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Vaginas take centre stage

Just like the heart, the vagina is capable of sacrifice, forgiveness and repair.

It is this concept, more eloquently expressed in The Vagina Monologues’ epic spiel “I was there in the room,” that has so captivated University of New Brunswick assistant professor Lauren Cruikshank in her time rehearsing for the role – and for good reason.

Cruikshank witnessed the monologue – written by The Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler about the birth of her granddaughter – last March while pregnant with her second daughter. This year, when the University Women’s Centre put out a call for actors, she just couldn’t resist.

“I have a friend who attended [The Vagina Monologues] last year who hasn’t had a child and she found [‘I was there in the room’] kind of graphic and disturbing, but there’s power in that. And really, if you’re going to talk about vaginas, that’s one of the most powerful things they do,” said Cruikshank, who calls her experience so far “therapeutic and nostalgic.”

“To be able to bear witness to the start of a new life is a very powerful thing and the journey begins and occurs through a vagina. We don’t want to essentialize women down to their birth-giving ability . . . but on the other hand, to be able to talk about the life-giving, new-world-creating power that vaginas have is pretty empowering.”

In many ways, this is the primary goal of The Vagina Monologues, an episodic play written by Eve Ensler in the late 1990s in efforts to “celebrate the vagina.” The play is made up of a varying number of monologues read by a varying number of women, often with the addition of a contemporary topic every year.

Each of the monologues targets a facet of the feminine experience, referencing everything from sex, love, birth and orgasm to rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation and masturbation. Despite its multiple topics, however, the play’s recurring theme is simple: that the vagina is a tool of female empowerment.

It is this critical theme that captured the interest of Cruikshank, who is a professor of women’s studies as well as media, arts and culture at UNB.

“[The Vagina Monologues] reclaims a part of the body that’s sometimes communicated to women and girls as being something you don’t talk about, that’s taboo or disgusting. It’s nice to reframe that and talk about it in a different way and allow women the opportunity to do that,” she said.

This is certainly the goal of Leela Cheung, chair of the University Women’s Centre, who can’t pinpoint just how long the organization has been staging The Vagina Monologues but knows it’s a no-brainer for the University Women’s Centre year after year.

“As the University Women’s Centre, we want to do events that promote women’s rights and that help end violence against women and girls, and The Vagina Monologues is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. Some of the monologues are funny, some of them are sad, [but] they all aim to educate people on this reality,” said Cheung, adding that this year’s new monologue centres on ‘One Billion Rising,’ a global campaign to end violence against women, rise for justice and promote gender equality.

This year’s event will take place at Marshal d’Avray Hall room 143, on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the UNB Student Welcome Centre for $10 or at the door for $12. All funds raised will be donated to the 2014 V-Day Spotlight Campaign and the Fredericton Youth in Transition House.

Cruikshank hopes to see a wide range of spectators in the audience on the big night.

“You go through the whole gamut of emotions while you’re there,” she said.

“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll blush bright red, but it will be a night you won’t forget.”

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