Words by Anastasia Traynin
Rehearsal photo by Paolo Mondragon
The sixth annual V-Day Gwangju Theater is once again performing Eve Ensler’s original 1996 play, The Vagina Monologues. Same as last year, all proceeds from fundraisers and ticket sales will go to benefit Gwangju’s 우리집 (My House), a shelter for single mothers and children.
This year, we are amplifying the voices of cast members, asking why they joined this year’s production and what they feel its significance is for our community. The following are a selection of comments by Gwangju’s 2017 V-Day participants.
“I’m a teacher in Gwangju. I joined The Vagina Monologues because I think I have a lot of internalized shame, as most women do, I think, around our bodies and sexuality. So I thought it would be, for me, a good experience, a good way to get over some of that. I think, with a lot of what’s going on in the U.S. right now, it’s easy to feel really powerless living abroad. This is something concrete I feel that I can do that’s positive for women.” — Antonia Kurtz, USA
“I am from California. I work for Gwangju Foreign School. I did the Monologues in college. I did it three times. It was just a really good experience; it was eye-opening, and at the same time, I felt like it was great to be a part of something greater. It was good to do something that was helpful for me to grow as a woman but also help women who need help, through our fundraising that we did. When I heard that Gwangju does it, I was really excited because I wanted to contribute to that collective again.” — Lindsay Winfield, USA
“I grew up in a conservative household where I had to whisper about my women’s issues, was told to be discreet about my private part because it’s disgusting to others, and was forbidden to do any rituals at the family’s altar when I was bleeding in my pants. And then, I was cast in this play where I’m enlightened with these stories about women who express freely, intellectually, and inspiringly about their vaginas and their stories. I’d like to be like them and show the audience how great it is if they join the narratives, as I believe women should be educated to talk about their own vaginas without shame, like the characters in this play. I hope people can find the way to not be grossed out by stories of vaginas, like our culture dictates us to be, and to learn to embrace the peculiarity, and yet familiarity, of it. There’s more to common narratives about women’s lady parts. I hope the Monologues will help bring Gwangju people out of their culturally safe comfort zone and talk about the one thing they are reluctant to discuss in colloquial conversations, sometimes even with their loved ones – their vagina. Only when we don’t feel ashamed speaking about vaginas, which represent who we are, can we be ready to ask and fight for what we want. Only when we realize it is heinous that our capacity is being confined solely because we are born women with vaginas in a male-dominated society can we be ready to break the chains, using the very power of vagina sisters standing together. Gwangju is not new in the battle of fighting for gender equality and against misogyny, and hopefully the Monologues will help kick in the sweet melody of an egalitarian society here in our city.” — Thanh Huong (Sen), Vietnam
“Joining the Monologues for me is an act of sharing. I want to share my talent and share something for a cause, and at the same time, be one of the women’s voices expressing a lot of feelings and needs. I hope people could cast aside the old self of being prejudiced and judgmental, and learn to always look at other’s situations and reasons. This kind of project helps in encouraging women to not just share talents for a cause but also to spread awareness regarding abuses towards women.” — Mylene Lee, the Phillipines
“The main purpose of TVM is to raise awareness of violence against women and girls. I have been asking myself a question: Who is responsible and what might be the reasons for all this violence we are trying to talk about? Our society or education, our cultures or families, men around us or our mothers, our partners or ourselves? I read in a book once that violence is not one major problem, it is seven billion little ones. This sounded like an answer to my questions. I can blame something or someone, or I can try to do something about violence in myself and around me. I often felt hopeless when I saw and heard stories about the way women treat each other. If we want to be treated with understanding, respect, and kindness, if we want to have freedom of choice, don’t we have to try to treat others this way first? Of course, this is what every religious tradition and self-help book will tell you to do. But what I found frustrating is that in the heat of conflict WE SIMPLY JUST DO NOT KNOW what to do and end up hurting others and ourselves. How can I be kind when I am angry and upset? How do I show respect to a person who tells me things I strongly disagree with? This year, I wanted to learn myself and to share with others some practical techniques on how to prevent and resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. I am grateful to all of the ladies for their willingness to experiment with NVC (non-violent communication) together, for their honesty and open minds, for their sincerity. I hope our audience takes away some laughter and some sadness, but no guilt or shame. I hope they will have a lot of questions and will try to actively find answers afterwards. I want to be surrounded by like-minded people because I strongly believe in ‘being the change you want to see.’” — Dana Han, Director