The Continued Evolution of Empowering Women on Campus: As Told By Vaginas becomes the WE Initiative

Editor’s note: Samantha Weisenthal ’18 is a member of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative executive board.

For individuals who are oppressed by society, a community of conversation can bring relief, self expression and power. This community must live within the ideals of empathy and sympathy, and it must fuel the self expression that will in time lead to equity and compassion for each separate individual.
The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler provided an incredibly relevant voice for women during the late 1990s, when the work was created. Ensler explored uncharted territory, from the smell of the vagina to the hair that dresses the “down there.”

While we value Ensler’s work, as a feminist movement we are beginning to realize that not every woman is born with a vagina. Beyond this, some parts of The Vagina Monologues stereotyped different parts of society through sweeping statements and metaphors that made cliché the struggle feminist movements as a whole are trying to fight against. As Alia Roth ’14 stated in her article for Thought Catalogue, “…when a production that has been performed year after year in our community has resulted in the boredom of the audience, the falsification of our generation’s voices, the silencing of some students and triggering of emotions, it is time for the re-production of this show on our campus to end; the Connecticut College community has moved on.” The Vagina Monologues no longer spoke to the experience of the women we as a community try to empower, and therefore it was time to try something new.

It is important to acknowledge that certain aspects of The Vagina Monologues stayed relevant. There were several reasons why we kept the word ‘vagina’ in the name last year. Juliette Verrengia ’16, the technical producer of this year’s show and a member of last year’s executive board, said, “for the first year it was important to keep the word [vagina] in the title to keep the show congruent with The Vagina Monologues. Now that we are more established the word vagina is not as important to have directly in the name.”

Although we have changed the individual monologues performed in the show, the overall intention of the show remains. The empowerment of hearing a woman’s story through the voice of a fellow woman who can empathize with the experiences of others has always been the driving force of the production. What feels even more empowering is that we are reading the stories of the women with whom we attend class, go out, and eat meals. The ability to not feel ashamed based on personal female experience is something we as a collective try to practice.

Verrengia added: “Many cis-gendered women find strength from feeling comfortable outwardly saying the word vagina,” and for this reason, we wanted to keep the word in the title.

However, through further discussion as a group and a community, we began to realize that by using the word vagina we were limiting our audience of women. “It would be detrimental to ignore the conversations about being exclusive to some individuals…There are other things that are more important to women than having a vagina, and a lot of the things we go through may or may not be routed in that.” We as a community accept every woman no matter how controversial her womanhood may seem.

So now, as a community on a mission to legitimize the experiences of women, we have become something new yet again: The Women’s Empowerment (WE) Initiative. We chose this name for several reasons. As Mattie Barber-Bockelman ’16, the reading committee chair in charge of reviewing and selecting submitted monologues, put it: “It was most striking to me that this group was a vehicle for women’s mobilization on the campus, that’s what we wanted to the name to reflect. The word initiative and the connotation it brings makes it more active. By making it an initiative it is less stagnant and more progress based.” Being a feminist medium on this campus means that we are here to express all the stories of women that have been oppressed by the patriarchy. We are here to empower women, to take a stand, to live in sisterhood and to make a difference. “This is what we are and what we live. It’s not just about what we are saying it’s about what we are doing,” Barber-Bockelman continued.

The show we create will never be the same show twice. The artistry and power of the community we all feel so blessed to be a part of surprises us each time we read or perform these monologues. As a woman on this campus I could not feel more blessed to have a sisterhood who I know understands some part of my experience being a woman. Every woman has a voice in the WE Initiative, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what Eve Ensler would want. •