by: Maggie Carr
Here’s how I spent freshman year: crying in the library because I was too dumb to be in college, crying at the gym because I was too fat to be in public, drinking a lot of rum and then crying, crying on the phone to my parents, and sleeping with a pillow over my face because I didn’t want to wake my roommate if I started crying in the middle of the night.
I’m kicking myself for not seeking an endorsement deal with Kleenex. It was that kind of year.
When I saw a flyer in the quad advertising The Vagina Monologues auditions, I thought oh, what the heck and showed up—I’m one of those shower-uppers—even though I had fully completed transfer applications sitting out on my desk. Letters of recommendation, official transcripts, the whole shebang.
The Vagina Monologues is the reason I didn’t send them.
I’ve written a lot about The Vagina Monologues since then. Articles. Letters to the editor. Interviews. Press releases. I even used the play as the primary text in my senior thesis, which is, career-wise, the most important document I’ve produced in my life. I love this show and its mission that much. In strictly objective terms, I can go on for days about why it’s a life-changing piece of theatre—but here’s an attempt to articulate why it means so much on a personal level.
Through this piece, I met a group of women who were unafraid to be funny and sexy and opinionated and bowl you over with a big hug between classes. We swapped advice and baked goods. We talked about life and philosophy and sex and politics. And most meaningfully, these extraordinarily cool ladies treated my freshman angst with respect, commiseration, and gentle honesty.
For the first time since I’d left my hometown, I felt appreciated. Not for my one hard-won pair of designer jeans, not for my grades, not for appearing to have my shit together. Simply sharing in the experience of saying words that are difficult to say: that was enough.
That feeling of belonging changed me. These were female friendships unlike any I’d experienced before–closeness forged in an atmosphere of believing in something better.
Boston College was not the most supportive environment for The Vagina Monologues. Most Catholic universities aren’t. Our V-Day chapter wasn’t—and still isn’t—recognized as an official student organization by the university, despite having produced the piece for over a decade. Each year, the general wonderfulness of the experience was marred by political battles for funding, last-minute venue changes, and some pretty hurtful slut-shaming by a small, but well-connected group of religious campus conservatives.
And yet, I can’t imagine performing this piece anywhere else. BC was my home. It was the home of my wonderful friends. It was where I performed in musicals and spent silly nights out and learned a ton and grew from that unsettled freshman into a woman who knows (mostly) what she wants.
We performed this piece for men, women, Democrats, Republicans, grandmothers, priests, and professors. The audience, like BC itself, wasn’t uniformly progressive and sympathetic—and that was okay. It totally makes sense. We don’t live in a world where women can talk frankly about sexuality; admittedly, it still feels a little weird to talk about “down there” in a group of my peers. So I get why it can be tremendously disconcerting to listen to the apparently mild-mannered chick from your 9am Intro to Bio class proclaim her love for the word cunt. In full voice. While making eye contact.
It’s uncomfortable, certainly, but these are words that need to be said.
A note for the uninitiated: we don’t tell the tales of our own hoo-has onstage. The words we speak in The Vagina Monologues are excerpts from interviews with women from all over the world. They are stories of the marginalized, the silenced, the survivors. They are sometimes brash and sometimes evasive and alternately tragic and hilarious. They are real stories of real, lived experience, and more often than not, they are stories that would never be heard were it not for this piece.
One of the biggest complaints about the play is that some of the stories are morally dubious, given V-Day’s mission. The central piece in this controversy contains, legally speaking, the statutory rape of a sixteen-year-old girl. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. I am staunchly anti-rape and I continue to work through my emotions about that piece on the regular.
But here’s the beautiful thing about personal history: nobody else has to agree with it.
The woman in this particular piece learned to love herself again, learned to re-conceive herself as a sexual being after years of abuse, through this encounter with a much older woman. In fact, she calls it her “politically incorrect salvation.”
Who am I to deny her truth? Who am I to wave away an event that brought such positive good to her life?
Women are so often encouraged to crumble and backtrack and bat their eyelashes instead of owning their bodies and their convictions. We all have our own truths, and they don’t have to make sense to anyone but ourselves.
Saying “VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA” on a stage, loud enough for the back row to hear us, doesn’t necessarily make us pretty or dateable. But it draws a line in the sand. Our vaginas exist. Sexuality is part of the human condition. Acknowledging that fact, and the fact that we deserve pleasure and contentment and safety in all aspects of our lives, is the first step in making this a safer and happier world for everyone.
And we’re already on our way.
In response to Vagina Monologues, I’ve seen some good men independently organize, and participate honestly and openly in a roundtable discussion about sexual violence and what we can do as a college community to make the cycle stop.
I’ve seen My Life My Choice, an incredible organization dedicated to ending the commercial sexual exploitation of young girls in greater Boston, survive the financially difficult spring of 2009 through the money we raised from ticket sales.
I’ve seen survivors of rape and sexual assault use performance as a way to regain power over their sexual and emotional selves.
I’ve seen fierce support in the most unexpected ways: tearful parents hugging their daughters in the lobby, entire groups of roommates in the audience with handmade signs, non-tenured professors volunteering to run panel discussions on this still-controversial play.
Dammit, these things give me hope.
Next week, I’m auditioning for my community production of The Vagina Monologues. I don’t know if I’ll be cast. I’m just excited to see a new group of women get up and say words that still make me shiver in recognition, though I’ve heard them hundreds of times before. I hope y’all are able to do the same.
Maggie Carr is a feminist, actor, and sometimes writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She received her BA in English and American Studies at Boston College, where she was awarded the Janet James Essay Prize in Women’s Studies for her senior thesis on the performativity of storytelling in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Her interests—both in research and life—include pop music, cheesy musical theatre and vinyasa yoga. She tweets sporadically at @racecarr.