French Immersion: My Happy Place

Sometimes when my anxiety is a little too much to handle, I take a moment to close my eyes and go back to my happy place. A place of sweet grass, mosquito spray, and deep blue waters. A place of growth, frustration, and empathy. A place of culture, education, and silliness. A place of tears from laughter, singing, and always dancing. A place of being free. A place of being 100% myself. A place of finding the sun in the hearts of children. A place I never ever want to leave. Lac du Bois.

The main building of Lac du Bois, "Paris", photo by Jean François

The main building of Lac du Bois, “Paris”, photo by Jean François

Lac du Bois is a summer camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. It’s part of Concordia Language Villages, which is a larger program that has 15 villages (campsites) set up around the lakes of Minnesota. Each village has its own language and the buildings within each site are designed with authentic architecture from countries that predominantly speak that language.

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

Concordia Language Villages sign, photo from google.com

The goal of these camps is to teach language through immersion as well as prepare young people for responsible citizenship in global communities.

Each summer, all of the camps come together to interact at an event called “International Day.” At International Day, each camp sets up a booth serving foods from countries of their language or has games set up for others to play that are native to countries that speak their language. They even have a “World Cup,” where each camp forms a soccer team and they all compete.

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

International Day 2014, photo by Julia Schaller

Lac du Bois is the French language village, and is one of the greatest places on Earth.

I first went to Lac du Bois when I was 11 years old. My family heard about the camp through friends of my parents, and my parents both decided it would be a good opportunity for my sister and I. My parents enrolled my sister and I up for a two week, overnight session. We all drove up to Minnesota together and when we pulled our car up to the camp, a counselor greeted us at the window of the car and spoke exclusively in French.

It was terrifying! My dad had taught me some french when I was really young, and my parents put my sister and I in French classes when we were growing up, but I was not ready for complete sentences or even answering questions.

After my parents left, I was hopeless. I had nothing to hide behind and there was no longer someone to speak to the counselors for me. I felt naked and embarrassed. The first night was rough.

Throughout the second day, I bonded with girls in my cabin and from around camp and from then on, I was in my happy place. I learned more about french language and culture in those two weeks than I had ever before in my life. I made lasting friendships. I laughed until I cried, and I cried on the last night with my cabin-mates wrapped in my arms.

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

Extremely embarrassing photo of my cabin, Lac du Bois 2008

I then went back to camp for the next four summers. My fifth summer, I went to Lac du Bois for a month as part of their “Credit” program, which earned me high school French credit. They say that one will learn more French in one month at Lac du Bois than potentially a whole year in school (hence why they offer the credit program). They were right.

Language immersion is said to be the best way to learn a language and culture, and it is 100% true. I spoke more French at Lac du Bois than a full year of French class in public school. I was forced to use the language to communicate, since the camp was total immersion.

The counselors are only allowed to speak in the target language, and even the food is francophone authentic. Counselors and villagers come from all over the world. There are always counselors and villagers from the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada, and India, as well as other countries.

Villagers are put into classic summer camp activities like canoeing or soccer, but they are also put into language learning groups. These language learning groups focus on a francophone region or time period and are more education based (but always include crafting, dancing, and interactive games).

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

Activité Canoé, Lac du Bois 2012

The entire camp is sort of one big simulation. The counselors put on a show for the villagers, and it’s the most fun show I’ve ever been a part of. There is continuous dancing, multiple skits every day, and songs about everything (even about baguettes at dinner!).

Last year I applied to be a counselor, and I got the job. I went back to my favorite place in the world for my 6th summer, and had the time of my life. This time, I was the one required to speak exclusively in French and I was the one teaching others about francophone cultures and about the language. I was the one helping villagers cope with their frustration and homesickness. I was the one teaching the songs and dances. And, the amount I learned about other countries and French language, was way more than I ever thought.

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

Journée Sénégal, Lac du Bois 2014

In an article posted in the New York Times, author Sindya N. Bhanoo discussed how language immersion is more beneficial than learning through a formal classroom setting. In a study in the journal PloS One, scientists tested the brain patterns of subjects who learned a language through immersion vs. in a classroom. The tests showed that the subjects who learned the language through immersion had the full brain patterns of a native speaker, while the subjects who learned the language in a formal classroom setting did not.

The camps of Concordia Language Villages are hands-down the best way to learn a language. Being fully immersed in anything is the best way to learn, empathize, and adapt to it. Even a two week program makes a difference.

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

The lake of Lac du Bois, photo by Alyson Kriz

In the middle of the woods by the lakes of Minnesota lies little villages that change the way people see the world. These programs really do cultivate global leaders, global thinkers, and peaceful communities.

Societal responses to “Women Against Feminism”

Feminism is an idea and movement that has been critiqued by all groups of humans, and has been changing and evolving throughout history. Though there have been various waves and movements of feminism, there is one common goal; the established political, economic, cultural, personal, and social equality of women.

The first wave of feminism occurred in 1848, and is known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Humans in this movement actively fought for women’s right to vote among other women’s rights. In 1920, women finally won the fight for the right to vote through marches, rallies, and political work and engagement in other issues such as health reform, prison reform, and child labor law reform etc.

Women's Suffrage Movement protests, photo from citelighter.com

Women’s Suffrage Movement protests, photo from citelighter.com

The second wave of feminism occurred throughout the 1960’s. The National Organization for Women played a key role in this wave. Feminist activists in the second wave protested sex-segregated help wanted ads, fought for the repeal of abortion laws, lobbied for Equal Rights Amendment, among other protests.

Feminists in the third wave (1990’s-present) are critical of the previous two waves, but understand and appreciate the work that has already been done in the way of equality for women. Present feminists fight for equality of ALL women.

This concept was not heavily considered in the first and second waves of feminism. Equality for ALL women includes women of color, women of low-income status, trans* women, etc. This feminism recognizes that feminism is worthless without intersectionality and inclusion.

Inclusive feminism includes all races, photo from hellogiggles.com

Inclusive feminism includes all races, photo from hellogiggles.com

Feminism is a spectrum, and current feminists fight for rights for all women regardless of any identity. Third wave feminism is about recognizing and being aware of the oppressive, patriarchal power systems in society for every identity, and being active about changing those systems.

After all of the fight put forth by women in the 19th and 20th centuries, there is now a real controversy in 2015: Women against feminism. Many individuals are disturbed by the misinformed and anti-feminist groups like Women Against Feminism who disregard the hard work that people went through to gain women’s rights and equality for our culture today. Not only that, but the group seems to lack understanding of the basic definition and ideals of feminism.

Women Against Feminism is a Tumblr account that displays pictures of women who give reasons for why they aren’t feminists, and why they do not approve or need feminism. There have been numerous responses to this claim, most individuals deeming the account as ridiculous and appalling, while others actually take light in some of the things that the account holders “got right.”

photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

Photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

Satirical responses were one type of response to Women Against Feminism that brought out the sarcasm and “are you serious” ideas, but another very real and well put argument was by an account user named I Wanted Wings. This user responded to the Women Against Feminism as a whole, to those women who posted their pictures with notes claiming that it’s the 21st century and that “we don’t need feminism.”

Satirical response to "Women Against Feminism", photo from buzzfeed.com

Satirical response to “Women Against Feminism”, photo from buzzfeed.com

This user brings to light that the feminism fight is not just for one woman, or for one culture; the user reminds readers of the women in the less developed and less equal countries who need feminism just to wear what they want, to be educated, to love who they want.

In an article on the Huffington Post (United Kingdom) blog, Louise Pennington responds to the Women Against Feminism Tumblr page, illustrating the sources of the movement’s failure as well as critiquing the way individuals may respond to the movement as a whole. Pennington is a feminist writer from the United Kingdom, who has academically written and spoken openly about topics ranging from women’s history to domestic and violence against women.

A woman shows why she does not need feminism, photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

A woman shows why she does not need feminism, photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

Pennington opens the article by listing several statements from the Women Against Feminism Tumblr and twitter account such as “I don’t need feminism because I’m a humanist.” It is clear from the images and statements posted by the Women Against Feminism group that the movement believes that a feminist wishes for women to be superior to men. Pennington points out that this misinterpreted belief stems from a lack of understanding of the term “feminist” and the overall goals of feminism.

Pennington then uses her knowledge of women’s history to list the demands of the 1970’s women’s liberation movement such as equal pay now and equal education and job opportunities. This information directly correlates to what women are fighting for today. She clearly lays out that feminists want to be seen as human equals to men rather than some power hungry group they are stereotyped to be.

Pennington identifies that many of these women posting on Women Against Feminism are young, white middle class women arguing for respect for a traditional family. Again, there is a lack of knowledge and inclusivity. The Women Against Feminism group is targeting the wrong enemy. Pennington points out the true source:

“The lack of understanding of the history of women’s work and the refusal to acknowledge that the ‘traditional family’ is a Victorian invention created for only white women is depressing. It is our capitalist economy which devalues the work of women within the home and engaged in childcare – not feminists.”

Another woman displaying why she "does not need feminism," photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

Another woman displaying why she “does not need feminism,” photo from womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com

There are valid criticisms of feminism today such as racism or classism. However, the Women Against Feminism movement does not illustrate any of these issues, which shows the movement’s lack of understanding of feminism. Pennington uses this information to further explain why the Women Against Feminism movement is problematic:

“Feminism has not done enough to ensure that they have included women who are not white or middle class, but denigrating the work that women have done to help other women demonstrates the true power of the Patriarchy in dividing women. Feminism has made great improvements in the lives of some women and needs to work much harder to help others. Ironically, it is the women in the Women Against Feminism movement who have made the most gains from feminism.”

This leads Pennington to critique individuals who respond to the Women Against Feminism movement with insults. She states that by doing so, those individuals are becoming part of the problem replicate the patriarchal patterns used to silence women. Instead, Pennington calls for a real discussion to discover and question why women truly see feminism as a threat:

“Critiquing the ‪Women Against Feminism tag…doesn’t require replicating misogynistic language or insults. It requires an evidence-based answer – such as those pointing out the battle for women’s suffrage, rape laws, equal pay acts, maternity rights, and reproductive freedom…Instead of insulting the women who started the hashtag, let’s start a real discussion as to why women see feminism as threatening. Let’s start questioning their belief systems and pointing out the reality of the lives of women who do not have similar privileges.”

Feminists spreading awareness of white privilege and the misconception of reverse racism, photo from thefeministwire.com

Feminists spreading awareness of white privilege and the misconception of reverse racism, photo from thefeministwire.com

Throughout the article, Pennington, like many other blogs all over the world, addressed misconceptions not only made by the Women Against Feminism but also many critiquing the movement in an unproductive way. Pennington’s closing statement give readers an indication that Pennington sees the Women Against Feminism movement as an issue that crosses all borders and an issue for all humans.

Feminism is not confined to any border. It is a major topic of discussion and life influence for people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and nationalities. In fact, a vast majority of countries received an address in 2014 by Emma Watson regarding her work with feminist ideals, and the founding of her foundation He for She, one that encourages the male population to stand up for inequalities of women.

Watson’s speech has experienced scrutiny in the months following, regarding its reinforcement of the gender binary, when so many of the people affected by the feminist movement don’t fit into “such tidy boxes,” as said by Amy McArthy, a blogger for the Huffington Post Women’s blog.

Emma Watson with UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon at the launch of the HeForShe campaign in New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Stringer- Sociology.about.com

Emma Watson with UN Secretary General Bank Ki-moon at the launch of the HeForShe campaign in New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Stringer- Sociology.about.com

In Watson’s discourse, she discusses the gender stereotype pressures that men feel in today’s society as well, but just as the problem that McArthy had with the name of the foundation; the content of the address maintains the gender binary issues felt by the blogger, and other critics of Watson.

This is not the Huffington post writer’s only problematic highlight though. The post goes on to point out the focus of the “privileged white woman,” without observation of the much wider gap in equality felt by minority women, pointed out by McArthy: “When Watson speaks of equal pay, she’s talking about the white women who make 78% of their white male counterparts, not the 46% gap that Latina women face in the workplace.”

Numbers that were actually found incorrect with research where aauw.org reported that the gap for Latina women was actually found to be, most recently, 54%; though still solidifying the staggering difference in the minority woman’s pay.  The author has a legitimate point, summing her position up with the fact that “He For She and Emma Watson are having fails to invite the people whose voices need to be heard most to the table,” in reference to transgender, minority, and women in less developed countries. Watson’s feminism seems to align more with first and second wave feminism, which were exclusive.

Author Team: Julia Schaller, Skyler Alderton, Connie Liou, Conner Slater 

LGBT Issues Across Borders

From an American perspective, when we think of France, we think of them as generally being more progressive with regards to aspects of life such as trends, socializing, and relationships. We think of their trends as being “hip,” and stylish, considering Paris is the fashion capitol of the world. We also think of France’s more liberal culture of sexuality, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights, and gay marriage.

One would think that France would be extremely accepting of LGBT rights, especially when compared to the United States, who has jumped on board with it within the past several years. Instead, France has actually been fighting for its LGBT rights for a very long time, and even now that it’s legalized, France has still been facing some of the most violent and radically extreme of backlash and protests.

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed, photo from Google.com

Protesters taking the streets against the same-sex marriage bill passed. (Photo from Google.com)

Dating back to 1791, homosexual rights have been sought after. Supporters of LGBT rights have fought for its decriminalization, lessened the bans of sexuality, and legalized same-sex marriage in 2003. The timeline regarding LGBT rights highlights some of the milestone years that have proved to be of significance to the movement.

People who have been social justice warriors for LGBT rights, either for themselves, friends, family, or humanity in general, are still facing social segregation and discrimination, unfortunately leading to violence. One would think France has come so far and the world is adapting to be more accepting of issues like LGBT rights. France has come very far, yes, but not far enough.

gay mar

Same-sex couple delighted that marriage bill is passed. (Photo from Ms.Blog)

Less than 10 days after France legalized same-sex marriage, it was in the news again. On a Saturday and Sunday at the end of May 2013, emotions on same-sex and non-traditional marriage hit a breaking point. On France’s Mother’s Day, a generally peaceful march of well over 150,000 protesters converged in front of the Invalides.

A separate, smaller march by conservative Christians also made its voice heard. Nineteen demonstrators were arrested after climbing onto the headquarters of the Socialist Party and unfurled a banner calling for the resignation of President François Hollande’s resignation. Hollande, after all, was the one who signed the equality bill into existence earlier in the month.

Streets are flooded with demonstrations and protests. 

Demonstrators included religious leaders and followers, the conservative French (especially Roman Catholics) who thought “gay couples should have equal rights, but within an institution other than marriage” and those objecting to gay couples adopting children.

The night before the largely peaceful Sunday protests was a more volatile showing. On Saturday night, 59 people were arrested “after chaining themselves to metal barricades on the Champs-Élysées.”

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

After the legalization of same-sex marriage, tens of thousands gathered to protest in fron of the Invalides in Paris. (Credit Etienne Laurent/European Pressphoto Agency)

Or at least, that was the New York Time’s report of the protests. The Independent took a much more impassioned angle.

“About 200 young people, many of them masked, pelted police lines with bottles, stones, fireworks and flares. The crowd – led bizarrely at one stage by a lone bagpiper – chased and beat up TV crews and press photographers. Police and gendarmes responded with tear gas and baton charges.”

The Independent also addresses the discrepancies in turnout Police put the turnout at 150,000. The organizers claimed 1,000,000. Other organizers estimated over 400,000, which seemed closest to the mark.”

France was the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, and it continues to face the longstanding obstacles that have been holding LGBT couples back for centuries.

France’s LGBT tolerance since the bill and protests. 

*Happy News*

Not only did opponents of the gay rights and LGBT parenting bill protest, but supporters of the bill also held their own demonstrations. Just two days after the largest protest against the bill happened, 125,000 people took to the streets and staged their own demonstration in favor of these human rights.  There were also more than 7,000 same-sex couples that got married in 2013 after the bill was passed.

In January of 2015, the French court validated its first Franco-Moroccan gay marriage. A ban had previously stated that a Moroccan citizen could not marry a French person of the same sex abroad or in Morocco, but “the court put an end to the discriminatory interference” and allows the two to marry.

"People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013" (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

“People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013” (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

*Sad News*

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against the LGBT community in France regardless of the bill. Segregation against people who are gay is relevant and ongoing in France. Separate nursing homes for France’s elderly homosexual population has since been discussed with France’s Prime Minister for the Elderly. In the months following the first round of protests, popular Twitter hashtags were #LesGaysDoiventDispaîratreCar (#GaysMustDie) and #BrulonsLesGaysSurDu (#letsburngays).

In February of 2014, tens of thousands of people, mostly right-wing conservatives, protested once again against France’s legalization of gay marriage. Not only that, but protesters were also demanding “the scrapping of an experimental school programme aimed at combatting gender stereotypes.” Members who identify as within the LGBT community still face structural and systematic oppression.

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)

Paris, France: February 2, 2014, thousands of protesters against same-sex couples to adopt or have children. (Photo by Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)


LGBT rights in francophone countries and around the world.

As is evident by the continuous discussion of LGBT issues and rights (or lack of rights) in virtually every news medium, the topic is of universal interest. Though not the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, Belgium became the first francophone country, and the second country in the world to do so in 2003.

Prior to this decision, Belgium had given limited rights to same-sex couples since 1998 with a law allowing these couples to formally register for joint responsibility of their household. The law passed with minimal controversy across the traditionally socially divided country.

In 2003, Belgium officially allowed and recognized same-sex marriage, and in 2006 the government passed a law allowing partners the right to adopt children. Since then, Belgium has become known as the LGBT “paradise” to many, even though historically Belgium was outwardly conservative, Catholic and prone to xenophobia – traits that would suggest more of a struggle for those promoting LGBT rights.

 Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from flanderstoday.eu)

Supporters march for LGBT rights in Belgium. (Photo from flanderstoday.eu)

Moving forward, Luxembourg, a country smaller than Rhode Island but consisting of three official languages, became the 20th country to fully legalize same-sex marriage in mid 2014. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, openly gay Xavier Bettel championed the bill that would allow “gay and lesbian couples to wed and to adopt children.” Previously, the country had recognized same-sex partnerships after a bill granting this registration was passed in 2004.

As is the case both economically and politically, it seems that countries in Africa have historically had a harder time progressing. In the case of LGBT issues, most countries in the continent have the same issue. In 2009, francophone country Burundi made significant steps backward, banning same-sex relationships in any form. Scholars commonly cite colonization of African countries as reasons for lack of progressiveness in African countries in general, yet during it’s years as a colonized state, Burundi had no legacy of any laws prohibiting same-sex relationships.

Although some headway has been made in progressing LGBT rights worldwide, in the grander scheme, arguably only baby steps have been made this far.

Author Team: Skyler Alderton, Hanna Jacunski, Allissa Fisher, and Julia Schaller

France’s climate change commitments

I sat numbingly and mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, my eyes unenthused crescent moons, my fingers robotic, my body a stone. After irrelevant minutes, I came across a picture that turned my waning crescents into full moons. I immediately perked up as I came across something that was actually worth my time. It was a picture my friend had posted while abroad in France. The picture was this:

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

Photo by: Julie Rozanski

My friend Julie captioned the photo, “Paris – Gare du Nord. You can sit at one of these tables with bike pedals and physically charge your phone by pedaling! So eco-friendly…epoustouflant!”

Now, you may be thinking this is fairly uninteresting like most things online. What’s the big deal? Why this picture? Well, as an environmentalist, I was very excited. I shared it on Facebook with my environmentalist friends and they all liked it. Any new sustainable invention or article sucks me in and sometimes makes my heart flutters from joy because of it. And, to be honest, I don’t understand why every single human doesn’t feel the way I do about sustainability advancements.

Luckily for Earth (and for my mental health and stability), there are fellow activists out there working, and environment issues are becoming a greater part of human lives. At the 2014 Climate Summit, more than 100 global leaders gathered in New York to discuss their plan to reduce their respective country’s carbon footprint. There were 44 countries that made commitments to carry out feasible solutions to the increasing environmental issues.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014. Photo from Google.

Peoples Climate March in New York City in honor of the Climate Summit 2014, photo from google.com

Because the picture my friend posted was from France, I took interest in sustainability advancements in France. France’s leaders pledged that France “will commit $1 billion to Green Climate Fund over the ‘coming years.’”

“Coming years”? What does that even mean? But, to be fair, France’s pledge almost sounds better than the United States’, which states, “President Obama signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into international development programs and investments. The U.S. is also deploying experts and technology to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters and plan for long-term threats.” None of that sounds clear cut with a plan for a specific quantifiable result.

I wondered if other francophone countries were that vague with their commitments, but not all were. Belgium, for example, pledged to “reduce emissions by 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” Luxembourg, another francophone country, committed “$6.8 million to the Green Climate Fund — %1 of the country’s entire GDP.

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

Examples of renewable energy, photo from google.com

After hearing about France’s somewhat imprecise commitment at the Climate Summit, I was frustrated. So, naturally, I did more research to see what were some actual attainable, concrete goals that France has set for itself (and for the world, for that matter) before and since the Climate Summit.

Since 2013, France has focused a large part of its country’s efforts on renewable energy. As of 2013, France has “committed 2 billion euros to renewable energy and energy efficiency” over a three-year period. France has also concentrated a large part of its efforts on sustainable energy in Africa to both rural and urban areas. France has invested millions in programs and resources towards many types of energy in France and countries in Africa. “By funding more than 230 million euros, France has developed the geothermal potential of the Olkaria site in Kenya, which is among the most important sites in Africa.”

In December, France will be hosting the Climate Conference Paris 2015. At this conference, 196 countries will commit to a solution to combat climate change. This climate conference will alter and update countries’ commitments to create a more sustainable Earth, as well as set new goals. The previous climate conferences and summits, while successful, have been criticized by using a ‘top-down’ approach, whereas for the Climate Conference Paris 2015, the goal is to shift the conversations towards hearing from each country what they would like to do and what is best for their infrastructure.

Photo from Google

Photo from google.com

Researching  about France’s (and other countries’) sustainability advancements and goals gives me hope and satisfaction. Because for me, the picture my friend posted on her Facebook was so much more than a cool post from a good friend in a different country. It sparked in me a hope for humanity. I saw this invention of a bicycle charger and I felt a sense of content for the world. Maybe we’re not all dooming Earth for the rest of our lives.

Oftentimes I get very overwhelmed by the weight of the world. I spend hours upon hours each week learning about the ways in which we harm the environment. I’m taught and teach others ways in which humans can change the path we’re headed towards and actually make a difference. I get very preoccupied on worrying about how we’re all going to clean up the giant dump we’ve taken on Earth, and I forget to look up and notice the positive, innovative, incredible things that thousands of people are doing right now through policy and service.

So thank you to Julie Rozanski for her picture. I doubt she ever thought it would make another human so content.

Vaginas connect cultures, end violence

Vagina.

I know, it’s a scary word, right? But why? Why are we all scared of a body part? Think of how bizarre it would be if people reacted the same way to the word “elbow” as they do to the word “vagina.” The funniest part to me is that even women are afraid of the word. It seems as though every time I say the word “vagina,” I’m given a startled look/blush followed by a “shh!” and by biological WOMEN: humans who have and see and touch and are connected to their own vagina every day. It’s sad that some women have this sort of “vagina-shame”, but it’s not their fault, really. It is the society we were all born into.

There are strong social constructs that cause words like “vagina” to be taboo. Luckily, there are people worldwide deconstructing these constructs and dismantling the oppressive systems that control our daily lives and dialogues. One such woman is Eve Ensler.

Eve Ensler, photo from vday.org

Eve Ensler is a feminist, activist, and playwright queen. Her best known play is “The Vagina Monologues,” written in 1996. The play is a collection of monologues that tell stories or experiences of a woman or multiple women. These monologues range from funny and uplifting stories about body positivity, women loving or discovering their own vaginas, love, menstruation, and, in contrast, incredibly heavy and raw stories of sexual violence, female genital mutilation, and abuse.

The first time I saw “The Vagina Monologues” was almost exactly a year ago today. The production was hyped all over campus, especially in the social justice organizations I was in. I was a freshman in college (at the University of Missouri) and I had no idea what “The Vagina Monologues” was, but I went because what’s more intriguing than a play all about vaginas???

Photo courtesy of MU Vagina Monologues

 

It was incredible. I laughed and cried and I was shaken by how important stories can be. In the two hour span of the show I learned more about women’s bodies, cultural customs of women, intimate partner violence, and feminine experience than I ever could have imagined. My sentiment after watching the production was something along the lines of “Wow. I have a vagina. And I rock!”

Now, one year later, I am preparing to perform in “The Vagina Monologues.” I knew before joining the cast that “The Vagina Monologues” was a production to raise money for local organizations to help end violence against women and girls, BUT I didn’t know that it was an actual international movement.

V-Day movement logo, photo from vday.org

 “The Vagina Monologues” is only a part in the V-Day movement, a movement that creates events and performances to raise money and awareness for violence against women and girls including rape, sex slavery, incest, and genital mutilation. The V-Day movement and “The Vagina Monologues” are an international movement that is increasingly spreading across the world. The production of “The Vagina Monologues” has been translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. In Brussels in 2012, nine members of the European Parliament even  performed “The Vagina Monologues” as well as danced on February 14th to help raise awareness of the V-Day movement.

A crucial role in being a part of “The Vagina Monologues” cast is education and awareness of women’s issues and body positivity (loving your body as it is). Being a part of the production and getting to hear various monologues really reinforces the importance of storytelling and human experience. Women are treated differently and oppressed differently in each culture. The monologues give a heart-wrenching sneak-peak into the lives and truth of women’s experiences. Not only that, but the monologues provide a unique perspective of women’s lives in various cultures and parts of the world.

Throughout the process of being a performer of “The Vagina Monologues,” I have become one with my monologue.  I will be reading from the monologue called “The Vagina Workshop,” which is about a woman who discovers and falls in love with her vagina in a workshop. It’s truly inspiring to me how one woman’s story could hold so much weight and meaning into my life. What’s more, I think of how many women have also been affected by the same monologue throughout the years of thousands and performances, and it’s astonishing.

These monologues don’t just hold value for those watching and/or listening, they hold the same, if not more, for those performing. I am forever changed because of my experience of seeing and being in the production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

And that is something to blog about.