The Barnard-Columbia V-Day Committee announced earlier this week that this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” will feature a cast of only self-identified women of color in an effort to turn the discussion away from “narrow and specific liberal feminist narrative.”
My initial reaction to this announcement was, “Can I still audition?” I’m Mexican-American. I also have white skin. I’ve been confronting my identity my entire life. But I’m no longer a mix of identities, because now I have to pick just one to participate in a celebration of feminism, femininity, and the freedom of expression.
I saw the Monologues my first two years at Columbia and regrettably missed it my third because I was abroad. Both times that I went, I felt validated by the experiences and feelings expressed in the Monologues. I laughed, I nodded, and I cried. I felt a camaraderie between myself and other women on campus that I hadn’t felt since attending an all-girls high school.
The mission of “The Vagina Monologues,” according to its website, is to “confront the stigma surrounding discussions of sexual assault, trans* and queer identities, racialized womanhood, abuse, and the word ‘vagina.’” The first subject listed is sexual assault. Every woman everywhere in the world has at some point felt endangered because she is a woman. To exclude a group of women because of how they choose to identify themselves—white or nonwhite, historically the oppressed or the oppressor—is in violation of the mission of the Monologues. Women of every race, ethnicity, and creed can be survivors of rape and assault. These women are survivors and the Monologues should be for them first, to give them a voice when they have been silenced.
The purpose of “The Vagina Monologues” is to bring to light the most important part of womanhood: The last thing anyone is willing to talk about is the first thing the production considers, and this is women’s sexuality. For how long has a woman’s outward beauty been the measurement of her worth? How hard do women still have to fight for equal pay and equal rights and the right to choose what happens to their bodies? When will women be able to stop talking about “having it all” and just “have,” the way men do?
I disagree that there’s only one “specific liberal feminist narrative.” I acknowledge that there is white privilege, and I agree that there is an economic gap correlated to race. But I disagree that we, as women, are working toward different things. All women want equality. Some women are more equal than others, in the eye of the law and in the eye of the economic system, and this is unequivocally wrong. Historically, the women’s movement and the civil rights movement were organized separately. Women of the 1970s like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan focused on what they believed may have been universal feminist themes but addressed the needs of middle-class, educated, white females. Even so, there are ways to incorporate other feminists who represent other groups, like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou, not to mention Merle Woo and Ana Castillo. We should be reading “The Feminist Mystique” side by side with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” to compare, contrast, and celebrate these women’s experiences. This third wave of feminism should try to dismantle the patriarchy and racial hegemony simultaneously—not separately.
Excluding women who don’t identify as women of color from this conversation is ludicrous. “The Vagina Monologues” absolutely should have women of color and women of all sexualities represented in the show and in the conversation. But it should also feature monologues about rape and assault—which are universal. The decision to make the Monologues about race and exclusive identities fractures the greater resolve of the Monologues to be about women. Including all races and groups in the performances would do a far better job at addressing how sexism is compounded by racism.
Shouldn’t “The Vagina Monologues” serve as an overlap of the objectives of women? Colored, trans, queer, tall, short—we’re all women, and excluding one group because of its coincidental inability to identify as one specific type of woman does a disservice to the entire mission of the Monologues. I’m not sure if I’m eligible to audition anymore, but I certainly don’t want to.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and political science. She is a senior staff blogger and opinion blogger for Spectrum and a former finance director for Spectator.
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