In advance of a new release frommultiple awards winning playwright and author Eve Ensler, I attended a production of her seminal work “The Vagina Monologues.” Produced by Cambridge Cooperative at the Central Square YMCA, the play was staged as a V-Day benefit for non-profit My Life, My Choice (MLMC). Created in 1998, V-Day is an annual collective activism movement that utilizes creative pieces by Ensler to raise funds for local and global charities that work to eradicate violence against women and girls around the world. Ensler’s inspiration to create the V-Day movement came out of witnessing the phenomena of long lines of women who waited after performances of her work for a chance to tell her about their own experiences.
The movement has now raised over $80 million for education, shelters, and funding for 12,000 community based organizations. Printed out, the list of V-Day Campaign Award Beneficiaries fills seven narrow margined, single-spaced, no break run-on-sentenced pages. Boston Medical Center Domestic Violence Program, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), and CASA Myrna Vazquez are but a few local groups on the crowded list.
Formed in 2009 by a group of women passionate about helping other women, Cambridge Cooperative has presented Ensler’s play four years running. The Cooperative’s work has benefited organizations The Elizabeth Stone House, The Transition House, BARCC, and The Just A Start House: Teen Living Program. The 2013 local recipient, the My Life, My Choice Project, at the Justice Resource Institute, and formed in 2002, is a nationally recognized initiative to assist young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Working in group homes, juvenile detention facilities, child protective services offices, schools and other sites, MLMC engages in outreach, provider training, prevention, and survivor mentoring. Given that teen youth is recognized as the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, the MLMC’s efforts are ever more urgent and crucial.
One of the gifts of the ‘Monologues’ is in how the play examines of the harrowing circumstance that women live in—and despite of—with uplifting, humane humor. There is also the present of permission to abandon the corrosive, repressive silence that surrounds the horrors perpetrated on women. So while the subject matter is as serious as it gets, attendees are apt to leave smiling, enriched and energized. Director of V-Day Cambridge Caitlin Stewart- Swift, who has a degree in Theatre and Dance from Wheaton College, was part of the reason why. Stewart- Smith, a member of the Roxbury Repertory Theatre Company, cheerfully introduced the company, raised funds prior to, and involved the crowd throughout and after the play. There isn’t room to list the ways in which the entire cast rocked it with fearlessness and soul, but here are a few:EmmaGoodmanenthralledas the workshop participant who fears her vagina is broken; Aurelia Vicente exudes a distinctively feminine power in her monologue, and Katie Bond was so natural you could think this was an unscripted open mic.
In addition to theatrical benefit productions, V-Day provides v-peace scholarships and operates safe houses in Haiti, Kenya, the U. S., and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also, V-Day and Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) are partners in the Campus Accountability Project (CAP), an initiative to reform sexual assault policy in colleges across the nation. Students at universities can register at safercampus (.org/ policies) to access an easy policy review form as well as submitting their schools current policy. CAP identifies gaps in a school’s policy, and supplies tangible ideas for reform. CAP also maintains a database that details various schools’ policies to “prevent, reduce, and respond to sexual violence.” A stated goal is to integrate the database into existing
college ranking systems, making it available to prospective students and their families. Further, V-Day’s site includes a link to the Center for Public Integrity’s investigative report on the secrecy regarding such violence on college campuses.
The success of V-Day has evolved into One Billion Rising, a historical global movement to end violence against women. One Billion Rising has an important, directed focus to promote awareness regarding the “intersection of issues both causing and affecting violence against women,” including highlighting the role of corporate greed, environmental plunder, and labor export policies. Prolific videos of the movement’s irrepressible anthem “Break the Chain” being performed and danced to, by supporters and activists worldwide are giving cute cats competition online.
Eve enlisted friend Mark Matousek to write about the male experience of violence against women on V-Day’s website, his account illustrates, in a plain spoken accessible manner, howviolenceagainstwomendoes not end at women. The effects and ramifications radiate out with harrowing implications for all in proximity. In his reflections on telling his story he relates how: “I… was stunned…by how profoundly the witnessing of hostile acts against women had affected my beliefs about the world, myself, and the role of men (both innocent and guilty) in putting an end to this violent cycle…violence against women was not merely a female issue; it was a human dilemma twisting the lives and consciences of men as well…” Matousek powerfully concludes: “Writing ‘Rescue’ was life changing for me. I learned that you don’t have to be a woman to suffer from misogyny…There’s only one team in the human race.”
Ensler’s literary and social work gives rise to discussion, verbal and physical, of how to develop destructive energy into progressive, productive force.