Talking vaginas work to stop violence
“I believe in positive change through positive attitudes. It’s the kind of theater I like to do,” says Melissa Threadgill, director of this year’s annual production of The Vagina Monologues. Last Tuesday, The Oberlin Review conducted an interview with Threadgill, who explained why Oberlin audiences should see this play and why it is performed every year. In the process, Threadgill shared history about the play and its compelling effect on people worldwide, as well as the V-Day movement.
The monologues, written by Eve Ensler, have spearheaded a proactive effort towards ending violence against women. The V-Day movement that the play spurred in 1998 has become one of the largest activist movements of the new century. In the interview, one gets a sense of where Threadgill plans on taking the production of the play.
Melissa: The Vagina Monologues were written by Eve Ensler. She conducted about 200 or so vagina interviews, interviewing a wide range of women including ‘younger women, older women [and] sex workers’ From these interviews she put together these series of monologues some of which were based on one woman’s story, while some were collected themes. And it became a movement, it’s called the V-Day movement, and it’s performed every year on or around Valentine’s day across the country on college campuses and cities all overand the point is to raise money to local rape crisis shelters.
It’s performed at Oberlin every year and all the proceeds of the show are going to the Lorain County Rape Crisis Shelter. As it has gone on, [the play] has taken a more of an activist internationalist slant. [Ensler] wrote some monologues about the situation of the thousands of women raped as a war tactic in Bosnia and Kosovo.
This year there is a monologue about domestic violence in Native American communities. It’s called “Crooked Braid”. She calls attention to both domestic and worldwide issues of violence against women. The great thing about [“Crooked Braid” is] it doesn’t just do a ‘oh, look at these terrible Native American men’. What it does is it spotlights both the problem of violence against the women and also what the predominantly Caucasian society has done that makes it that these men react so violently. [There is also] this one monologue called “The Woman who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy” and it’s about a woman who only did sex work with women.
There are a lot of really fun ones, a lot of really poignant ones. It’s a really good mix. The great thing about it is it’s very well balanced between making you think and feeling emotionally affected. Then the next minute you’re laughing. And I think the point of it, or at least the way that I’ve been trying to do it, is that these are issues we have to deal with in a positive way. If we just sit around playing the victim all the time we are not going to advance change. The idea is that by drawing attention to issues of violence against women and sexual assualt and then putting forward an idea of the way the world can be, by going forward with self-confidence and general vagina positivity, we can start to make real changes.
TOR: What has been the male response to The Vagina Monologues?
M: Obviously at Oberlin we get a better reception than you would at other places. Generally Oberlin males tend to be a little bit more open. I think a lot of guys really enjoy it and/or learn a lot from it. I try very hard to not make this a “men suck” type of atmosphere, I’m not into that at all. None of this is an attack against men; it might be a be an attack against certain men, men who beat their wives, for example. It’s not a male bashing environment. I hope men will come to this. A lot of them are the ones who need to see it.
TOR: What additions have been made to the play throughout the years?
TOR: Why did you want to direct this show?
M: I’m a politics major. This seemed a really good way of joining my passion for politics and activism with my passion for theater. In the past three and a half years I have come to the understanding that sexual violence is as big a problem on this campus as it is anywhere else. There is a statistic that one in six American women have been raped or have been the victim of an attempted rape. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same statistic here. The more you talk to people the more it comes out that manywomen have gone through this. And I think we try to ignore that at Oberlin [because] “we are a good liberal school and things like that just don’t happen here.” [This play] is my way of dealing with that. I believe in positive change through positive attitudes. It’s the kind of theater I like to do.
Sunday, 9 p.m. Hall Auditorium - $4 in advance, $5 at the door