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Can you say it?

Kamaria Porter | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Can you say it? Vagina.

Every year around this time, that curiously absent anatomical word floats across campus like a fad, a discovery and then disappears into the cave of annual campus events. However, this is the exact opposite of the mission of the Vagina Monologues and V-Day. Talking to Notre Dame’s diverse group of Vagina Warriors, one sees beyond the clouded debate and controversy to find an energizing play, a socially vital movement and a beloved community of sisters working for a better world.

The Vagina Monologues sprang from the depths of the unspoken. Discussions surrounding female bodies, sexuality and rape are deemed either inappropriate for open discussion or unimportant. We lack spaces for discussion for these issues and for V-Day activists; this is a serious problem. The statistics are appalling – one in three women worldwide will be victims of some form of violence (battering, rape and harassment to name a few), one of four college women will experience sexual assault – attempted or completed – and more than half of these violations go unreported. V-Day Student organizer junior Kaitlyn Redfield comments, “After three years of being involved, I’ve come to understand that being silent on this issue is perpetuating the problem.” By denying the pervasiveness of sexual assault, we isolate the victims and fail to combat the problem.

At Notre Dame, our illusions of being a “family”, parietals and rules against pre-marital intercourse seem to erase from our consciousness issues of sexuality in general and sexual assault specifically. Junior Halle Kiefer sees the Monologues as a forum for victims, friends and all people concerned with violence against women to find healing and seek answers. She says, “People say rape and assault doesn’t happen here, but it does, behind closed doors and people have to deal with it.” It is the women and men (one of seven men experience a sexual assault) suffering in silence the Monologues aims to console and give a voice for their pain and frustration. Redfield sees Notre Dame as having a strong “culture of silence” around these issues. The Vagina Warriors in response plan awareness events, fundraisers for local sexual assault response centers and the Vagina Monologues to combat that silence and aid victims.

V-Day also is a celebration of femininity and builds solidarity among the people involved. It is completely student planned and based. Redfield was inspired seeing “college women taking action” to end sexual assault. The community created through performing the show and planning events sustains its members. Kiefer and others find a chance to meet new friends, connect more with current ones and build a positive community around important issues. V-Day meetings are chalk full of laughter, camaraderie and support, which in such a diverse group of women is revolutionary. We can learn much from the model of the vagina warriors. As they endeavor to make themselves into a focused community of respect and peace, they remake the world around them and battle a grave injustice.

To their critics, V-Day participants speak respectfully and seriously. Their mission, to end violence against women and girls worldwide, has been misconstrued in outrageous ways. Some associate their purpose with pro-choice groups. To this, Redfield says we must “divorce discussions of violence against women and abortion debates. Just because they both deal with women, it does not equate them.” Notre Dame’s Vagina Warriors have nothing to do with any pro-choice groups, for they are sponsored by University departments and the money they raise goes to SOS and YWCA in their ministries to victims of rape and domestic abuse. Junior Jackie Clark sees the binding of V-Day and abortion issues as a major problem. For her, “The goal of the Monologues is to promote awareness. It’s a shame they are associated inappropriately”.

The recurrent attacks on V-Day seem to be rooted in general misconceptions of feminism. The struggle for equality and dignity for women in public and private relationships continues. Redfield believes the boundaries between orthodox Catholicism and feminism wrongly hinder finding shared values. She holds that, “At the heart, feminism and Catholicism both share the common goal of fostering peace and promoting the recognition of dignity of women and men.” Women in the movement assert their dignity through celebrating their gendered identity, releasing frustration over shared oppression and inviting men and other women to know their joys and pains.

Now, can you say it?

The Vagina Monologues are here to educate, liberate and agitate us all to be more proactive actors in the fight to end violence against women and girls. As sophomore Casey Stanton wrote in poetic verse, “we are all responsible, we all must take up the fight, it’s time to defend, a Female’s Right to Life.” See the show and engage the issues until the violence stops.

Kamaria Porter is a junior history major. She can be contacted at kporter@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.