‘Monologues’ breaks taboos
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 13:02
“I bet you’re worried. We were worried. We were worried about vaginas.”
These words open Eve Ensler’s internationally-produced activist play entitled “The Vagina Monologues.” When I first heard these lines, I was 21, an undergrad at the University of California at Irvine, and worried indeed — that I was about to act in a play that would be ridiculed by people who still think domestic abuse and violence should only be discussed in private.
Five years later, I am still worried, but not for the fear of being mocked, for the fear that many women and men still feel like they will be shamed, jeered at, beaten, or worse if they stand up against domestic violence and abuse in a public forum. “The Vagina Monologues” is one example of many where students standing at their ticket tables were met with demeaning stares, looks of shock, and parents covering their children’s eyes just because a medical term was written on the poster hanging from the table. VOX, a student group that provides free sexual education, has experienced similar looks. As their members sat at tables spread with educational pamphlets on everything from healthy body image to safe sex practices, some have said they felt afraid that a fellow USU student might flip over their table or mock them openly.
Why? The culture here is that sex is not normal conversation.
Many USU students might be surprised to know that: 1 — Of the college woman who are raped, only 25 percent describe it as rape; 2 — One in four women in college today has been the victim of rape, and nearly 90 percent of them knew their rapist, and that number is climbing to one in three; and 3 — 34 percent of completed rapes and 45 percent of attempted rapes take place on campus. Almost 60 percent of the completed campus rapes occur in the victim’s residence, 31 percent occur in another residence, and 10 percent occur in a fraternity. These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.
Why are people still afraid to go to groups, classes or shows like “The Vagina Monologues,” where sexual assault is discussed openly when there is a clear need to discuss these topics in more ways? I hear the comments: “Because it’s not my problem.” “Because it is a private affair.” “Because I don’t really want to hear about those things. It’s not proper.” The truth is, whether or not you have been involved in an assault in any capacity, everyone should know about these issues and draw attention to them as deep problems in our culture. The only sure way to verify the normalcy of an action is to allow it on a daily basis. To not discuss it as wrong like we do with discrimination against other races or robbing someone’s home. When actions like assault, rape and sex in general are kept behind doors undiscussed and unacknowledged, we normalize assault, rape and not knowing very much about our bodies, sex or healthy displays of intimacy in the bedroom, let alone understanding why more people should demand their elected leaders reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and take more action against perpetrators of violence and politicians who think there is legitimate rape exists — how was Akin still a congressman after that statement?
I do not argue that pornography is for everyone nor that everyone is at the same level of comfort when it comes to discussing sexually-related topics. I am of the opinion, however, that sexual education and communication should be discussed more openly and more often to de-normalize the shame of assault victims and normalize the culture that says, “No.” I expect most people would agree that assault is not okay. The problem is our culture of silence around and condescension toward these issues has constructed an environment that says, “Sexual assault is normal,” by deliberate avoidance of the issue. Forums of public discourse on sexuality should be safe, normal and comfortable spaces, not places to be avoided and shunned. Stand up for your right to say what’s right and say it. Say it not when the assault or abuse has already occurred, but before it does so that we can live in a culture where sexual abuse and rape are things of the past.
– Kristin Ladd is a Utah State University graduate student and instructor in the English Department. She currently teaches an English 2010 class on Civil Rights and LGBTQA issues. She can be reached for questions or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.