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V-Day Letter To The Editor Of The Michigan Daily

Originally published in:
The Michigan Daily (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

Dear Editor,

As the director of V-Day’s College Campaign, I am writing to clarify some key points raised in your article “Monologues Looks For All-Minority Cast” (Michigan Daily, November 14, 2005).

V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that grew out of women’s responses to “The Vagina Monologues.” Each year February through March, college students and women in over 80 countries and all fifty states stage benefit productions of the play to raise funds for anti-violence programs and shelters in their community. In the past eight years, over 5,000 V-Day benefits have raised over $30 million for 5,000 programs.

V-Day events have taken place at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor for the past 4 years and the organizers have reported raising over $30,000 for SAFE House, a local shelter for battered women and children, as well as funding for the Michigan Battered Women's Clemency Project. This year’s organizers plan to raise funds for SAFE House and also to include a week of events raising awareness about the violence that affects one in three women in this country and throughout the world.

The event takes place alongside thousands of V-Day events that will bring the issue center-stage in communities from Dar es Salaam to Charlotte, from Tokyo to Los Angeles. V-Day staff have advised thousands of V-Day organizers over the years, and attended hundreds of community productions in person. The breadth of these events is remarkable, and yet they are united in their mission.

With respect to this year’s campus production and your article, we applaud the efforts of the organizers to proactively engage a diverse group of students who may not have been deeply involved in previous V-Day benefit productions of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus. However, we feel obligated to clarify that it is not in the spirit of V-Day to engage some women to the exclusion of others, and that V-Day will not endorse a production of “The Vagina Monologues” that does. The materials that V-Day provides to its approved organizers specifically directs organizers to incorporate as diverse a cast as possible with consideration to race, age, disability and size. Everyone that expresses interest is to be included, whether on stage or off.

We also reject the notion put forth in your article that the script is inherently racist. “The Vagina Monologues” is a play based on Eve Ensler’s interviews with over 200 real women. The vast majority of the monologues are composites of the interviews with women of various ages, races and creeds, and the script intentionally refuses to instruct directors to cast any particular role as a particular race. In fact, the only specific reference to race in the script is a monologue based on a particular interview with “A Southern Woman of color,” in which the director’s notes go on to state that “women of all races have performed this role around the world.”

Since the play was first performed, women of all races, religions, and sizes have performed the monologues – all of the monologues. In the last eight years, tens of thousands of women, from Tulsa, OK to Islamabad, Pakistan to Nairobi, Kenya have embraced the play, performing and casting women – both actors and non-actors – in all of the roles without racial typecasting.

We have shared a healthy dialogue with organizer Jillian Steinhauer and director Lauren Whitehead. We have heard their concerns and thoughts and they have graciously taken the time to listen to ours.

As we move forward, we hope that their efforts have brought women of color into the V-Day movement on campus as never before. We also hope that the dynamic debate and dialogue that has ensued has rallied women and men of all races and ethnicities to work together to bring about awareness of violence against all women and girls, as well as to help end violence against women and girls on campus and in the community.

Shael Norris
College Campaign Director, V-Day