Iliana Arroyos/Mustang News

Samantha Pryor

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This is the first installment in Mustang News’ series about issues surrounding gender, from feminism to sexual assault. We hope this series will prompt discussions about the issues raised, and we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

“The Vagina Monologues,” written by Eve Ensler, was created to “celebrate the vagina” and promote women empowerment. Ever since the 1996 off-Broadway premiere, the play has been performed at colleges across the country and is currently coming up on its 12th year at Cal Poly.

According to Maya Woolfe, graduate assistant for the Gender Equity Center (GEC), “The Vagina Monologues” spreads awareness about violence against women and girls locally and globally.

The play will open on Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m.

“It gives a voice to women and allows women to have a space to express themselves and not be fearful in sharing their experiences of what it’s like to be a women,” she said. “It’s an empowering way for people to see what women face every day in their lives.”

The Vagina Monologues” is a great way to introduce students to social justice issues, Travis Raynaud, graduate assistant for the GEC, said. It not only focuses on women’s issues, but it also helps males become “allies” to females and transgender individuals.

“It gives (males) a great foundation of empathy and understanding of the awareness of the issues so you can be a better advocate,” he said. “Part of the message is that it’s not only a women’s issue: We have to get all genders involved.”

“The Vagina Monologues” breaks the silence, Raynaud said. When conversation starts and dialogue begins, that’s when change occurs.

“It is controversial, but we chose to still put it on every year because at its core, it’s still providing such a positive experience and it is still very powerful at opening the door for shared experiences, empowerment and open dialogue,” he said.

The cast of “The Vagina Monologues” is comprised of a group of people on campus who identify as female. Theatre senior and director Kelly Jackson and assistant director and theatre senior Heather Voorhis work diligently to identify the monologues as a theatre for social change.

“(‘The Vagina Monologues’) is not pointing fingers and telling people what to do and how to think,” Voorhis said. “It’s about having people look into themselves.”

The monologues have always been successful at Cal Poly, according to Raynaud. There has been a large audience and greater participation with students on campus to be involved with the production.

“The aftermath has increased awareness,” he said. “We have more foot traffic into the Gender Equity Center.”

Tammie Velasquez, assistant coordinator for the GEC, says the cast this year is more diverse than in previous years.

“There has been a lot more preservation of color and women of various majors,” she said.

Velasquez also added that this is the first year Cal Poly will have a Spanish version of “The Vagina Monologues.” The Spanish version debuts Feb. 21, following the English version on Feb. 13.

“It can be very homogenous a lot of the time,” she said. “It shows Cal Poly that there is diversity.”

“The Vagina Monologues” is only one medium that segues into a larger discussion at hand: the relationship of men and feminism at Cal Poly. Woolfe classified the play as a production that displays many feminist principles.

But what does feminism exactly mean in this context? Straying from stereotypes, such as feminists being “man-haters,” Jackson believes feminism is an act of promoting equality among sexes.

“Feminism is a movement or ideology that strives to end any and all discrimination, oppression or exploitation based on sex and gender,” she said. “It helps all people.”

Jackson believes society is making strides in empowering women, such as women taking leadership roles in career opportunities. However, she feels there is room for further change.

“We are lacking in the encouragement of men to break their gender roles, and that’s part of why there is a lot of backlash against feminism,” she said. “There are a lot of men that feel oppressed by patriarchal gender roles that are forced on everyone in society.”

Part of the problem is the way feminism is perceived, Jackson said. Not many people do their homework on the issue at hand. English sophomore Gina Escandon identifies herself as feminist for wanting equality for both men and women.

“I do not know who would not be a feminist in that case,” she said. “It just wants everyone to be equal; it’s a civil right.”

For Bryson Schreder, architecture junior, empowerment is the first word that comes to mind.

“Equality is a broad term, but anything pro-equality is a good starting point,” Schreder said.

Schreder believes feminist stereotypes arise as a result of history.

“It’s probably just a long-seeded tradition of a patriarchal society,” Schreder said.

Jackson traces this “long-seeded tradition” back to the roots of Western history, a time when plays and literature were produced “by men, for men” and women had been left out of the conversation for hundreds of years.

“The Enlightenment era was not very progressive or enlightening for women because it was a time where oppression of women was becoming a lot stronger,” she said. “Media that had been produced was very male-centric and male normative.”

Stereotyping feminists as “man-haters” derives from the radical feminists of the 1970s, Jackson said.

“Discrimination in the ’70s was so much heavier than it is now,” she said. “You can see why those feminists came to be if you learn about the history.”

The impacts of females identifying as feminists in today’s society can be both positive and negative, according to Escandon. Yet associating with feminism still can bring back historical stereotypes, she said.

“Sometimes outright saying you are a feminist or you support equal rights for women can give you a social stigma with negative connotations,” she said. “The people who are really contributing to a positive and progressive change are the ones that are looking into themselves and questioning their own subconscious prejudices and biases.”

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