With bold voices on a stage, Vagina: OurStories will unveil personal narratives about the gendered violence experiences of UC Davis students.
Sponsored by the Women’s Resources and Research Center (WRRC) and inspired by Eve Ensler’s famous 1996 play The Vagina Monologues, this year’s event will be the third incarnation of the play to raise awareness of gender issues in the Davis community, and raise funds to benefit local organizations against gendered violence. It will take place from March 1 to March 2 at the Davis Veterans Memorial Theatre.
“It’s important to talk about how gender violence isn’t just something you see on the news, it’s happening in Davis, and to the people around you and even closest to you,” said Lamia Hajani, producer of Vagina: OurStories, second-year political science and women and gender studies double major. “In places like Davis, we have a tendency to un-localize things and make them outside of us, but the point of V-Stories is to bring that uncomfortability in and make us realize that these marginalized people should be given a voice so they are not silenced and their experiences don’t go unheard.”
Students of the WRRC planning committee first hosted the original Vagina Monologues play in 2011, performed by an all-women-of-color cast. They then changed the theme in 2012 to be called Vagina: HerStories to express the social stigma of the word ‘vagina’ and localize the issues to the Davis community. Since 2013, the theme has been shifted to Vagina: OurStories to encapsulate a range of gender issues and ‘vagina’ as an identity and metaphor.
Proceeds from the event will go to Justice Now, an Oakland, Calif. teaching law clinic devoted to address the needs of women prisoners by offering legal assistance, counseling, training and campaigning strategies.
“The way that V-Stories has been set up is that it’s not just a performance, but it’s also a benefit,” Hajani said. “For Justice Now, the sterilization of women in prison [is] one thing people might not know about, but it is a local cause. We want people to feel empowered to go for a cause, take part in the discussion and at the same time help end gendered violence in some format.”
The narratives to be expressed range from traumatic experiences such as sexual, psychological and physical abuse to critiques of social binaries between femininity and masculinity, inclusion and exclusion, self-identification and the social construct of beauty.
According to second-year communication and psychology double major and a co-director of Vagina: OurStories Holly Ryborz, the development of community within the group has fostered a welcoming environment, given that such topics are not widely discussed.
“We try to make a space with V-Stories that is very supportive and very open,” Ryborz said. “We check in and check out at every rehearsal because a lot of these pieces are very heavy and emotionally take their toll. It’s very important to be able to talk about how you feel, what’s going on and it’s an awesome space to have for the cast members who are performing emotionally heavy pieces.”
Fourth-year community and regional development major and Vagina: OurStories actor Christina Nguyen said being involved in the event has been challenging but communal, and has inspired her to want a welcoming environment for all people.
“I truly appreciate the space [provided by the cast] as one of the people who are performing and being able to unpack a lot of the emotion that goes with performing,” Nguyen said. “But, it shouldn’t be confined to just these spaces where we feel safe. We need to have this out where everyone can have that and not just a select few who are part of this show. That’s something I hope we can move towards on campus and beyond.”
Third-year psychology major and a Vagina: OurStories writer Tiffany Shem also sees the importance of comfort when expressing these issues.
“I think the reason people feel hesitant to speak about [these issues] in the first place is that they don’t feel safe or comfortable doing so,” Shem said. “By having Vagina: OurStories and the support of other people, [it] is really comforting to know we aren’t alone in this.”
Hajani said the purpose of Vagina: OurStories is overall awareness and understanding from the community, which she admits could be difficult to engage given many pervading stereotypes in popular discourse.
“It’s a matter of being able to inform and educate people, so if someone walks by [our posters] and starts making fun of Vagina: OurStories for having the word ‘vagina,’ we can talk about it and tell them what it’s about,” Hajani said. “‘Vagina’ isn’t a funny word and to us it’s a metaphor, it’s about resistance and being aware of these resilient people who are facing gendered violence.”
Shem also said that as a writer, she wanted to challenge the spheres of dialogue she had encountered in the past, and though she and a few other writers will not be performing their own piece she felt connected with the performers’ representation of her story.
“I have heard a lot of discussions from people about how we don’t need feminism, how we have already reached gender equity and how gender violence is a thing of the past or it’s really rare, but [that’s because] those voices are silenced,” Shem said. “As a writer, it was empowering knowing I can make a difference and change the way people view gender violence.”