved by the storytellers.

In an interview on the original Vagina Monologues website, V wrote she was “drawn to vaginas because of my own personal history, because of sexuality, because women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality.”

The interviews began as a way to celebrate vaginas, but quickly became a broader act of protest before morphing into a social movement. 

On Valentine’s Day, 1998, V-Day was born, a grassroots organization with the goal of ending gender-based violence. V-Day believes that art can catalyze social change, and thus the Monologues have long been a cornerstone of the movement. 

Performed at college campuses across the United States and on dozens of international stages, Bucknell’s cast are just one piece of a much larger movement which “envision[s] “The Vagina Monologues” as more than a provocative work of art; it [is] a mechanism for moving people to act to end violence,” according to the V-Day website

My experience with Vagina Monologues has been so fulfilling Rhiannon Wimer ’25, a student performer, said. it’s important for [the Monologues] to be shown because hearing stories about women and vaginas from their perspective breaks taboos and stigmas around them. The funny stories, the painful stories, and the victim-survivor stories all help combat objectification of our bodies at a time when certain powers that be seek to challenge women’s autonomy because we define our own experiences.

While not many students may recognize the title, the play has a long history both on Bucknell’s campus and internationally. Bucknell used to stage the play annually, beginning in 2001. The play was carried on from year to year with a binder of wisdom and tricks of the trade, but through time its momentum was lost when the production ceased reproduction in 2016.

“The Vagina Monologues is a rallying cry to protect gender, sexual, and reproductive autonomy, written in a moment when that autonomy was at risk” Chase Gregory, Assistant Professor of English specializing in sexuality studies, said. “Right now, these rights aren’t just at risk: people with power have already successfully taken them away. So staging this production isn’t just appropriate, it’s intensely necessary.”  

Bucknell’s 2023 performance of “The Vagina Monologues” is a revival of a long-established mechanism for raising awareness of gender-based violence, but the promotion of the performance has not been without controversy. 

The cast released a written statement on Feb. 5, citing concerns of discrimination within the campus community and administrative response to marketing materials. 

The statement cites a complaint made by a “conservative university group” regarding the call for auditions, a poster which featured a “slightly peeled peach.” It also references the selling of vagina-shaped chocolate pops — a Vagina Monologues tradition internationally — as a lead-up fundraiser to the event. 

“Staff were informed that they would not be permitted to sell vulva-shaped chocolate-pops as ‘university entities’ to raise money for a local victim services center, whose services university students use, at or before the event,” the statement reads. 

Administration reportedly informed staff coordinators that a student group must facilitate the sale and distribution of the pops, as university entities were not permitted, despite no administrative indication of what university policy would be violated in their involvement.

The document follows with the statement, “Bucknell’s decision to suppress and censor the use of vaginal imagery in university programming is a sexist policy, and a prime example of structural sexism.”

The cast communication goes on to call for open visibility regarding vaginal imagery and an end to censorship, holding that these policies “perpetuate inequity towards students who are already exposed to harm.” 

The censorship of suggestive vaginal imagery on posters for a play literally titled The Vagina Monologues would be hilarious, if it weren’t also so sinister, Gregory said. This is virulent sexism, hiding behind prudish discomfort and false civility. It’s a savvy formula, and it works particularly well on a campus that values the psychological comfort of those in power over the material well-being of those without power.

At the time of writing, the cast statement has garnered over 300 signatures in support from various members of the campus community.

“The Vagina Monologues” has been performed as a fundraiser for vulnerable groups since its inception. In keeping with the intention of the performance to enact social change, the cast has chosen to donate all proceeds from ticket sales and fundraisers to Transitions, a Lewisburg-based domestic violence prevention and crisis center. Transitions serves survivors of domestic abuse across Union County, including Bucknell students.

According to V, when asked about their vaginas, women poured out their stories because “no one’s ever given them the opportunity to talk. Any time we open the door to a place where we have a lot of feelings or thoughts or stories, we react enthusiastically. The story of your vagina is the story of your life, and women want to talk about their lives.”

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