Highlights from Jacob Knobel, V-Day UC Irvine Organizer
I just wanted to write to you and say how great it was to meet you and the rest of the v-day team in New Orleans last weekend. I’ve been involved with V-Day for over 3 years now and it was so nice to finally see the faces and meet the people who created and continue to manage this life changing movement. As a senior in college, and as my last year as a college organizer, V10 came at a great time and ended up being the most perfect, amazing way to culminate my experience.
While writing the “Message from the Producer” that appears on the front of our program, my Director and I chose the quote by Karen Obel – “I didn’t find V-Day. It found me.” to start our letter. For me personally, that quote couldn’t be any truer. As a male who grew up in a safe, loving, wonderful family, in a sheltered private high school in LA, I was a stranger to a large majority of the problems that face women in this world. I had been heavily involved in theatre in high school, but after starting college I had to focus a lot more on my actual major, computer science, which left even less time for rehearsals and shows. However, it was only a matter of time until V-Day finally found me in a Stage Management class where the current organizer for that year happened to be one of my classmates. I was asked if I wanted to stage manage the production and working on the production that first year changed my life in more ways that I even realize and I instantly fell in love with the show, with the cast, and with all things vagina.
I tend to describe myself as a mixed bag of traits that doesn’t really fit well into any one stereotype. I’m a computer science major and full on geek, yet I absolutely hate computer games and cannot pass any upper division math class if my life depended on it; I prefer writing and law far more than math and science. I’m also a total theatre nut and have been working in technical theater ever since I knew what it was, yet I never wanted to major in Drama or do any kind of acting. Starting college was a hard experience for me as I tried, along with everyone else, to find my place. V-Day became that perfect place for me.
I think what’s been so great about V-Day and The Vagina Monologues is that working on the show really allowed me to thrive and do the things I was good at for causes that were important to me. My background with computers lent itself well to my roles as a V-Day organizer and a stage manager. I actually developed a suite of software applications to help manage auditions, the cast, online ticket sales, and our budget. Even at V10, I was able to use my technical expertise to help all the activists and organizations get their laptops online – and that’s one of the great things with V-Day. I may not be a woman or have had anything specific happen to me in the past, but I’m able to contribute just the same in my own way. Working on the show provided an entrance into my school’s drama department and the students within it who otherwise were strangers, but have since become the backbone of my college experience.
What’s most amazing about this experience for me is how it has really opened my eyes. In my first days working on the show, I was having a great time and really bonding with the group of girls in our cast, but it didn’t initially occur to my why these girls were there. As the weeks passed, I slowly began to realize that each girl in our cast had a reason for being there, and most of the time, it was due to an act of violence against them in their past. I always knew that violence occurred, but it was the first time I ever knew someone personally. The following year, I made my decision to be an organizer partially based on the fact that I was completely embarrassed to be a member of the same sex of people that committed such atrocities, and I became determined to do whatever I could to change that. As I heard a few of the speakers say last weekend, “women aren’t doing this to themselves” and that’s why to me, V-Day has been more about the men than anything else.
I tried to think about my own life and it didn’t take much thought to realize that I am the person I am today because of the women that are around me. Women have had the largest role shaping my life, there’s no question. Because nearly all of my friends are girls, I tend to understand women’s issues better and I’m not phased or uncomfortable by a friend giving me explicit details about her period, for example. It occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons why so many men grow up to treat women so terribly is simply due to a lack of exposure to women and understanding of who they are, their lives, and their issues. If every boy grew up with a collection of close female friends, I truly believe that boy would be a better, more respectful person because of it; that boy would become a vagina warrior. The Vagina Monologues fits in well here because it provides so much of that exposure to things that most men never see, but need to. For me, the challenge has not only been to get as many people as possible to come see our show every year, but to get as many guys as possible. I’m proud to say that of all the campuses that I’ve gone to see performances at (and I’ve seen quite a few, lol), UCI has always had the smaller gender gap. In fact, due to a “Guy’s Night” promotion we ran last year letting guys in half-price, for one night we may have actually had more men in the audience than women. I’m hoping that by seeing this show and going through this experience, all these men come out with a better understanding of women and a newfound respect for women. I hope they feel unhappy with the current situation and I hope this show empowers them to help change it.
I’m writing all this to you because I want you to know how much V-Day has changed me and I want to thank you for helping to make that happen. The Vagina Monologues has literally defined my entire college experience and it represents the best memories I see when I look back at the past 4 years. V-Day is so powerful and it has a way of affecting literally everyone it touches. I’ve seen girls in our cast grow. I’ve seen them open up and come to terms with their past looking forward toward their future. I’ve seen girls who could barely utter the word “vagina” during the audition scream “CUNT!” at the top of their lungs in front of hundreds of people. The audiences that come see the show are touched and some are forever changed. Through the way beneficiaries work, we are able to support programs on our own campus which are so incredibly important. I’m sure you would be proud to know that since our inception at UCI 6 years ago, we have supported our Campus Assault Resource and Education center, a program that was on the verge of being cut completely 6 years ago until V-Day UCI helped to save it. Today, our yearly donation to them either meets or exceeds the funding the center gets from the university – which is both amazing and absolutely shocking. Finally, through the Spotlights we are able to help fix problems around the world. At every level and in every interaction, V-Day is making a difference and that’s something truly amazing.
Finally, I wanted to share with you something that I said with a group of volunteers I was with in the red tent in the superdome. I’ve attended/worked at a sleep away camp every summer for the past 8 years or so and until last weekend, it was the only place in the world where absolutely anyone could walk up to anyone else and say hello without feeling weird and where friendships blossom quickly. I always long to be there and look forward to each summer and while in New Orleans last weekend, I felt a lot of the same feelings for the first time outside of camp. While volunteering as a greeter in the activist lounge, nearly every welcome was returned with a smile and conversation. A few girls from my cast were able to come, but they ended up coming a day after I did and so for the first day, I started off knowing absolutely no one (except for Heather Mosely, who I had only spoken to on the phone) and ended the day with an incredible group of friends.
Anyway, thank you for all that you’ve done to make V-Day what it is today. V-Day has changed my life and I can only hope it continues to change others so that the dream of ending violence against women becomes a reality.
Also, here are a couple links of some media coverage on our campus. The first was a newspaper article written by a guy who had never seen the show and who did a really great job, coming away with all the sentiments I could have hoped for. The second is actually a promotional spotlight piece for the school of computer science – how often can you get a computer science school to put “Vagina” on their homepage ;-)