A message to women

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March 2, 2007

4:00 PM

It’s a big night for sex on campus, way bigger than your normal Williamsburg Friday night, which is to say that there’s a little bit of sex going on this evening. But seriously, it’s an important night for sex on campus because “The Vagina Monologues” opens this evening at 7 p.m. in the University Center Chesapeake Room A.

p. If you haven’t seen the show before, go. If you have seen it before, then you already know that you need to go again. At first, it’s a hard show to explain and sometimes it’s a hard show to watch, but it’s a must-see. It’s based on true stories of women from all walks of life, interviewed about their sexuality in terms of their relationship with their vaginas. Some are funny, some are tragic and they are all brutally honest about the powerful social forces that try to control and define women’s sexuality.

p. The show is so important because women’s sexuality is an important thing to talk about. It’s not simply that women have sex to bear babies for men, as a recent paid advertisement in this very newspaper may have suggested. It’s not simply that they have sex to fall in love or to get men to love them. Myths like these, which reduce a woman’s independence and agency down to her reproductive biology or emotional neediness, are exactly what “The Vagina Monologues” is fighting against.

p. That’s the wonderful thing about the monologues — they don’t simply represent one narrow view of what it means to be a woman. Yes, many of the monologues are about sex because, clearly, that’s one of the things that vaginas spend time doing. But there are monologues about periods and pubic hair, discovering self-esteem and giving birth. There are stories about rape and violence, because, unfortunately, those acts are still common occurrences for women around the world. To watch the show is to laugh, to cry and to connect your body to the women of the world. You walk out exhausted and exhilarated.

p. When Eve Ensler first wrote and performed “The Vagina Monologues” as a revolutionary one-woman show in 1998, she received much critical acclaim. Now, the show is breaking into the mainstream. It was performed in February at hundreds of colleges and community theater groups to raise money for local and international campaigns to fight violence against women. Your tickets to the show this weekend — tonight, tomorrow or Sunday — contribute to those efforts.

p. It’s not an easy show to watch and that’s part of its importance. As indicated by the stir generated by the highly controversial Sex Workers’ Art Show that sold out here a few weeks ago, brutally honest discussions of sexuality are pretty rare in our sex-saturated society. We need discussions of what it means to be sexually liberated or independent, especially for women.

p. Just last week, the aforementioned advertisement reminded this campus yet again how much work we still have in front of us before women can feel comfortable to make sexual decisions without fear of judgment. It’s not just deciding to have sex or not. Women everywhere know that it’s not that simple. Think of all the decisions we make regarding sex: To say yes; to say no; to say not tonight; to say no until there’s a ring on your finger; to say yes, but I want to be on top; to say yes, let’s make out but not go any further; to say yes with other women, but no, the guys at the party can’t watch; to say not until the fifth date; to say yes even though I don’t know your last name; to say not without a condom; to say yes to masturbation; to say yes to getting tested; to say not if you’re drunk or I’m drunk; to say whatever it is you need to say. The right to say each one of those things is tied, inextricably, with the right to say all of them, and until we have the right to all of them, we don’t truly have the right to any.

p. We have to fight against stereotypes that women should only be sexually passive — desperate to use their bodies only to get the emotional attachment they need. We need to fight stereotypes that women who choose to have sex before marriage are immoral or unconsciously drifting into a life of bad decisions and unhappiness. We need to fight stereotypes that women are beholden to men to make their sexual decisions for them. Fight them where they are written, where they are stated and where they are implied. This performance is one such fight. I’ll see you there.

p. __Kate Prengaman is the Flat Hat sex columnist. She fights stereotypes like it’s her job.__

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