A quarter of the women who attend UCSB will be sexually assaulted. For many of those women, that sexual assault will be the reason they leave school. The impact of sexual assault on university campuses is something I think about every time I enter a classroom, especially as an instructor. When I look at my undergraduate students, I wonder which ones have been impacted by sexual assault. I not only wonder about the female survivors; I wonder about the male perpetrators. This may seem strange, but it’s astonishing how little attention we pay to the perpetrators of sexual violence.
How many men on our campus are rapists? How many have taken advantage of a drunken girl? How many didn’t bother to get a “yes” but just went ahead in the absence of a “no”? And how does that make them feel? Do they feel bad? What do they do when they see this woman walking around? Are they ashamed? Do they even know they did something wrong?
When a woman, any woman, is just a sex object to a man, that’s when rape can happen. When sex is something that is mostly about men’s pleasure, that’s when rape can happen. When the standard for consent is “no means no” instead of “yes means yes,” that’s when rape can happen. When “she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk” is an acceptable excuse, when “fraternity” means “bros before hos,” when rape jokes are a standard part of popular comedies, that’s when rape can happen. This is called “rape culture,” and we all live right in the middle of it.
Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues because women as human beings are often seen as separate from our vaginas. It’s a strange separation. They are part of us. They’re not just part of our bodies, but of ourselves as a whole. Things we experience with our vaginas — sex, menstruation, birth — are some of the most defining and memorable experiences of our lives. Who we are, who we will become as human beings is intimately, interminably linked to our vaginas. Women know this. I fear that a lot of men don’t.
Men are less likely to assault women they see as human beings, women they love. The problem is that a lot of men don’t see ALL women as full human beings. Some women are just sex objects. And that’s sad. The fact that a woman is a sexual being isn’t an excuse to rape or shame her, because ALL women are sexual beings. All people are sexual beings. We shouldn’t have to separate our sexual selves from the rest of ourselves, yet this seems to be expected of women.
The Vagina Monologues, like feminism, is not anti-male. It’s not about men at all. It’s about women and, yes, our vaginas. It’s about old women and young women and queer women and straight women and transwomen and cis-gendered women and black women and Asian women and Latinas and white women and rich women and poor women and women with disabilities and educated women and uneducated women and liberal women and conservative women and women who don’t fit any category I just named. It’s meant to humanize women and our vaginas. If you’re reading this and it offends you or makes you smirk, you should come to our show. If the word “vagina” makes you uncomfortable, you should come to our show. If you run and hide from the word “feminist,” you should come to our show. If you’ve never thought about any of this before, you should come to our show.
March 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall will mark my fourth year performing “The Vagina Monologues.” I do this show because I know too many women who have been sexually assaulted. I do this because I’ve experienced the objectification of my body and the obfuscation of my mind and soul and heart. I do this because I finally learned to love myself. I do this because I love being in a community of strong, smart, loving, beautiful women. I do this because I have fantastic men in my life whom I love. And I do this because I don’t want to keep any of this a secret. Come inside. It’s beautiful here.