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Day 7 of 16 – The Power of Language: How the V-Word Changed My Life

by Allegra Silbiger, AWC Berlin member

There was no word for the most private parts of me when I was growing up. On the surface, we were a progressive household, with left-leaning politics and generous yearly donations to Planned Parenthood. The obligatory copy of “The Joy of Sex” was there for all to see on the bookshelf in my parents’ bedroom. And yet, I cannot remember a single mention of a vagina in all of my years at home in New York City.

I do remember looking in the New York Times Arts and Leisure section as a teenager and finding advertising for a play called The Vagina Monologues in bold print. I recall being vaguely outraged at the indecency, the arrogance, the unnecessary provocation. I had no idea what might be behind the title, but I was offended purely by the word itself. Too much. Too loud. Too clear.

It was about 25 years later that I met a woman at a birthday party in Berlin and found out what the Monologues were all about. Karin was Director of V-Day Europe and described to me the principle of the project: Eve Ensler was the author and original performer of the theater piece whose title gave me such a shock in my youth. A New Yorker herself, she wrote the Vagina Monologues based on hundreds of interviews that she held with women from all walks of life. The questions in the interviews were all about vaginas. How did women feel about their vagina?  How did they talk about or not talk about their vagina? What were the most important experiences they related to their vagina? The result was a one-woman performance that included stories of sexual awakening, of abuse, of birth, and of brutal violence.

The Vagina Monologues touched audiences in a way that Eve Ensler had not foreseen. She was approached again and again by women who were inspired, comforted, and who felt a vital need to share their own stories. Many, like me, had been raised without a language to speak about their bodies, their sexuality. And for many, like me, the missing language had created a shadow of shame. The unnamed had become unnameable, unspeakable. It was a danger zone, “down there”. And when bad things, dangerous things happened “down there”, there were no words and there was no courage to speak of them to parents, friends, authorities.

In 1998, about two years after the play opened, Eve Ensler was moved to put the Vagina Monologues to work in a global effort to end violence against women and girls. The concept was simple and effective and caught on like wildfire. She made the rights to the script available for a designated period – in the beginning just on Valentine’s Day (thus the wordplay on V-Day) – and later for several months from Valentine’s Day through the end of April, which became the “V-Season.” During that time, groups of women were invited to organize benefit performances of the Vagina Monologues. The events would spread awareness, get people talking, giving them the language to speak up and to share their own stories. The majority of the proceeds would benefit local organizations that were active in ending violence against women, and a fraction would support the international campaign of V-Day.

Today, well over 5000 V-Day events are produced worldwide each year. The Vagina Monologues have been translated into more than 45 languages. Women in community centers, theater clubs, college campuses, and political organizations launch V-Day events. Celebrity productions have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and put the subject in the limelight. In Brussels, members of the European Parliament performed the Monologues in 2012.

After about fifteen minutes talking to Karin at that birthday party in Berlin, it was clear to me that I needed to produce the Vagina Monologues, too. It was clear in a way that few things have been clear to me in my life. It was a transformative experience. I opened my mouth and spread the word. I asked for help and received it. I talked with my daughters. And with a group of extraordinary women, and with the support of several brave men, I brought the Vagina Monologues to Berlin in 2011 and 2013. The events benefited the work of the Interkulturelle Initiative e.V. , which shelters and supports immigrant women who have fled domestic violence.

The “V” in V-Day stands for Vagina, for Valentine, and for Victory.


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  2. Find out more about the Global V-Day campaign to end violence against women and girls: http://www.vday.org
  3. Find out more about the Interkulturelle Initiative e.V. in Berlin and support their efforts to protect abused women and their children: http://www.interkulturelle-initiative.de/
  4. Get involved with V-Day’s worldwide solidarity movement, One Billion Rising: http://www.onebillionrising.org/
  5. Read a personal account by the European Regional Coordinator of One Billion Rising: http://2013.onebillionrising.org/blog/entry/moving-dancing-rising-in-europe
  6. Find out more about the City of Joy, a center for healing, education, and leadership counseling for survivors of gender-based violence in the Congo, supported by the Global V-Day campaign: http://drc.vday.org

The AWC Berlin participates in the 16-Day-Campaign against Gender-Based-Violence.  Each day, we highlight an aspect of GBV to raise awareness and call on our membership to take one small action to fight against violence against women.

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