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Talking About 'Monologues' Is Harder in Real Life Than on Stage

March 05, 2002|SUSY SCHULTZ | SPECIAL TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"Mom is going to be in a play," I said. "'The Vagina Monologues.'"

I had spent days deciding how to tell my sons, ages 9 and 12.

First, I thought, I would be subtle and talk of women's rights and build up to how proud I was to be able to stand on a stage and speak empowering words.

I had thought it would be best to sit them down at a coffee shop--a public place where the rules of budding adolescence would preclude any public displays. But when the moment of truth came, pushed by the need to rearrange some plans so I could make a rehearsal, I just blurted it out.

"What?! I can't believe you just said that," said Bryan, laughing and backing away. "Mom! Jeez."

Zachary, the younger, laughed. "I'm too young to hear this."

Feeling defensive, I said, "You're never too young to learn about women. But seriously, that's the name of the play and it's about ..."

At that point, they were long gone.

Still, I was very excited to be one of about 40 women invited to take part in the benefit production of "The Vagina Monologues" at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago last month, one of 150 held as part of the V-Day Worldwide Campaign. The goal was not only to raise money but to remind us at Valentine's that flowers won't cut it until women and girls are safe from violence and sexual slavery.

The movement began in 1998, founded by Eve Ensler, who wrote "The Vagina Monologues." The money collected from the Chicago show went to the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Lesbian Community Cancer Project.

I had reservations about performing. Not because I would have to stand in front of 400 people and say "vagina." My problem was telling people, particularly the ones I want to know more than anyone--the women I visit each week in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

They are associated with the Second Chance Alternative Public High School. Most were in a gang, many had children as teens, many have done drugs, all dropped out of school. But by choosing to go back to school, they have committed themselves to a different life. For the past two years, I've joined them for their reflection group, where we talk about life, write, read and try to have fun.

They are beautiful and brave. I could tell them that in the U.S., a woman is battered every 15 seconds. But they have lived the statistics. Their stories would match the tragic ones in Ensler's play.

But they are not there yet. Not ready to discuss their bodies and their lives with other people. Or maybe I am not there yet.

At this moment, it would seem a cruel discussion because sexuality is difficult to discuss when it has been robbed from you.

The V-Day movement aims to change its name some day to Victory Over Violence Day. But I have a much simpler goal: I would settle for being able to laugh, as I do with my boys, during a discussion of vaginas and sex with 15 great young women in the Back of the Yards.

*

Susy Schultz, consulting editor at the Chicago Reporter, teaches at Northwestern University.

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