For years, Cal Poly has participated in the collegiate tradition of performing Eve Ensler’s classic feminist play “The Vagina Monologues.” But on Friday, May 13, the Gender Equity Center (GEC) shook things up in Chumash Auditorium and drifted away from the traditional monologue. Instead, the GEC sought to showcase the feminist voices present on campus with “Cal Poly’s Original Women’s Narratives (OWN): PowHerful Voices of Storytelling.”
Why not “The Vagina Monologues”?
Written in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” was groundbreaking for feminist discourse. For the first time, women were given an open platform to discuss childbirth, masturbation, orgasms and other vagina-related topics.
“(‘The Vagina Monologues’) has served as an entry point for so many women into engaging with their bodies and their sexuality, and having conversations about their vaginas,” associate professor and women’s and gender studies chair Jane Lehr said. “But also, the play was released in 1996. The ways in which it conceptualizes what it means to be a woman; the focus on the vagina as the defining feature of being a woman; the ways in which it engages or does not engage with race, for example … It’s 20 years later.”
“With ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ the stories highlighted aren’t the stories of Cal Poly students,” Lehr said. “And what was so powerful, and emotional and transformative about what occurred this evening, is that it was us up there on the stage. Messy, complicated, sometimes incomplete, because there are so many stories of us, but it was Cal Poly.”
So OWN served this purpose: A platform for Cal Poly women to discuss the feminist issues of present day.
According to the play’s program, “OWN is meant to create a platform to reflect the experiences of Cal Poly women students, and to include the voices and experiences of women who are often left out of mainstream feminism. Via student submissions, OWN explores how gender, race, ethnicity, culture, class, family, sexual orientation, body image, sexual violence, relationship, social justice and other intersecting identities contribute to the various experiences and lives of women.”
Animal science sophomore Alison O’Neill embodied the idea of “women who are often left out of mainstream feminism” as they addressed the struggles of gender identity and fluidity. In their performance “The Ghost of a Body,” O’Neill opened with humor, citing a farcical parable “’breasts and vagina, a woman does not make’ said Confucius…or someone.”
O’Neill shared the joys of finding identity in cutting their hair short; how they envied a transgender man’s appearance, but feared that transitioning came with a new set of struggles; and that because they suffer from mental illness, people invalidated the sincerity of their experiences.
In “Self-Examination,” actors educated the audience about pelvic floor dysfunction and vestibulodynia, women’s health conditions that cause sexual intercourse to be painful. The scene of a gynecologist invasively examining a woman, the use of vaginal dilation expanders as props and frank discourse like “I don’t like penis and vagina sex,” allowed for traditionally taboo topics to be openly discussed in a comedic light.
Comedy was also used in the narrative “Girls Don’t Poop,” which criticized the double standard that women are gross for performing biological functions like pooping. The orator urged women to embrace their “throne” — that being the toilet seat.
“Dear Black Women” and “Hybrid” were two, among many, narratives that touched on the relationship of race in regard to gender identity. Discussions regarding racial stereotypes ascribed to women of color, as well as the identity crisis of biracial women were confronted.
“The Common Room” addressed suicidal ideations faced by many young women while in college. “Going Out” expressed the social pressures and sexual expectations created by the college hookup culture.
In “This is Womanhood,” a young woman considered her loss of virginity to a careless frat guy as less-than-fantastic. She wondered, “Is this womanhood?” But as she described witnessing her mother care for her dying father, the student confidently declared, “This is womanhood.”
The first-time performance proved to be a huge hit. Tickets sold out at the door, extra chairs needed to be pulled out and every performance was met with snaps, claps, laughter and cheers.
“It was really funny and truthful and sad all at the same time,” child development senior Zoe Karanfilian said. “There were a lot of definitions in there that I didn’t know. So that kind of opened my eyes.”
Wine and viticulture junior Maya Joye submitted her narrative to the performance, and watched it come alive on stage. She thought it was important to open a discussion to “the expectations of women in things that are portrayed in our media, in our relationships with others, even in the things that we learn when we talk about puberty and sexuality when were kids — there’s a lot that’s left out.”
Upon seeing the large student turnout, Joye said, “My mind has been so expanded today. It’s incredible to see the support we have in our community because sometimes it feels like we’re so isolated from people.”
“We like to see that men are here,” sociology freshman Carla Pangan said. “(Men) don’t get to experience it and they can’t understand what we’re going through unless they listen to and understand it.”
Relating to this sentiment, audience member Vince Zumati said, “It gives you a lot of different perspectives that you don’t really think about, especially being a male. Some of these stories are very, very personal. It’s not very constraining, it’s very open for whatever you want to bring to the table.”
On the validity of this performance to all women on campus, environmental management and protection freshman Janelle Gayac said, “Just knowing that we as women have a platform to talk about these things, and just sitting in the audience and knowing that there’s somebody else experiencing what you experience … I think it’s very moving.”