V-Day and The Vagina Monologues: My Experience

Founded by playwright Eve Ensler, V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. On Day 2 of the 16 Days of Activism, Ci3 Communications Manager Lauren Whalen reflects on her experience with the V-Day movement. 

When I walked into the green room of my college’s mainstage theater, I had no idea I’d walk out a changed person.

It was late 1999, and I was a theater major at Loyola University Chicago. The department was doing an open call for actresses for their February 2000 production of The Vagina Monologues. The year before, Loyola had been one of the first schools to perform the piece, an original play by Eve Ensler that raised awareness and funds to end violence against women.

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I just wanted to be in a show. Though I’d identified as a feminist since eighth grade, I was alarmed by all the anger I’d witnessed around me since I’d started undergrad. I wasn’t an angry person, and I had a boyfriend, therefore I thought I wasn’t a “real” feminist. But opportunity won out, and besides, I was curious about a show that used that word so openly.

After I was cast, I bought a copy of the play at Borders and read it cover to cover. My eyebrows almost disappeared into my hairline. Surely these stories were exaggerated. I knew what rape and abuse were, of course, but until then, they were abstract concepts. I didn’t realize how wildly fortunate and privileged I was, never to have experienced them firsthand. I was shocked by these monologues, the stories of women who’d been victimized by anonymous soldiers, by strangers, by adults they should have been able to trust.

And then, I got angry. Why should this be happening? Why was society so conditioned to accept it, or in my case, why was it so easy to ignore? Why was it still considered tradition, in other countries, to sever a woman’s clitoris? Why were so many women, of every size, shape and color, survivors of violence?

A few months later, I performed my small role with gusto. I felt the collective power of my castmates – a week before the production, posters advertising The Vagina Monologues had been ripped down all over campus, causing us to proudly sport homemade T-shirts with “V” on them, while taping up new posters. And over the next seven years, I would appear in the show six more times (both at Loyola and at Northern Illinois University, where I attended law school). I would spend a day with Eve Ensler herself. I would add an undergrad minor in Women’s Studies, and eventually pay my law school tuition as a Women’s Studies teaching assistant. In 2006, I would direct and act in a university-wide production, and (due to a venue double booking) perform the final monologue in a parking lot in DeKalb, Illinois.

I’ve still never experienced sexual violence or abuse, but I have done my best to advocate for survivors through my work. Sadly, women are often perceived as second-class citizens. And that won’t change unless we make our voices heard, and help others do the same.

Life would have been very different had I not walked into the green room that day.

To learn more about V-Day and The Vagina Monologues, visit http://www.vday.org

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