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Feminist Activism for the College Grrl
By Brooke N. Benjestorf

V-Day 2006 is Coming!

The third wave’s most renowned tradition is rapidly approaching: V-Day and The Vagina Monologues. The tradition of V-Day started February 14th, 1998 when an all-female group of accomplished entertainers came together to perform Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, in an effort to raise funds and awareness to end violence against women and girls. The play itself weaves together the pleasure and pain of womanhood and makes a powerful statement on what it means to be female in today’s world. Since the event in 1998, a V-Day movement has ensued which includes the Worldwide Campaign, the College Campaign, and the Youth Initiative.

The V-Day College Campaign offers an awesome opportunity for feminist activists at college. The program allows any on-campus organizer to present up to three benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues at their school on or around V-Day. The only major stipulations of the program is that you must charge admission, you must donate 10% of the proceeds to the V-Day Spotlight Campaign (the Spotlight for 2006 is the Global V-Day Campaign for Justice to Comfort Women), and you must donate the remainder of the proceeds to a local charity that works to end violence against women. In addition to raising awareness and money, the College Campaign also gives organizers the opportunity to honor up to three “vagina warriors” per performance. Eve Ensler has said that being a vagina warrior, “means developing the spiritual muscle to enter and survive the grief that violence brings and, in that dangerous space of stunned unknowing, inviting the deeper wisdom" (V-Mail #17, October 30, 2003). The Vagina Warrior Award is a beautiful way to let the people in your community who are working to end violence against women know that their efforts are making a difference and that we appreciate all that they do. It is something that hard-working feminists should see more often.

Participating in a production of The Vagina Monologues is one of the most empowering things a college woman could do. There is just something about assembling a cast of about twenty feminists and having them talk about vaginas for two months that lends itself to being an incredible and superbly moving experience. To find out whether or not your school already participates in the V-Day College Campaign, just visit the V-Day website (www.vday.org) and check out the Participating Schools page. If your school is not listed and you want to get a V-Day Campaign started on your campus, visit the Guidelines for Joining page and it will give you an overview of the program and a link to getting started.

Because the V-Day organization encourages participants in the College Campaign to attempt to raise $6,000, many schools turn V-Day into V-Week and organize a myriad of additional fundraising events. At the school I attend, Western Washington University, the biggest additional fundraising event that we do is called The Vagina Memoirs. Inspired by The Vagina Monologues, The Memoirs is a small cast of women who spend a period of time developing their own vagina monologues in writer’s workshops. The monologues are then assembled into a full-length performance much like The Monologues and presented in intimate venues. Following each performance, the audience is then invited to participate in a discussion that addresses the issues raised in the piece. Participating in the cast of The Memoirs is an exceptionally influential experience and some attendees find The Memoirs to be even more powerful than The Monologues because the pieces are so personal.

When I first started participating in the V-Day Campaign, our big fundraising social event was the Vagina Carnival. In addition to a stage featuring a mixture of live music and spoken word, the venue was filled with vagina themed carnival games such as “Pin the Clit on the Cooch” and a “Vagina Bean Bag Toss.” In more recent years, the event has become more simplified because we found that while the carnival was tons of fun for V-Day volunteers and cast members, attendance was stunted because the radical nature of the carnival games served to alienate the mainstream population. Because part of the V-Day mission is to raise awareness, feminist organizers on my campus have opted for a “Vagina Ball,” which is basically a dance party with live bands and tables set up around the venue with V-Day information and merchandise.

Merchandising is the very best way to raise additional funds for V-Day. After being exhilarated by a performance of The Vagina Monologues, audience members will be thrilled with the opportunity to take home a piece of the experience. Selling V-Day merchandise on-campus before the performances is also a great way to psyche up the campus community to get tickets for the show (ie. good publicity). The V-Day website has a store, and one option is to buy a bunch of official V-Day merchandise to sell. Another option (which is much more fun, if you ask me) is to assemble a merchandising team to come up with their own V-Day merchandise. Some great ideas are t-shirts and buttons (tried and true), vagina cookies, vagina chocolates, vagina soaps, and V-Day travel mugs. Due to the overwhelming popularity of The Vagina Memoirs on my campus, we have also started selling vagina journals as part of our V-Day merchandising. There’s a ton of stuff you could do, and there’s nothing like designing a slew of vagina merchandise to get a feminist in the V-Day spirit.

Not all V-Day events have to charge admission. At Western, V-Day organizers have coordinated a silent march that moved between places on campus where sexual assaults had occurred. Each site was marked off with red “Rape Free Zone” tape, a brief description of the incident, and red flowers. On the lighter side of things, Western has also had a few V-Days that featured a vagina empowerment workshop. The workshops have included a lecture on vaginal anatomy, group orgasms, improvisational theater orgasms, and a vagina valentine-making workshop.

Humboldt State University (www.humboldt.edu/~vday/events.html) in California has hosted a number of great V-Day events, including a poetry slam, an art show, a self-defense workshop, and a Clothesline Project workshop. The Clothesline Project (www.clotheslineproject.org) is a program that offers women who have been affected by violence a means to express their emotions by decorating a t-shirt. Humboldt State University has also offered V-Day lectures such as “Birth is a Feminist Issue” at which the California Association of Midwives presented a critique of violence against birthing women, and some solutions offered by midwifery care, and “International Perspectives on Women’s Issues” highlighting such issues as female genital mutilation in Africa and the United States’ efforts to liberate women in Afghanistan. Something to keep in mind is that when organizing more academic events such as lectures, a great way to boost attendance is to contact professors teaching related classes and invite their class to the event. Sometimes professors will even offer extra credit to students for attending such events, so this kind of PR can really pay off.

V-Day and The Vagina Monologues is a great time of year for feminist activists on college campuses because there is just so much feminist energy buzzing in the air. The biggest thing to be mindful of with this event is that it can be extremely time consuming in some cases. Some ardent feminists on my campus have found that they simply can’t work on the V-Day Campaign because of time constraints. The only thing I ask of people in this situation is that they attend a performance of The Vagina Monologues. Or that they buy some vagina merchandise or simply donate to the V-Day Campaign. The cause is insurmountably important to the feminist movement, and the V-Day Campaign has really reawakened the feminist movement on not just a national level, but on a global level as well. Because of this campaign there has been very tangible feminist change (see the V-Day website’s Victory page for examples of this change). The greatest advantage of the V-Day College Campaign is that it gives feminists the opportunity to really make and impact, and who would want to pass that up?

Happy V-Day everybody!


I want to hear about the feminist activism happening on your campus -- shoot me an e-mail and we'll compile a rich database of ideas for feminists to share.

Brooke N. Benjestorf is a senior at Fairhaven College, an interdisciplinary concentration design program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Her chosen concentration is Feminist Activism and it includes study in writing, film, women’s studies, and social change. When she is not being a feminist activist extraordinaire she loves to hang out with her girlfriends, make art, and take good care of her dog (her best friend), Paytah.

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