Fully in keeping with the idea of the university as a place to identify real social problems and address them honestly, all three research institutions in North Carolina hosted performances of Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues” and taught students to find empowerment in reciting an awkward Latinate term despite rumors of the fearsome social dictate against doing so.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, the play was part of the universities’ celebration of “V-Day,” which takes place on Feb. 14 and joins the traditional celebration of Valentine’s Day with activities surrounding vaginas and violence against women.
As Ensler told The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC-CH, “We picked Valentine’s Day because the theme was to take the romance out of Valentine’s Day and put the vagina back in.”
Kim Benton, a junior at UNC-CH, is credited with bringing the V-Day movement to Chapel Hill. She told the DTH she heard about it on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
The show “begins with the audience being encouraged to repeat the word ‘vagina’ loud and clear,” wrote Greg Volk, who attended the UNC-CH presentation of the play, in Technician, N.C. State’s student newspaper, in the buildup for N.C. State’s presentation of the play. Volk declared the monologues “entertaining, moving, and brutally necessary in our day and age.”
A performer in the Duke presentation of the play, Eva DuBuisson, made a nod to Helen Reddy in her article in The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, about the effect of the play on the audience. The “individual discussions about what [attendees] had just seen creat[ed] a roar,” DuBuisson said, “that could be heard across West Campus.”
At N.C. State, the Women’s Center hyped the performance of “The Vagina Monologues” with several days’ worth of on-campus sales of milk-chocolate lollipops in the shape of vaginas.
“The selling of beautiful vaginal lollipops is done as a reminder that [women] will not be ashamed nor kept in the shadows or hidden because of socialized fear of our anatomy,” wrote Michelle Fiejo, special projects coordinator for the Women’s Center, in a letter published in Technician that she had submitted under her real name.
Vaginas and Hitler
Technician columnist Bryan Proffitt wondered if “maybe the word ‘vagina’ is more powerful than the penis” while decrying the unquestionable omnipresence of penises in American society, such as (his examples) the infamous Washington Monument, Darth Vader’s helmet in the “Star Wars” movies, down to the seemingly innocent soda bottle. “Even if an individual male is uncomfortable loving his penis,” Proffitt wrote, “society is more than willing to love it for him.”
Proffitt also espied a Naziesque language domination effort behind our society’s famous repression against those who dare to say “vagina” aloud. “Because of language, [Hitler] was able to control, subjugate, and destroy,” Proffitt wrote. “I wonder what Hitler had to say about vaginas.”
Proffitt was not the only one on N.C. State’s campus daring to decry this society’s previously unchallenged penis propaganda. Women’s Center Director Dr. Frances Graham cast her lot in with the brave when she was interviewed by Broadside magazine, an independent student publication at N.C. State. “I don’t have to go too far to see men pulling [their penises] up or pushing it [sic] down, or sitting up in their chair to move it around,” Graham told Broadside. “There is so much propaganda on the penis that it’s unbelievable.”
As Maria Pramaggiore, an assistant English professor at N.C. State, told The News & Observer columnist Ruth Sheehan, “It’s a bit daunting to think about getting up in front of the world and talking about vaginas, but it needs to be done.”