One powerful letter

Vagina. The word has only three syllables, six letters and an even distribution of vowels and consonants. It’s simple, basic and to the point. So what is it about the word “vagina” that tends to make so many people uneasy?

One production in particular addresses this and many other issues related to femininity. That production is The Vagina Monologues, which will be featured on campus Friday and Saturday with a number of USF students performing.

Jennifer Foster, a single mother majoring in women’s studies, is one of the women performing in USF’s production. Foster has had personal experience with sexual abuse and domestic violence, and this is the first time that she has been publicly open about it.

“This is my way of standing up and saying it’s no longer OK,” Foster said. “By being involved I can help others get help.”

Foster’s undergraduate work in women’s studies has been a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

“I pick classes, and they work to concert and open up things within myself,” Foster said. “I had to write a memoir addressing the abuse that I had endured. It was really difficult but I forced my way through it.”

Clare Walsh is one of the producers of USF’s production of The Vagina Monologues. She hopes that students “won’t freak out when they hear the word ‘vagina’ and become more comfortable with it.”

She also hopes that “students will come away with an awareness of the violence against women.”

Walsh involved herself with the program because she feels that it is a good tradition to continue.

“It raises money and it does create awareness,” she said.

The Vagina Monologues is a result of fieldwork done by playwright Eve Ensler. She interviewed more than 200 women, asking them to tell her their stories. Some were happy. Others were sad. Some painted painful portraits of inescapable brutality, and others told a tale of a different struggle – that of the inability to accept the essence of their own womanhood.

These stories became the monologues, and the monologues became the framework for an organization known as V-Day, which has a clear mission: Violence against women must stop now. The organization endeavors to accomplish this goal by raising money for charities that aid in the fight against violence against women.

The Vagina Monologues were not initially sent to colleges. The campaign began in 1999 with 66 schools participating. In the first year the program raised more than $122,000 for charity. In 2005, 693 schools participated, raising $2.2 million, according to Vday.org.

On Friday, the combined efforts of the Graduate Student Organization and the USF women’s studies department will come to fruition with the presentation of The Vagina Monologues on campus. All money raised will be donated to organizations within the community that are working to stop the violence – in this case, donations will be received by The Clothesline Project, which allows both children and women to speak out about violence through the makings of personalized T-shirts, thereby creating a visual impact similar to the Vietnam Wall and the AIDS quilt, according to its Web site.

Walsh went through a registration process to get the college campaign version of The Vagina Monologues here at USF.

“You have to register, and they pretty much lay out what you can and can’t do. They want to make sure that you stay true to the original play,” Walsh said.

Rather than tickets, individuals attending the performance will receive a wristband that they can decorate with a vaginal motif of their choosing.

This year there is a bit of a twist to the opening night. While the first performance is taking place, artist Rachel Kice will be painting in the background. Kice is described as “a painter of music,” according to her Web site, Rkice.com. She is a member of the eclectic Nashville-based country conglomeration Muzik Mafia. This group has spawned notables such as Big & Rich and James Otto.

Kice will be painting what she is feeling while the women perform their monologues. The completed painting will be sold, and a portion of the profit will benefit the Clothesline Project. Along with the fun wristbands and the live painting there will also be a raffle. Those who purchase a ticket for $2 have a chance at winning the “Fun Couple” or “Who Needs a Man” pleasure baskets courtesy of Eve’s Pleasure Garden. Proceeds will benefit the Spring of Tampa Bay, an organization that strives to end family abuse locally.

Going along with the tradition of The Vagina Monologues, each year the performance has a specific focus, which is referred to as a spotlight. This year’s spotlight focuses on the Comfort Women, who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II. According to Comfort-women.org, 200,000 women were victims of this crime.

For those who harbor some apprehension at the thought of the production, Walsh offers this advice: “Be open-minded; don’t be afraid of the word. It is kind of sad because people see the word vagina and they think it is icky.”

Rebecca Willman is a producer and performer in the presentation and is also a graduate student in the USF women’s studies department.

“Everyone should come out, especially guys,” Willman said. “It’s educational and raises awareness.”

The Vagina Monologues will be taking place on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom and Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Marshall Center Room 270.

Lesser known forms of violence against women:

Female Genital Mutilation

The term FGM covers three main varieties of genital mutilation:

1. “Sunna” circumcision, meaning “traditional,” consists of the removal of the prepuce and/or the tip of the clitoris.

2. Clitoridectomy (also referred to as excision) consists of the removal of the entire clitoris (both prepuce and glans) and the removal of the adjacent labia.

3. Infibulation (also referred to as pharaonic circumcision) is the most extreme form of FGM. This form of mutilation consists of the removal of the clitoris, the adjacent labia (majora and minora) and the joining of the scraped sides of the vulva across the vagina. The labia is then secured with thorns or sewn with catgut or thread. A small opening is kept to allow passage of urine and menstrual blood. An infibulated woman must be cut open to allow intercourse on the wedding night and is closed again afterwards to secure fidelity to the husband.

Female Infanticide

As defined by UNICEF:

Female infanticide is defined as the abortion of a fetus because it is female or the killing of an infant by a relative because it is female. Infanticide has been practiced as a brutal method of family planning in societies where boy children are still valued, economically and socially, above girls. Anecdotal evidence suggests that outright infanticide, usually of newborn girls, takes place in some communities in Asia. Medical testing for sex selection, though officially outlawed, has become a booming business in China, India and the Republic of Korea.

Honor Killing

As defined by UNICEF:

“Honor killing” is an ancient practice in which men kill female relatives in the name of family “honor” for forced or suspected sexual activity outside marriage, even when they have been victims of rape. Reports indicate that offenders are often under 18 and that in their communities they are sometimes treated as heroes. These killings have been reported in Pakistan, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Acid Attacks

As defined by UNICEF:

In an acid attack, a man throws acid (the kind found in car batteries) on the face of a girl or woman. Any number of reasons can lead to acid attacks. A delayed meal or the rejection of a marriage proposal is offered as justification for a man to disfigure a woman with acid. Sulfuric acid is ubiquitous, being the basic, inexpensive ingredient for making lead acid batteries in all motorized vehicles all over the world. There does not appear to be any way of reducing its availability at all. The court system in Bangladesh has only recently started to administer stiff punishments to perpetrators, hoping that this will work as deterrent to others.

Dowry Deaths & Bride Burnings

As defined by UNICEF:

Husbands often engineer an “accident” (frequently the bursting of a kitchen stove) when they feel the obligatory marriage dowry (gifts from in-laws) is not enough. In India, it is estimated that more than 5,000 women are killed each year because their in-laws consider their dowries inadequate. A tiny percentage of their murderers are brought to justice.

GLOBAL STATISTICS

At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are “missing” from various populations, mostly in Asia, as a result of sex-selective abortions, infanticide or neglect. (UN Study On The Status of Women, Year 2000)

Globally, at least one in three women and girls had been beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. (UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00)

An estimated one million children, mostly girls, enter the sex trade each year. (UNICEF)

So-called “honor killings” take the lives of thousands of young women every year, mainly in North Africa, Western Asia and parts of South Asia. (UNFPA)

In Uganda, HIV infection is six times higher among young girls than boys, with the difference in rates beginning as early as 9 years old and reaching a peak for 12-19 years old. This is due to old men seeking young girls for sexual exploitation with the belief that they are free from HIV. (Ministry of Health: Uganda)

U.S. STATISTICS

The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between one in four and one in five college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years. (Fisher, 2000)

More than half of all rapes of women occur before age 18; 22 percent occur before age 12. (Full Report of the Prevalance, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, November, 2000)

An estimated 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States annually for sexual exploitation or forced labor. (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 2000)

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 to strike down the civil rights provision of the Federal Violence Against Women Act (ruling that only states could enact such legislation), only two states in the country (Illinois and California) have defined gender-based violence, such as rape and domestic violence, as sex discrimination and have created specific laws that survivors can use to sue their perpetrators in civil court. (Kaethe Morris Hoffer, 2004)

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