The middle of February at Cal can mean a lot of things: Valentine’s Day, rainy days, and looming Add/Drop deadlines. But few things in February have as many far-reaching implications for women around the world than V-DAY at UC Berkeley. The official mission statement of V-DAY is a global movement to “end violence against women and girls.”
For most students on campus, however, V-DAY at Cal is probably most remembered as the time of the year when there’s extremely enthusiastic female students flyering on Sproul, trying to persuade you to see this benefit show called “The Vagina Monologues,” which will be performed this Thursday to Saturday, 2/9-11 with almost all proceeds going to good causes and women’s charities. I myself remember when I was a wee innocent freshman walking around on Sproul when I heard someone yell, “Do you like Vaginas?!” I barely had time to register shock before a sticker with “I <3 Vaginas” in bold print was thrust into my hand. This kind of thing has become trademark of the “Oh, only in Berkeley” (with pride) kind of radical, feminist vibe.
What’s probably not as well-known to those unacquainted with “The Vagina Monologues” is that the play has deep historical ties to V-DAY international. What’s unique about V-DAY as an activist movement is that it originated from the theater stage — not the other way around. Namely, in 1994, playwright/activist Eve Ensler performed a little show based in interviews with women called “The Vagina Monologues” that opened off-Broadway in 1994, and has since then caught fire and been performed (with original additions) all around the US and even parts of the world.
What’s great about the play is it’s shock value (well, mainly for those queasy with terms like “vagina” and “menstruation” thrown around), and its commitment to give a frank portrayal of female sexual experiences, whether it’s pleasure or the stark reality of abuse towards women that’s all too common in society. It’s serious messaging combined with college-appropriate, open sexual humor.
Basically, “The Vagina Monologues” is not just an edgy “Berkeley thing,” but a female empowerment movement that’s alive and well across the nation. And if you’re into feminism, I suggest you check out more of Eve Ensler’s solid body of work on the issue. Particularly, a favorite of mine is Ensler’s “Necessary Targets,” which is about women refugees confronting their traumatic memories of the Bosnian genocide. Heavy stuff, you won’t find any jokes there.