Lady business: Ann Arbor and Ypsi talk vaginas
Every Feb. 14, stores downsize the sympathy card section in lieu of cheesy romantic ones. Chocolates are injected with sugary cherry goo, and a few select aisles are flushed with different shades of pink.
With all this hullabaloo, it’s easy to remember that Feb. 14 is for Valentine’s Day.
Yes, dear readers, every Feb. 14 isn’t just Valentine’s Day – it’s also V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and children. The event began in 1998 in New York City when playwright and activist Eve Ensler decided she would use her play, “The Vagina Monologues,” to raise money for V-Day’s mission.
The original event raised $250,000. Today, V-Day celebrations include thousands of productions of “The Vagina Monologues” in communities around the world and other events centered on topics like rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).
This year, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor will host two of these events. Eastern Michigan University’s Women’s Resource Center is producing “The Vagina Monologues” for the 10th year in a row, while Congo Activists of Michigan (CAM) — formerly Run for Congo Women Ann Arbor – will host a Congo Teach-In. Neither event happens right on V-Day, but rather in “V-season;” the play will be on Feb. 10-12 at 8 p.m. at the EMU Student Center Auditorium and the teach-in will be on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. at the University of Michigan in Mason Hall, room 3463.
Vday.org; courtesy photo
Women who testified at a ‘Women Breaking the Silence’ event with Unicef and V-Day staff in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, September 2008. Eve Ensler is in center.
“(‘The Vagina Monologues’) is not about women’s issues,” said Jess Klein, program coordinator of the women’s resource center at EMU. “It’s about the commonality among women.
“We may not have the same issues, but we have similar experiences. It’s about rape, it’s about abuse. But it’s also about having a period.”
Klein will be one of the 18 women performing in EMU’s V-Day celebration. She first saw “The Vagina Monologues” in 2003, when she was 18. This is her first time performing it. She said that people tell her that they laugh, cry and do everything in between during the show.
“I’ve heard everything from, ‘It was life-changing,’ to, ‘I didn’t know women went through this,’” she said.
All of the money from ticket sales will go toward First Step and SafeHouse Center. The CAM teach-in in Ann Arbor, however, will be raising awareness more than funds.
“There are so many other things that are dominating the media that stories like this just don’t have a voice,” said Erin Elly, a Web designer with the University of Michigan and a volunteer with CAM. “Honestly, I still don’t feel like I know about it, but I keep learning more and more about it through Brooke.”
Elly is talking about Brooke Sparling, a UM alum and CAM’s founder. Sparling started CAM in 2010, doing running events to raise money for the Women for Women International program. Sparling is also sponsoring a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Women to Women International.
Sparling calls the woman, a young divorced mother, her sister. She said that there are many women who need help due to the widespread violence and extreme poverty.
“My sponsorship provides a year of classes, counseling, job training and a stipend. So, I think it’s a good program,” said Sparling.
She first became connected with the DRC after participating in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. Her time there solidified a personal connection with central African countries. However, it wasn’t until she was back on American soil that she really found out about the atrocities happening in the DRC.
The situation in the DRC is very complicated, said both Elly and Sparling, but one thing is for sure: Rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as a war tactic. It is estimated that thousands of women have been raped; exact numbers are impossible to come by due to the shame, danger, lack of support and dozens of other complications that survivors experience.
“I was working in the health system, and people couldn’t afford to go to the health centers, even if it was only a few dollars,” Sparling said of her time in Cameroon, a place with economic strife akin to that un the DRC.
“I witnessed children dying from preventable and treatable diseases like malaria, which would never occur if they were here in the United States.”
Both Sparling and Klein’s events focus on topics that center around women, but they assured that their events are for anyone and everyone. Some of their fans have even employed a few unconventional tactics to boost attendance. After all, that’s how awareness is raised.
“I had one friend who actually got 12 dates. They didn’t know that she had12 dates,” laughed Klein. “She took them all to ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and they all sat next to her!”