The invitation popped up on my Facebook page. It read “Over It.” Over what? Global warming, snow, 15-degree temperatures? Clues developed as I read on.
“Join the cast and supporters of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ as we present ‘Over it,’” a dramatic presentation of an essay against rape and domestic violence, Feb. 13.
To be completely honest, two things scared me about this event. First, the “V” word. I have liberal leanings, but, when it comes to female body parts, I swing quickly to the conservative side. Blame it on Catholic school or growing up in a family that just didn’t talk about that stuff. I can’t say the word “vagina” without cringing a little inside.
Second, the anger and possible man-hating I thought I could encounter. Coming from a family with five brothers, raising three sons, and having a husband who has proved himself a wonderful partner, teammate in life and confidant, man-hating hits close to home for me.
Despite my concerns, which, by the way, were based not on any personal experience but only on media exposure, I wanted to attend this event. New experiences are good for us. They shape us, grow us and give experiences on which to form informed opinions and perspectives.
My friend and I carpooled together and navigated the Harrisburg parking meter system–a system that I’ve contributed about $100 to this year, because, in Harrisburg, if you are one minute late on your meter, you will be found and fined accordingly! I digress. That’s a rant for another blog.
We entered the LGBT Center on 3rd Street to standing room only, except for the dreaded front seats. Well-lit and cheery, the space had art on the walls and light, hardwood floors. The diverse group consisted mostly of women with a smattering of men.
The event began with a discussion around local violence against women, such as the death of Karlie Hall, a young Millersville student, recently killed, allegedly by her boyfriend. Then came a video about 1 Billion Rising, an event of which I was completely unaware. This campaign shines light on and seeks to end the violence perpetrated against 1 billion women and girls around the world.
It began with images of women and girls being harassed, beaten and mutilated. No gratuitous images of victimization, but images that captured the feelings of helplessness and pain. Then came the “one.” These same women and many others stand up to their abusers and, with one finger held high in the air, make a statement against gender-based violence, presenting a portrayal of unity and voice.
Then abruptly the “monologues,” based on an essay by Eve Ensler, began. An audience member stood up and said firmly, “I’m over rape.” Another woman rose and described rape’s “soul splintering” effects. A third emphatically communicated the lifelong, life-altering consequences of rape. The monologues continued with one woman after another asking difficult questions. Why do women blame themselves? Why does society blame them for the crime against them? Why do men who are accused get a free pass?
One question left a big impression on me. The good men out there: “Where the hell are they?” Why don’t they come to our aid?
The feelings expressed included anger, but, more importantly, frustration and disappointment at humanity for not standing up for those who need it.
Afterward, I introduced myself to a number of the performers and employees of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion. I shared a personal experience of having unwanted sexual advances made toward me by a trusted father figure. I shared how my first thought after that experience was, “What did I do?” I shared how the second thing I did was immediately tell a trusted friend. Everyone shook their heads in understanding. I teared up.
We talked about what keeps women quiet about their abuse—shame. Shamed people deny and ignore. Shame tries to force silence because it assigns culpability. Women, however, are not responsible for their abuse.
I talked to Demora, a state employee by day and director of Harrisburg’s upcoming presentation of the “The Vagina Monologues” by night. I asked her why she’s participated in this event for the past seven years.
With great feeling, she said it was about healing. As women, we have a habit of hiding things. She said that we’ve all been raped in some way, if not sexually then emotionally or spiritually. If not by a man then by society or by life. That women hide their wounds and “The Vagina Monologues” brings those hurts to the surface so they can heal. I wanted to yell, “Preach it!”
Despite the weighty conversations, people smiled and laughed, drank some wine and ate cupcakes. This place and event were about unity, trust, about understanding and support. No mommy wars here, no facades. What I would have missed, had I succumbed to my unfounded misgivings. I left with a bolstered spirit and some new friends. One thing hasn’t changed though. I still can’t say the “V” word.