From its first performance in 1998, Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” has been praised for spreading awareness about domestic violence and criticized for its graphic nature.
The monologues comes to Columbia over the next two weeks when students from Stephens College perform it Saturday and Sunday and MU does a performance on Feb. 18.
Performances have been banned at some colleges, including Providence College in Providence, R.I., but the women who will bring “The Vagina Monologues” to Stephens College and MU praise the vignettes for breaking taboos.
“Just come, I promise it will change your life,” said Amy Palmer, committee chair for MU’s performance, which will take place in Jesse Auditorium.
Palmer said “The Vagina Monologues” helped change her life. After seeing the performance as a freshman, she realized she needed to leave the abusive relationship she was in, she said.
MU is in its fifth year performing the monologues. Mary “Struby” Struble, a staff advisor for the MU performance, said getting 1,000 people to attend a meeting about preventing violence against women is a lot harder than getting them to attend a thought-provoking theatrical performance.
Struble said the monologues make people laugh, cry and cringe, while many of the actors said it has been an eye-opening experience.
“I think some people come back to support the awareness, and I think some people come for the emotions,” said Annie Smith, who will perform in MU’s production. “While there are hard, sad emotions that you get from some of the monologues, there are some that are humorous and make you laugh.”
Cozette Lehman, who is performing the monologue, “If My Vagina Could Talk, What Would it Say?” in the MU production, said that the show continues to be popular because “no matter who you are, everybody can identify with something.”
The same things that attract viewers to “The Vagina Monologues” can also be deterrents. Colleen Coble, of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she does not think everyone identifies with the content of “The Vagina Monologues.”
“I think that it can help raise awareness, but I also know that there are some folks in the community who might have an issue with the explicit nature of the stories that are being presented,” Coble said. “It’s a useful tool but not necessarily for every single aspect of the community.”
The V-Day Campaign was launched in 1999 to use performances of “The Vagina Monologues” to help raise money for organizations that help prevent violence against women.
Proceeds from ticket sales, as well as the sale of souvenirs such as chocolate vaginas, buttons and vagina origami, go to shelters and other organizations that help women who have been raped and abused.
Stephens is donating its proceeds to The Shelter, which provides temporary housing and other services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Cherice Fleming Togun, an employee of The Shelter, thinks “The Vagina Monologues” are a valuable fundraising tool, as well as a way to shine more light on a serious, but not always openly discussed problem.
MU is splitting its proceeds between The Shelter and the L.E.A.D. Institute, which serves the deaf and those with hearing loss.
John Wilkerson, volunteer coordinator for the institute, said L.E.A.D. has benefited from the last two years of MU’s performances.
“I think that anybody who sees “The Vagina Monologues” can’t help but leave the performance with a new and potent perspective, not only to be a woman, but what it is to experience trauma, but also to experience all the good things that womanhood provides,” Wilkerson said.
By attending the monologues, viewers are actively stopping violence, said Struble.
“What did you do on Saturday?” she said. “I helped to stop violence against women.”