Get to know the history and progress of a global movement called V-Day.
If you haven’t heard of V-Day, consider your notions of Valentine’s Day forever changed.
V-Day is a global movement that started with the simple idea to start a conversation. For the past 21 years, that conversation has been the fuel for ending violence against women and girls (all who were assigned and/or identify as female) worldwide. While V-Day is technically on February 14, it is recognized throughout the month of February. In fact, the activists fighting for this cause honor V-Day every day.
A Little Herstory
The first Monologues were seen in New York in 1996. They were pulled from firsthand stories of women Ensler interviewed about sexual violence, vagina shame and first periods, just to skim the surface. Titles like “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” and “My Vagina Was My Village” and the monologues that followed could be moving, humorous and most importantly means for change.
Then What Happened?
According to the V-Day website, after seeing the performances reach a larger audience, “Ensler found women waiting to share their own stories of survival, leading her to see that The Vagina Monologues could be more than a moving work of art on violence; she divined that the performances could be a mechanism for moving people to act to end violence.”
The increase in exposure led to performances worldwide, and then the movement adopted an entire day. Thus V-Day was born.
In 2016 The Vagina Monologues was performed in 767 locations, 48 countries, 438 colleges, 329 communities.
All proceeds from the event have always been donated to antiviolence organizations in the hosts’ communities. While college is the common place to come across a performance of the Monologues, the rights to the play can be obtained by anyone interested in hosting.
New Movements Are Born Every Day
It’s 2017, and thousands of movements in over 140 countries have risen to end violence with their unique social relevance. For the 15th anniversary of V-Day, the movement also embodied 1 Billion Rising, which according to the 1 Billion Rising website is “the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history. The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.” 1 Billion Rising creates unity in uprising by “taking up space” through massive group dance.
Let Their Voices Be Hers
Many people have been impacted by V-Day and 1 Billion Rising and are actively contributing to this cause. Here’s what some have to say about the movement.
Thandie Newton, who portrays Maeve Millay in Westworld, felt so strongly about the vision that she became a board member of V-Day and 1 Billion Rising. She told ET, “I felt personally connected to a lot of what [Ensler] was writing about, particularly having just starred in the movie Beloved, where the central theme is the story about a woman killing her own daughter to try and protect her from the brutality of slavery. My activism was born at that time. Finally, I felt a place where I could articulate not just my own anger and frustration, but also join forces with others and turn that pain to power.”
Mandy Pennington of Scranton, Pennsylvania, participated by performing a monologue on V-Day. She said, “As a woman I’ve struggled with my identity at various points in my life. Pressure has always existed to feel or behave in a certain way. Performing in V-Day was an enlightening experience. I was able to connect with women while also exploring a new part of my identity: my womanhood and place in a beautiful and fulfilling community. Additionally, the content of my monologue was sex-positive, a perspective I hadn’t educated myself on adequately up until that point.”
Sheila Streetman performed her monologue for Club Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland, Washington. She said, “I had never even heard of The Vagina Monologues when I agreed to take part in a performance on my college campus. I was scared, but it didn’t stop me from saying the word ‘vagina’ out loud. I had to practice a lot before I could do it. (You should try it. It’s empowering.) I am stronger today for having done it.”
“Finally, I felt a place where I could articulate not just my own anger and frustration, but also join forces with others and turn that pain to power.”
— Thandie Newton
Kogarah Community Services in New South Wales, Australia, has participated in 1 Billion Rising for the past five years. Their events this year include eight diverse dance groups and a community flash mob to 1 Billion Rising’s anthem, “Break the Chain.” Kogarah Community Services’ participation in V-Day has reached thousands just by engaging people who walk by, not to mention their huge presence on social media.
Kogarah Community Development organizer Cathy Nisbet said, “Because of every single person that danced, volunteered and cheered, we could all stand together as a community with local state and federal politicians, the police, the department of justice, local domestic violence support services, the media and, of course, local councils to say we do not accept violence against women and we want a better and safer future for all women.” A survivor in Nisbet’s community wrote the following after experiencing the 1 Billion Rising event: “Being there for the event, taking part and seeing all these people raising their voice to say no to abuse against women… I can’t describe the feeling it gives me…and the power I feel to keep moving forward.”
It’s clear that along with addressing an important issue, V-Day is equally about celebration — of solidarity among women, of a unified mission for a greater future. And in that vein, Sea Tea Improv in Hartford, Connecticut, seeks to raise awareness through an interpretation of The Vagina Monologues.
Julia Pistell, managing director of Sea Tea Comedy Theatre, said, “We’ll do the traditional Vagina Monologues and be true to the wonderful writing and production, but we will be very minimally rehearsed. Once we cast the show, we will be doing only one or two rehearsals. Our folks have an incredible raw, in-the-moment energy onstage and that’s what we’ll bring from our improv experience. We also will be highlighting some of the more comedic monologues.”
Sea Tea’s inclusion goes beyond giving their Monologue proceeds to local Sexual Assault Crisis Services. This improv studio is a year-round inclusive safe space, partnering with nonprofits, providing inclusion representation scholarship opportunities and giving away “Pay It Forward” tickets for free admission to their shows. “Not only are we happy to make others laugh (which everyone deserves), but it makes our comedy better, smarter and stronger if we can connect on a human level with all different kinds of people,” Pistell said. “In terms of V-Day and women’s rights, I am extremely proud of how many women we feature in this company. Everyone in the company, male and female alike, is very proud of that. So when we asked, ‘Should we do The Vagina Monologues?’ it was a resounding ‘Duh!’ all around.”
How to Get Involved: Solidarity Projects, Safe Houses and V-World Farm
The 2017 theme of The Vagina Monologues focuses on violence in the workplace and welcomes community members to share their stories at a local performance of the play. Find an event in your area.
It doesn’t end there. See the V-Day website for a collection of movements that have taken shape since its inception, and find an area where you can get involved. From construction workers to youth organizations, environmental groups, fair wage fighters and the v-men who show support through their involvement, this movement is wide, diverse and powerful. A simple conversation continues to shape the global perception of a very global issue.
On the 1 Billion Rising site, Ensler encourages readers to “interrupt the world as we know it” and start “living as if there were no future but the one we are creating.” During this pivotal time in our history, let’s show support for people of all backgrounds, let’s unify and let’s dance.