Awareness: An early valentine

The “V’ in V-Day is for vocalization ” encouraging women to talk about both vaginas and violence

Katie Wilber

Valentine’s Day is approaching, but the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group isn’t focusing on chocolates and teddy bears. Just as “The Vagina Monologues” famously voiced the word vagina, the organization’s “V-Day” aims to speak out against violence toward women.

Seven years ago, a group of college students performed Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” at area colleges as a creative way to make people more aware of issues women face, said Kate Suchomel, MPIRG program director.

“They wanted to reach more people,” she said. “They figured that this play was more effective than tabling or putting up posters or giving regular presentations.”

Since then, MPIRG’s annual production has become one of more than 2,000 worldwide V-Day events that push the harsh statistics of violence against women and girls to the forefront and aim to change those statistics.

“The statistics are alarmingly high,” Suchomel said. “Our overall statistics right now are that between one in four and one in five women are victims of attempted or completed rapes while in college.”

MPIRG’s production doesn’t just shed light on the issue of violence against women. It also raises money for local anti-violence agencies like Casa de Esperanza, this year’s chosen beneficiary. The production draws attention to the shame and silence of women who are victims of violence. Suchomel said that fewer than 40 percent of women actually come forward after an attack.

“Everyone knows that violence is a major problem, but it’s not something we usually see or are confronted with on a personal level every day,” she said. “Violence against women is an epidemic. We need to start a dialogue if we’re going to be able to stop it.”

Numbers, percentages and statistics always are tossed around, but productions of “The Vagina Monologues” give faces and feelings to these statistics. Numbers become real women ” women who were victims of violent and brutal crimes.

With the disturbingly high rates of violence against women on college campuses, Suchomel said colleges are the best places to hold performances of the show.

“We want to draw attention to this issue,” she said, “and physically show the levels of violence that women face.”

Through the Broadway play that first gave voice to women’s genitalia, organizations like MPIRG are educating people ” from college students to senior citizens ” about violence against women.

They’re also pushing for a change in the social attitude toward victims of sexual assault.

“V-Day is for vagina and valentines and victory over violence,” Suchomel said. “It’s our way to proclaim Valentine’s Day as a way to celebrate women and love and violence-free relationships.”