The Vagina Monologues on Campus

Over the last weekend of April, St. Olaf’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) organized two performances of Eve Ensler’s episodic play, The Vagina Monologues. The show is made up of monologues that deal with a different aspect of the feminine experience and what it means to be a woman. Throughout its life, the play has grown in size as Ensler collects more and more monologues. The monologues are based on interviews of over 200 women that Ensler conducted and then compiled into what is performed today. Some of the monologues are funny, some are tender, horrifying, and some are politically incorrect. Since its first staging in 1996, it has been translated into more than 45 languages, performed in over 120 countries, and most recently, has been re-created as an HBO film.

This was the third time that I went to see the Vagina Monologues at St. Olaf and I was really impressed by this year’s cast. Having read the book with the monologues that are usually performed at St. Olaf, I am fairly familiar with the texts and different performances of each monologue. Of all of the times I have seen the show, I would have to say that this year’s cast was the strongest cast so far. I could tell that each actress had taken to heart the meaning of their monologue and allowed themselves to live within that idea to share it with the audience. My one critique of this year’s show was that there were some awkward music cues between each monologue (the music came on right away after a monologue was finished, sometimes cutting off the final word) which detracted from the final delivery of the monologue and didn’t allow for the meaning of each monologue to sink in.

This is really one of the best things on campus to be involved in. Not only does it bring awareness to global women’s issues (struggles with body image and sexuality, domestic violence, rape, and female genital mutilation, to name a few) but it proceeds from the St. Olaf show go to support different women’s issues. This year, the GSC organized for the proceeds from ticket sales to go to the Hope Center in Faribault, which is a support center for victims and survivors of domestic violence. Tickets were $3 pre-sale and $5 at the door. They hold auditions for each production in the spring about two months before the performance weekend.

The success of The Vagina Monologues has allowed Ensler to create V-Day, which is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. The movement has so far raised $85 million to prevent violence against women and protect those who have been abused. Since The Vagina Monologues, some of Ensler’s other projects have been released/premiered, including The Good Body, a play that deals with women’s obsessions with their appearance, and a film What I Want My Words to Do to You. Her latest play, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (2011), hit the New York Times bestseller list and has garnered several performances in Europe. She has also been a featured speaker several times on TED.

There are several elements of the production that critics continue to object to, including:

  • The amount of attention given to brutal, non-consensual sexual encounters compared to those that are consensual
  • Negative portrayal of heterosexual relationships
  • In “The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could”, an underage girl recounts having been given alcohol and then having sex with an adult woman––her female abuser is portrayed positively as someone “rescuing” her from the sexually abusive men of her past (why is it that sexual abuse conducted by women is overlooked as being bad?)
  • The monologues are not representative of the experience of all women (Eg. In 2004, Ensler worked with Jane Fonda and Deep Stealth Productions to produce the first all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues, which included a new monologue documenting the experiences of transgender women).
  • Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy stated that the play “equates men with ‘the enemy’ [and] heterosexual love with violence” and identifies the work’s inclusion of lesbian viewpoints as problematic, stating that “A play that claims to unveil the truth about vaginas but, somehow, overlooks the salutary role men play in most women’s sexuality has no credibility.”

What do you think about the function of this piece? Do you think that because it does not completely represent the experiences of all women that it should not be performed, or should it still be performed with a disclaimer at the beginning? Should it still be performed even though some of the monologues are politically incorrect or biased?

Rising College Costs Affect Students Nationwide

Several weeks ago, President David R. Anderson ’74 sent out an email to the student body at St. Olaf College regarding the 2.48 percent rise in tuition for the 2014-15 academic year.

Joining the 51K club was inevitable for St. Olaf (our tuition is linked to the consumer price index, keeping price increases in line with the inflation that our economy is currently experiencing), but it still hurts to think about having to take out and pay back additional loans to earn a college degree.

To our generation, college is a necessary investment. If you don’t earn a college degree, you could be damaging your future earning potential as well as be limiting the careers you could even pursue.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data, college graduates ages 25 to 32 working full time earn $45,500, about $17,500 more than their peers with just a high school diploma.

Of the nearly 20 million Americans who attend college each year, about 12 million borrow. … Estimates show that the average four-year graduate accumulates $26,000 to $29,000 in loans, and some leave college with six figures worth of debt.

Among the Minnesota Private Colleges, St. Olaf has arguably the best financial aid, likely because of it’s endowment fund. Nationwide, efforts to improve college aid are underway, but slow to start.

“We can’t let debt hinder a whole generation of people from beginning to accumulate wealth soon after graduating college” said William Elliott III, director of the Assets and Education Initiative at the University of Kansas.

President Obama proposed In August new changes that would be some of the first updates to federal student aid in decades, linking federal money to new college ratings, reward schools if they help low-income students, keep costs low and have large numbers of students earn degrees.

Other proposals have included allowing graduates with high-interest loans to refinance at lower rates. Organizations such as the National Health Services Corps offer loan forgiveness in exchange for service in underserved areas.

This country needs to re-think college financing options to bring down debt and raise graduation rates. The question is, how? Higher education costs have been a main issue in many recent elections, but change seems far from the future as representatives work against each other and argue over other ways to best allocate the nation’s money.

When total student debt exceeds total credit card debt in the country, lower-income students are getting priced out, and rising college costs are widening the US wealth gap, it is safe to say that we are in a country that does not fully understand the value of a college degree, nor does it support those in pursuit of one.

We know that more and more students are going to be needing help in the future, but where should the money come from?

Barbie Dolls Influence Career Ambitions of Young Girls

Remember this jingle?

Mattel Inc., the company responsible for Barbie, Polly Pockets, Hot Wheels, American Girl, Matchbox and other toys popularized in the 90s, has always been trying to sell the idea that Barbie inspires girls to be anything they want to be. However, a recent study conducted at Oregon State University and University of California which surveyed 37 girls found that after just 5 minutes of playing with Barbie, the girls seemed less ambitious than girls that had played with Mrs. Potato Head. The sample group of girls was aged 4-7, and researchers measured their ambition by showing them ten photos depicting various occupations, asking each girl if they could see themselves in that job, or if it was a job for a boy.

Overall, the study found that when the girls were presented with the 10 career options ranging from restaurant worker to doctor, girls playing with the Barbie could see themselves in 6.6 of the jobs, while the girls who had played with Mrs. Potato Head saw themselves doing over 8. These results did not change when Barbie changed clothes, which suggests that it’s the Barbie doll that is affecting girls ambition, not what she is wearing.

“Playing with the Barbie suppresses their ideas about their own possible futures, but their ideas about the boys didn’t change,” mused Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen, a Professor of Psychology at University of California, Santa Cruz and one of the researchers involved with this study.

Charlotte Alter, a writer for Time magazine wrote in her article detailing this study that, “I’d like to see the same study done with boys and superhero figurines, and see whether boys’ career ambitions are affected by their toys.”

While it would be interesting to see the results of a similar study conducted on boys, I think a follow up to a study like this should be focused on other children’s toys and measuring the effect they have on individual’s ambition and body image.

Mattel would have us believe that the dolls aren’t responsible for lower self worth and body images in girls, making the claim that Barbie’s body was “designed for girls to easily dress and undress.” (Much like the line from Aqua’s Barbie Girl.”)

The gendered toy issue isn’t a new thing: the pink aura of the girls section has always contrasted with the blue of the boys section. A lot of what children are brought up on influences who they will be in the future. Toys for boys have communicated leadership, adventure, speed, skill, and success, while toys for girls emphasize domestic activities and appearance. In 1970, Lego sold neutral gendered Lego sets, which fell to the wayside when they began losing money and focused more on boys. Now, in a time when gender roles and expectations are supposedly evolving, Lego’s Friends line for girls seems out of place–sending backward, sexist messages to girls.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) wrote about a study that concluded that strongly gender-typed toys appear to be less supportive of optimal development in children than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys. If this is so, the trend toy companies to start to promote a better social environment for the next generation is to adopt more gender-neutral toy designs that foster creativity and more positive traits than focusing on appearance and aggression.

This however seems somewhat far off in the future. For the time being, what Mattel can do is take note of their declining Barbie sales  and buy into new ideas that are more likely to foster a healthier self image and place less importance on being physically perfect in the children that play with their toys, such as the Lammily doll, currently a conceptual line of dolls artist Nickolay Lamm created in response to the unrealistic body proportions that Barbie dolls are known for. A move toward more simpler toys might not necessarily be what toy manufacturers want, but it could very well be the start of a more constructive, productive, positive generation.