When the Vagina Monologues Came to Chittagong

The Vagina Monologues

Over Skype a friend of mine, suspended in disbelief asked, “Did I read on your blog that your students performed the Vagina Monologues?”

“Yeah, it was incredible,” I responded with enthusiasm.

“I am shocked that they allowed that at a women’s university in Chittagong, Bangladesh. My ‘progressive’ liberal arts college in the U.S. hardly did.”

One sticky-hot night in Chittagong, a group of interested students and faculty crowded into the rooftop multipurpose room to watch a group of students from the Writing and Activism class perform Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues.

Prior to the performance we were invited to walk around the rooftop room and view posters that the students had made answering questions about their own female body parts. One poster even asked the question, “What would your vagina wear?”

Leaning conspicuously on smartly lacquered wooden steps leading onto stage, the student whispered into the microphone: “I did not want to hear what they were saying to me.”

After a brief introduction, a third year Pakistani student took the stage to perform a monologue she had written called, “When I Say Vagina.”

The main character in the story, a young girl, was raped on her way home from school. As the girl walks home, a group of young men calls out to her. In response, she places her fingers in her ears and continues to walk. The men catch up to her, surround her, and continue harassing her. They then rape the young girl.

Leaning conspicuously on smartly lacquered wooden steps leading onto stage, the student whispered into the microphone: “I did not want to hear what they were saying to me.” Wearing a clean white shirt and black slacks, the student engaged the audience (faculty and students alike) with her phenomenal piece. Speaking in perfect English she urged the audience to recite along with her the words,“rape,” and “vagina.”

But if you had been in that audience you would dedicate every moment you had to the future of a university like this one.

In the last minute of the performance the student raised her voice higher and higher, emulating famous women like Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, and Glenn Close, who have performed the play with similar candor and vitality.

Watching students swarm to the performers after the show, I realized that the case for investing in girls’ education is strong. Anecdotally, watching the Vagina Monologues at a women’s university in a country like Bangladesh may seem cliché. But if you had been in that audience you would dedicate every moment you had to the future of a university like this one.  I could feel the impact of women’s education manifested in the real strength of that performance.

I myself, do not posses the courage and bravado it has to perform the monologues in front of my peers and instructors. And I was not the only one in the audience moved by their performance. Afterwards, a student in my Access composition class (1st years at the university) came up to me beaming. She exclaimed, “I am finally proud to be a girl instead of a boy. I get it now.”

She exclaimed, “I am finally proud to be a girl instead of a boy. I get it now.”

No matter how many emails I receive from my girlfriends back home telling me how “cool” their last weekend was, a night spent watching my students realize the power they have is infinitely more valuable. That night was worth more than any American attraction could offer.

My friend who first questioned me about the performance later told me that Eve Ensler had given a talk at her university a couple of years ago. She said that it was the most powerful speech she has heard to this day.

“And I thought about her when I read your post. That’s why she wrote the monologues–to get women talking.”

She got them talking alright: she got them writing, laughing, yelling, and reciting the beauties of womanhood from around the globe.

About Lauren

AvatarLauren volunteered in Bangladesh through WorldTeach.

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