There are moments in life when I wonder what my life would be like if I was born a woman. It’s astounding that there are those around me – my mother, my sisters, my friends – who inhabit a completely different world. In today’s enlightened world, we pride ourselves in our egalitarianism, and point to the progress we’ve made to reassure ourselves that discrimination is a thing of the ugly past. All it takes is one glimpse of reality to shatter these delusions. Seventy percent of the world’s poorest two billion people are women, whilst two thirds of illiterate adults are women. Even the most progressive nations fall into this trap, with the gendered wage gap in the United States as high as 19%, whilst the number of cases of sex discrimination reported to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has remained unchanged over the past 15 years. The 2011 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Wal-Mart – the largest employer in the U.S. – on charges of discrimination, had been quoted over 1,200 times by federal and state courts by 2013, setting the battle against employment inequality back several steps.
Ariel Rubin, from the Class of ’16, lives in such a world, one which includes both blatant and indirect forms of inequality. Seeing Clark’s production of Vagina Monologues last year opened her eyes to a new form of expression. “I remember the performance of ‘Hair’ in that production, that’s what called out to me the most. As a woman, I connected with the message – being free to do what you want with your own body”.
Inspired by what she had seen, Ariel decided to join the annual production for 2014, which was the directorial debut for Michelle Reid (5th year student), Margaret French (Class of ’15) and Clark Jackson (Class of ’14). Arranging a rehearsal schedule for a group that big was a challenge, Ariel says, especially since they only had one month before the show. And yet, they overcame this obstacle, and snuck in as many rehearsals as possible. They even held group rehearsals on Sundays, giving everyone the opportunity to see other monologues.
“Most importantly, we all wanted to feel empowered by this experience, by speaking out the words of thousands of women who had faced these problems daily. We tried our best to connect with the all-too real people in these monologues, to be in their shoes”. Ariel is quick to qualify this statement “Not to walk a mile in their shoes, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Some of these stories are nothing short of harrowing, like the one about the rape hostage.” The monologue that Ariel refers to is ‘My Vagina Was My Village’, compiled by the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to the most inhuman tortures in prison camps. “We wanted to understand their perspective, and how their experiences related to our lives”
The production was not limited merely to publicizing the feminist cause (as the critics of the Vagina Monologues prefer to believe), but was a wonderful bonding exercise for Ariel. “Towards the end, I had met some of my closest friends. We were like a group of sisters, and that’s a rare thing”. The timber of her voice changes as she fondly remembers the Secret Sister project the cast ran from the beginning of the rehearsal process. “We’d get anonymous gifts from our Secret Sister all the time, things like candy or notes of encouragement. By the end of the show, we found out who our Sister was. That to me was the most moving part of this production”.
Answering the question of why the Vagina Monologues is relevant to the Clark community, Ariel says “Society has put so much pressure on us to think that vaginas are dirty, and that women receiving pleasure is a despicable subject. Movies are the best example of this. Scenes with men receiving pleasure are rated PG-13 or R, whereas when the tables are turned, they’re rated R or NC-17”. (The rating scandal of the movie Blue Valentine is a case in point). “What I hope Clarkies learnt from the production is that the female body is not a taboo subject, but should be considered just as freely as men’s bodies. I hope watching the hardships of other women empowered us to fight whatever inequality, obvious or not, that we face”. The cast of Vagina Monologues, along with all their patrons, have certainly done their part by raising over $1,600 for Abbey’s House, a local shelter for victims of gender based violence and their children.
Despite the vociferous opposition of critics like Robert Swope, the Vagina Monologues – and those like Ariel Rubin and the director, cast and crew of the 214 production – play an important role in the fight against misogyny, by refusing to accept the degrading treatment that half of the world is subjected to.