For our body issue, we wanted to talk to some people involved in what is probably the most significant event on campus named after a body part- Vagina Monologues. So, we asked Christine Averill, ‘13, who acted in the monologues, and Emily Baxter, ’11, who directed, a few questions about their involvement in the Vagina Monologues and V-Time!
- First, a pretty basic question- what caused you to be interested in helping organize V-Time?
Emily Baxter: I am a lifelong feminist and actor. I have been performing in theater since I was 12 and, well, I was just raised to be a feminist, no question (thanks, mom and dad!). I should say that my contribution to V-Time was just a small portion of all the preparation that many, many people did to make the events happen. I did not do any of the logistical planning (that was Stephanie Chesnut at the CWG and all of the interns who work there); I only directed the Vagina Monologues. As for wanting to participate in the Vagina Monologues, despite my feminist leanings, I had only seen the play performed once when I was 14; I was usually involved in other plays at Dartmouth, so I never had time to be involved or even see our Vagina Monologues. Moreover, I had learned about Eve Ensler in some of my theater classes and how she can be a controversial figure in the theater/human rights world. BUT, I knew this was my last chance to participate in an event that was so empowering to many people. I realized that it was an opportunity to combine my love of theater with my desire to participate in women’s rights activism. So, when I auditioned, they asked if I had any directing experience. I have directed some in the student Shakespeare company, the Rude Mechanicals, so I jumped at the chance. Directing the Vagina Monologues was both an artistic challenge and an opportunity to critically look at the piece as a play in women’s rights activism.
Christine Averill: I remember V-Time being a really powerful week last year, full of empowering activities. It was my first time watching the Vagina Monologues, and I found them incredibly powerful. I laughed and cried through the whole thing, and left feeling empowered about the community of women at Dartmouth College, and even felt so much strength and empathy in the various things women have faced (with respect to vaginas) both in this country and internationally.
2. This is our bodies issue of ‘The Hump-day Gazette.’ Seeing as V-Time is, in name at least, based on a body part, what sort of role do you see women’s body’s playing into issues of women as a whole, whether through body image, sexuality, etc?
EB: This sounds like an essay question from an exam on Judith Butler! Women and Gender Studies jokes aside, to follow her line of thinking, the body can certainly be a place for the reiteration or change of cultural structures, beliefs, and practices. In fact, that’s what the Vagina Monologues is about; confronting issues women – and men – have with discussing the physical, body part becomes a way of discussing larger issues of gender, sexuality, and feminism. Bringing up these issues by focusing on the physical body shows that who we are as embodied beings cannot be separated from how we deal with issues of gender inequality. For the Vagina Monologues in particular, it shows how accepting or discussing the vagina in a forthright manner – something that cultural convention tells us not to do – becomes an analogue or, at least, a method for accepting one’s body and womanhood both physically and mentally (and seeing those aspects of part of an integrated whole!).
CA: I think there is a lot of shame built around vaginas. Women are not encouraged at an early enough age to love their own vaginas, to look at them and take pride in that most feminine part of themselves. I think that learning to take pride in the beauty of the special body part is an extremely valuable attitude, that gives each woman who feels that pride to take on a special kind of confidence.
3. What are some issues you feel women face regarding sex and sexuality? What steps can we take to try and find solutions?
CA: I think a lot of women struggle with stereotypes in defining their identities. I think the most harmful dichotomy of identity is that of being either a “virgin or a whore”. I know so many young women who fear pursuing pleasure solely because of the negative stereotypes they fear being assigned to. The fact the cattiness among women, sisters of our own gender, exists to prevent people from having comfort in being sexually liberated is something that sincerely bothers me. We should all support each other and the personal choices each of us makes in regards to pursuing (or not pursuing) sexual activity, and learn not to be competitive or perpetuate harmful gendered name-calling stereotypes like “slut,” “whore,” or “bitch” in order to grow mutual acceptance and respect for exercising whatever manner of womanhood each of us desires to express.
EB: I think that at the base of many issues of sex, sexuality, and gender inequality is a lack of education. Whether you are talking about female genital mutilation, lack of access to careers, or believing that a size 2 is the “ideal” size for a woman, men and women need to be educated to make this world a better place. In issues of development, it has been shown over and over that one of the keys to growth – along with access to food, water, and healthcare – is access to education for girls. In our own dear College, however, think about the discrimination and victim blaming that persists because people do not educate themselves about the facts, dangers, and misperceptions around sexual assault. So, to me, education of many kinds is the solution.