I attended the University of Southern California “The Vagina Monologues” benefit performance on Valentine’s Day evening. Appropriately, I was gifted the ticket and attended with the person who is probably the most intimate with my vagina, having emerged from it 31 years ago.
As part of V-Day’s "Turning Pain to Power Tour,” the performance was followed by a discussion with the play's author, Eve Ensler, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, the OB-GYN who has been recognized for his groundbreaking work in treating rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All proceeds from the shows went to A Window Between Worlds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the arts to end violence against women. A spokesperson at the event noted that the program is designed to create “a sense of safety for new visions to be born, visions of a world free of violence and abuse.”
Director Ashley Steed thrust the audience into peals of laughter when she opened the show by asking attendees to turn off their cell phones, pagers and vibrators.
Each time I have seen The Vagina Monologues, the actors have added new richness to the script. The actors in the USC rendition all offered their unique interpretation. Brittany Matthews captivated the audience with “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” (the “moan” segment), and Akayjah Watson was riveting with “My Angry Vagina.” Aria Carlston gave a magnetic interpretation of “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could,” and Stephanie Castillo gave a joyfully seductive performance of “Reclaiming C unt.” Ensler seemed to be referring to Castillo’s performance when she said, “when I did the show, I didn’t get out of my chair,” noting that “it shows how far the show has come, to see those orgasms at the end (of the show).”
“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure. The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 nerve fibers to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else in the male or female body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue; and it is twice, twice, TWICE, the number in the penis.”
After the performance, Ensler and Dr. Mukwege spoke about the ongoing sexual atrocities against Congolese women. Mukwege is the 2008 winner of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights, and is founding director of the groundbreaking Panzi General Reform Hospital in Bukavu, DRC.
Mukwege noted that during seven years of medical study in France, not a single woman died in childbirth, but on his return to the Congo, the deaths of three women in one day shocked him.
In 1999, his first year, he performed life-saving fistula surgery for 45 women who had been raped and tortured, their vaginas and genital organs destroyed by guns, bayonettes, sticks and heated plastic. The term “women” is used broadly, his patients range in age from 3 to 80 years old. Few were raped by a single rapist. Whole families were forced to watch, and partake in the atrocities, creating dire psychological consequences for not only the women who were raped, but for entire communities. The doctor noted that gangs with HIV and SIDS are sent to rape a village, with the ripple effect calculated to destroy thousands of people.
Mukwege said that genital terrorism is the cheapest form of warfare, as it is very effective. The goal? The removal of families in order to facilitate the control of the mines that produce a very rare and valuable mineral used in cell phones.
Mukwege’s numbers of patients grew to ten per day, 3600 per year. He said that it became unbearable, and that he felt that he needed to do something more than just repair the women’s’ organs, and began to talk to organizations to try to obtain help. He said that many weren’t interested in things that didn’t concern them directly, and he was ready to give up – when he met Eve. Since then they have worked together to raise the Congolese women up out of the terrorism and violence. Together with V-Day and UNICEF, he is working to build the City of Joy for survivors of sexual violence. It will offer a safe haven, provide educational and income-generating opportunities, and support women in becoming the next leaders of the DRC.
Ensler noted that the Congo is in the heart of Africa, and “if the women in the heart of Africa are destroyed, then the heart of Africa is destroyed.”
She punctuated the evening by noting that she believed that, in the final analysis, “patriarchy (actually) does more damage to men than to women.”
Ensler was glad to share to share that she and Mukwege had been on tour for eight days, and that every venue had been sold out, and invited interested persons to support their work by donating through www.vday.org.