A public play on private parts

“Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas” begins a piece from The Vagina Monologues. Returning to USF for an encore performance, the monologues discuss hot-button topics from domestic violence and rape to childbirth and masturbation — and, most famously, learning to love one’s intimate organs.

The show is presented by the Feminist Student Alliance (FSA) and this year’s cast of performers is one of its most diverse, said Janive Santini, FSA president and director of the production. The show’s 27-member, all-female cast includes students of all races, sexual orientations and majors. The FSA held an open casting call and encouraged all women to attend.

The recurring theme of the show is the vagina, but the FSA stresses that the goal of the performance is to help end violence against women and girls around the world. The show focuses on empowerment, said Jean Marie, FSA vice president and co-director of the show.

“So many women don’t understand how empowering it is to look at your vagina,” she said. “To know what it looks like, know what it feels like and not be afraid of what it is.”

The show carries the audience through a wide range of emotions.

“There are stories that will have people laughing and others where they might cry,” Marie said.

The performance’s graphic and risque subject matter has drawn criticism. One controversial monologue tells the story of an underage girl who becomes intoxicated and has a sexual experience with an older woman.

Robert Swope, a writer for Georgetown University’s The Hoya, was famously fired after he wrote an article protesting this particular scene. Because of controversial undertones of statutory rape, the Georgetown cast had to change lines from the original script.

Pro-sex feminist author Betty Dodson publicly criticized the play, claiming it portrayed
heterosexual relationships in a negative light compared to homosexual relationships.

A few monologues do depict homosexuality, but they don’t denounce heterosexuality, Santini said. The monologues are the true and sometimes troubling stories of women who told them as they experienced them, she said.

The Vagina Monologues typically attracts a diverse crowd and everyone is encouraged to attend, including men. Many men end up changing their opinion of the play after experiencing it, Marie said.

The FSA presents The Vagina Monologues on Friday at 8 p.m. in Marshall Student Center Room 2708, and Saturday in Marshall Student Center Room 3707. Admission is $10 for students.

All proceeds will benefit The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence shelter. Last year’s performance had an audience of about 300, but the FSA hopes to double the turnout this year to raise $6,000 for the shelter, Santini said. Representatives from The Spring of Tampa Bay and the USF Advocacy Program will be in attendance.

Santini said people can’t judge the program based on whatever preconceived notions they may have.

“There are portions of the show that are going to make audiences very uncomfortable, but after it’s over you can take it all in and understand the power of its message,” she said. “It changes points of view.”