Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Her Vagina is not Angry

On Sunday April 27th I went to see a fantastic rendition of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues here in Busan, Korea. I decided to ask one of the participants about her role in the show. She has chosen to stay anonymous because of some backlash she might face about her sexual orientation. She asked to be called ‘Ryn’ (cute, right).

1) First things first, why the Vagina Monologues?
I chose to do the Vagina Monologues because I really believe in the cause. The whole V-Day campaign focuses on globally ending violence against women. I have been so fortunate in my life to have the support network that I do, and I want to make sure that I do everything I can to make sure other women have that network.

2) What was your favorite thing about doing the show?
My favorite thing about the show was the rehearsals. Everyone would roll in and we would have just sharing moments or snuggle moments or just time to get to know one another. The community of women involved in the show is truly phenomenal.

3) You managed to raise a good chunk of money for a few charities. What can you tell me about the women's shelters?
One of the shelters is for women and children who have escaped domestic violence. I have found that, oftentimes, Korea tolerates domestic violence much more than in the west, at least in my hometown. There are no times in which beating your partner or child is acceptable. And so, I wish to raise money for women and children to help them free themselves that lifestyle.

The other shelter is for women who have exited the sex trade. So many women are propositioned to work as “factory women” or “seamstresses,” etc, but instead are sold into sex slavery. This shelter provides a safe space in which these women can heal, learn, and reintegrate into society.

4) What's your take on “One Billion Rising”?
I think that it absolutely breaks my heart that over 1 billion women on this planet have suffered. Personally, I really struggle with the idea of rising individually. I question how much impact my solo voice has. I stand on my soap box advocating women’s rights, gender equity, and human dignity, But,really, I am not doing anything but shouting. I think 1 Billion Rising gives me an outlet—a place to do something. And, I am always down for a dance party.

5) Why did you choose “The Flood”?
I didn’t choose it, actually. The director chose it for me. I did have some specific monologues I did not want to do because they hit a bit too closely to home, and I think I would have had a difficult time separating “Ryn” from my character.

I had problems developing my character for The Flood. The basic premise of my monologue is an old woman who is very nervous to talk about her "down theres." She likens it to a cellar, and struggles to see the beauty of the vagina. She also discusses her first kiss that caught her off guard, and "there was a flood--down there." The boy who kissed her was not impressed and made fun of her, which led to "the idea of flooding [making her] too nervous, [so she] never even got close again." This part of the monologue broke my heart. It isn't forceful sexual violence or abuse, but offhanded and emotional. A boy made a young girl feel embarrassed about something natural and uncontrollable (and, frankly, awesome). It made her self-conscious and unable to have a happy, healthy sexual identity.

As a woman who has an open and fluid sexual identity, I forget that there are so many women who do not have that luxury. So many women of my mother's, grandmother's generation never had the opportunity to become sexual beings--as opposed to the societally appropriate child-bearing vessels. It is our responsibility as educated and/or progressive women to reclaim our sexuality and make it something we want it to be, rather than something someone else expects.

6) Korea can be extremely anti-homosexual at times. What has your experience as a lesbian been like?
My experience as a lesbian in the ex-patriot community is pretty rad. I don’t ever hide that part of me, and I have found that the ex-pat community is much more open-minded about sexuality. They may not agree with it, but they also are not holding onto the last straw of hope that I will fall in love with a man.

In the Korean community, it is so much more difficult. It isn’t even recognized. There are so many men and women who are closeted for fear of never getting a job, disownment from their families, etc.

What is more interesting is the lesbian culture within Koreans. Personally, I hate the terms “butch” and “femme,” so I will use “Pants” and “Pumps” instead, okay? Within the Korean lesbian community, generally you can only be Pants or only be Pumps. Pants very often will only date Pumps. They try so hard to still fit into the male/female stigma of this country. One partner very clearly being the “man” in the relationship, one clearly being the “woman.”  There is no room for the versatility we have in the western culture. Of course, the west definitely has a Pants and Pumps dichotomy, however, there is a lot more flexibility. Personally, I am in the middle. There are many days when I rock converse, skinnys, button down, and a lady vest, but I also love wearing dresses and skirts and scarves. When I was talking to a Korean lesbian about this, she was astounded that I would even consider wearing both types of clothing. I explained that in the States, we do not have to pretend to be one man and one woman for society to be okay with us. Sometimes, society isn’t okay with us as two women, but that isn’t something for which I am willing to change myself.

7) Any extra fun stories from when you ladies were preparing for the show?
There was one Sunday when EVERYONE but me was a bit fragile from the previous night. We had a plan to do a run through and small group practices, but it just ended up turning into a giant cuddlefest/chat session. This really brought us together and cemented some pretty stellar friendships.

8) The most powerful performance for me was about the Korean comfort women. What can you say about that piece?

You mean, I didn't knock your socks off, Matt? What a shame.

I can say a lot of things about this piece. I know that men have been using rape as a tactic of war for hundreds of thousands of years. We don't learn about that in history class, or if we do, it is introduced glossed over as, "Oh, this happened" and we move onto the "real" parts of war. However, this monologue brings to light the repercussions of using women for sexual needs. It discusses the living conditions, desire for death, and necessity for recognition. I was able to keep my emotions in check when the actors said horrific things like, "Sometimes they didn't even take off their clothes...just took out their penis" or "do it even when we bleed" or "Things we could not do...keep my baby." What I could not handle was the last minutes of the performance when the women, in unison, shout, "Say it...Sorry...outside the Japanese embassy every Wednesday...Say it...To me...Sorry...To me...Sorry".

In discussing the monologue with the performers, one of the women said that Korea's culture is so much a communal culture that the Comfort Women were everyone's mother, every one's grandmother. And, so it touches on a part of their history that is still so raw and bleeding. Every time I watched that piece, I felt like an intruder looking in on a piece of history that was so private and holy--something I would never understand.

9) What's your favorite color?
My favorite color is cerulean. It is the only crayon I refuse to lend out. I have only seen in once in real live nature, and it blew my mind.

10) How do you think the Vagina Monologues has helped female sexual liberty/ sexuality?
I think that the Vagina Monologues brings awareness to necessary discussions about vaginas. It is very true that many women get squicky talking about their vaginas, as if we are ashamed of them. It also sparks a lot of conversations between partners about their sexual organs. I think that showing over 300 men and women in our community that Vaginas are not scary and that we need to love and respect them is important. Vagina Monologues also highlights the importance of rising against sexual slavery.

11If you could only listen to one of the monologues for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?
CUNT!!! I think that it is a brilliant deconstruction of a very pejorative word. I think that words for Vagina (pussy, twat, etc) should never be used to bully. Equally, I think that dick should be taken out of the vernacular as a pejorative, but then again, I would have to completely modify my own vocabulary. I do love a good dick joke.

12) Famous last words?
I refuse to stand by and watch as billions of women suffer violence because of their gender. Strike. Dance. Rise.

By Matthew Ariss

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