"My vagina is angry. It is. It's pissed off. My vagina is furious, and it needs to talk." So begins one of Eve Ensler's famous Vagina Monologues, a series of short stories about women and what they have experienced with their vaginas. Some monologues are funny and some are gut wrenching in their blunt description of violence, but they are all grounded in stories real women have told to Ensler.
Eastern Washington University and Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest are sponsoring the monologues in Spokane on Friday, Feb. 9 and in Cheney on Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 14-15.
Predictably, seeing the word 'vagina' on a poster still rubs some people the wrong way, and one charity said no to proceeds from the show, fearing offended board members.
"The university has been very supportive," says Elodie Daquila, the EWU psychology major who's bringing the monologues to town. "And I don't even like calling this a feminist event. Feminism is just another label. I say to the men who don't know if they want to go, that if they want to learn about women, and understand where women are coming from, the Vagina Monologues is a great place to start."
The Vagina Monologues is a play that has developed into an entire movement known as V-Day. V-Day's mission is simple: It demands that violence against women be stopped and has renamed Valentine's Day 'V-Day' until the violence stops.
Before V-Day became a reality, Ensler was performing the monologues at theaters all over the country and won several awards for them.
But what struck Ensler more than the success was the number of women who would line up after each performance, eager to tell their own stories of rape, incest and violence.
"It's true. It's as if she had no choice," says Karen Obel, who coordinates V-Day's college program. "She couldn't hear the stories and not do something, so that's how V-Day was conceived. V-Day is now using The Vagina Monologues to raise money to support organizations that work on ending violence against women."
Women told Ensler about being raped in college, being beaten or being forced to have sex before they even knew what is was. In The Vagina Monologues book, Ensler writes that she often felt like she had tapped into an underworld, she felt like she was being told things she wasn't supposed to know. Yet day after day, performance after performance, women lined up to tell her how much violence was in their lives.
The first V-Day was held in 1998, and the college initiative followed in 1999. This year, 236 colleges are participating worldwide.
Every year there is a main V-Day event (this year it's at New York's Madison Square Garden), and the list of celebrity performers include Melissa Etheridge, Calista Flockhart, Erica Jong and Brooke Shields.
But at the college performances, students are the ones on stage reading, and Daquila has been working on putting the play together since she saw the monologues in New York City last year. She'll be performing herself, as will five other EWU students and one faculty member, Evelyn Renshaw.
"It's been my life since last fall, and I can't wait to see it come together," says Daquila. "All the money for the production was donated by campus groups. Every penny I get in from donations at the door is going to go to the charities."
And the charities sure need it. The two major recipients will be the Downtown Women's Shelter and Spokane Sexual Assault Center. The Spokane Domestic Violence Consortium (SDVC) estimates that one-third of the adult population in Spokane County has been victims of intimate partner violence. Though SDVC in its activism doesn't discriminate between violence against women, men or children, Executive Director Jennifer Pearson Stapleton says that women access the group's services most often.
"I'd say that 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence are women," she says, "but only one out of 10 cases is usually reported."
To her, intervention is about breaking the cycle of violence.
"Boys who grow up in abusive households are 1,000 percent more likely to become adult perpetrators," says Stapleton. "We need to talk to kids about healthy relationships so they don't grow up thinking violence is okay. We just don't talk about this."
And that's the whole point of The Vagina Monologues, to end the silence surrounding violence against women and provide women with an avenue through which they can speak up.
"I think the number one thing the monologues will do to a victim of intimate partner violence is to make her realize she is not alone. The Vagina Monologues provides that sense of community that makes it easier for women to speak up," says Daquila. "Many victims don't know that what they are experiencing is not okay. The monologues are empowering in so many ways."
Daqulia speaks from painful experience.
"As a victim of intimate partner violence myself, it was hard for me to share my experience at first. It's been a long process, and it's hard, but even if there's only two women in Spokane who get out of this what I got out of it -- then it's been worth it."
Performances are on Friday, Feb. 9, at 7 pm at the Riverfront Higher Education Park auditorium, 668 N. Riverpoint Blvd. Also on Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 14-15, at 7 pm at EWU's Showalter Hall Auditorium, in Cheney. Performances are preceded by a resource fair beginning at 6 pm each night. Donations requested. Call: 559-5970.