Even in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s risky, shocking, brave, and empowering for women to tell the truth about gender violence. V-Day was created by activist-playwright Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues. In just 12 years, the annual V-Day has spread from American college campuses to 120 countries worldwide, generating consciousness and $70 million for shelters and services for women and girls surviving gender violence. V-Day Minneapolis takes place April 15-18 at the Old Arizona Studios.
“What’s unique about V-Day is that it has a global perspective with local ties,” said Kristin Strissel, an organizer of V-Day Minneapolis. “Not only do local people raise money, but they create the performances. This year, we’re doing a different play, co-edited by Eve Ensler and Mollie Doyle, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer. It chronicles experiences by both women and men, who are feminist, who have been impacted by violence.”
Rather than “ordinary women’s voices,” the new play is made of poems, memoirs, and essays by well-known writers and activists: African-American writers Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, award-winning playwrights Anna Deavere Smith and Edward Albee, Jamaican novelist Edwidge Danticut, Jane Fonda, and Betty Gale Tyson, who served many years in prison for killing the husband who had beat her for almost 20 years.
Some of the money raised at V-Day Minneapolis will support Tubman Shelter. Services for women fleeing domestic violence or coping with sexual assault have experienced deep funding cuts from the state legislature in recent years. Another partner with V-Day Minneapolis is the Women’s Prison Book Project (WPBP), who since 1994, were the first (and for 12 years the only) organization getting educational materials to women in prison. Four years ago, they helped start a similar project in Chicago.
|hear excerpts from a memory, a monologue, a rant, and a prayer on catalyst and art matters, archived at kfai.org.|
“It’s great for us to be part of V-Day. While 75% of women are in prison for non-violent crimes, that other 25% are mostly there because of violence done to them,” said Sarah, a WPBP member. “A large percentage of these women responded to violence done to them—like domestic violence—with violence. If there had been a better system for them to get out of that situation non-violently, they wouldn’t be in prison.”
V-Day Minneapolis will include the inspiring film What I Want My Words to Do to You, about a writing workshop Eve Ensler did in the Bedford Hills Women’s Prison in New York. Breaking past stereotypes of the mostly women of color, who are the fastest-growing group off people being incarcerated, the film shows resiliency and redemption.
Every year, V-Day raises awareness about violence against women in a particular country. For the second year, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the international focus of V-Day. Since 1994, the civil war there has killed 5.4 million people. A key part of the conflict is who will dominate the mining of columbite-tantalite (also called “coltan”), which is used in cell phones, laptop computers, and video game systems.
Hundreds of thousands of women and girls, aged 10 months to 87 years old, have endured such horrifying levels of violence that the conflict has been called “a war against women”: gang rape, sexual torture and mutilation, forced marriage to perpetrators, and sexual slavery. V-Day is building a refuge and medical center for Congolese women; it will be called “City of Joy.”
The recently deceased “people’s historian” Howard Zinn contributed a piece to the new play, called “The Closet,” recalling a childhood memory of a moment of violence by his father against his mother during the Great Depression. The terror of that moment, with Zinn and his brother shouting for their father to stop, is deeply affecting, as is Zinn’s insight about how the social oppression of poverty and racism fuel much of men’s violence against the women in their lives. Tanner Curl performs the Zinn piece in the Minneapolis production.
“It’s important to have men’s voices involved,” said Curl. “This isn’t just women’s problem. It’s everybody’s problem.”
As a survivor of rape and domestic violence, I’ve found V-Day empowering. Silences are broken and women claim their whole selves with anger, real audacity, and a commitment to truth and love. With this new production, a new chapter in the V-Day continues. Be part of it.