Thursday, November 17, 2005

Affirmative Action Role-Play

In this year's annual production of The Vagina Monologues, the University of Michigan has some pretty specific casting guidelines:
Calling all women of color.

“The Vagina Monologues” wants you.

That’s the message students have heard in the past weeks, as the annual show has opted to bring women of color center stage, while planning to leave many white women behind the curtains.

Late last month, producers and directors of the show announced their intention to push for an all-minority cast. Some students have deemed the new casting policy reverse discrimination, but supporters of the show say they view the change as a way to rectify biases of the show and reignite interest among the student body.

“The Vagina Monologues” is a play written by playwright Eve Ensler that attempts to address topics relating to violence against women. The play is part of the V-Day College Campaign — a political movement to stop violence against women.

University alum Carol Gray, who directed the famous play last year, said that the majority of women who audition for past monologues have been white.

“By seeing white people in the show, (women of color) come to think they’re not welcome or not part of the community,” Gray said. “People have probably refrained from purchasing tickets or participating because of this feeling.”

This lack of diversity, she said, is the result of a lack of distribution of audition notices and informational e-mails targeting minorities.

But many other students who participated in previous shows said women of color have stayed away from the play because they believe the script portrays minorities negatively.

A major problem with the script for some is that many of the roles for women of color deal with sexual violence.

And because few women of color audition for the show, minorities generally assume these more traumatic roles, while monologues dealing with more positive subjects such as liberation and beauty are filled by white cast members. Women of color are thus portrayed as only constant victims of sexual violence and never in a positive light, the producers and directors said.

Because the national V-Day organization prohibits groups from modifying the script, producers of this year’s show said the only way to remedy the bias of the show was to push for an all-minority cast.

“We can’t change the words of the script, but we can change the way the words are presented,” said Lauren Whitehead, director of the show this school year. “The script is flawed in its attempt to give all women a voice because it seems to give certain women certain voices. I often wonder why angry vaginas can’t be white and happy vaginas can’t be Asian,” she said.

Elizabeth Campbell, a University alum and former producer of the monologues, added that while the script is not inherently racist, prejudices against minorities are woven into the monologues.
Interestingly, one of the Vagina Monologues scenes originally portrayed an older woman's seduction of a 13-year old girl. But I guess pedophilia is out of bounds even for trendy plays. So the author changed the victim's younger partner's age to 16 in order to make the scene a little more palatable to mainstream audiences.

I wonder if the tolerant-minded folks at the University of Michigan would tolerate a performance of The Penis Monologues, which many other "tolerant" campuses have suppressed.

Though some might think it narrow-minded, the WifeWonk and I both hope that when our 13-year-old daughter, (the TeenWonk) gets to college, she worries less about being a "
Vagina Warrior" and more about finishing whatever degree program she chooses and learning some marketable job-skills.
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