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Penn's chapter of the V-Day Campaign hopes to join other colleges across the country in being more inclusive of non-cisgender women in this year's production.

Credit: Vanessa Weir

This year, the V-Day University of Pennsylvania College Campaign, known best for its annual production of the Vagina Monologues, has collected personal stories from Penn students. After announcing its call for submissions in early October, the group received close to 15 stories.

Currently, the producer of the 2017 production of the Vagina Monologues, College senior Olivia Graham, said she’s unsure how the stories will be incorporated into the production, since they can’t alter the script. The Vagina Monologues’ official script has always been released by V-Day International. Because campus chapters of the nonprofit organization only apply for permission to perform the play, they can’t make changes.

The V-Day Campaign stages the Vagina Monologues in February every year to raise funds for its local beneficiary Women Organized Against Rape. Originally written by Eve Ensler in 1996, the play spotlights the issues of women’s sexuality, gender-based violence and the stigmas attached to these experiences. Through the global nonprofit organization V-Day international, the play has now been performed on more than a thousand college campuses in 140 different countries.

The executive board of the group is still discussing what they will do with the stories, though Graham said the group is determined to use them to make their initiatives more community based. The goal, Graham said, is to ensure that the 2017 Vagina Monologues is co-produced by its participants.

“Our movement is made for the community,” Graham said. “It should be built around and defined by [the community’s] experiences — particularly those individuals who don’t receive the attention and credit they deserve.”

With that in mind, the V-Day Campaign group was especially pleased to see that the stories they received from students were diverse both in form and theme.

“We want to expand what we help the community to talk about [with the Vagina Monologues], especially since the script was written over 20 years ago when the landscape of social justice was very different,” Graham said.

In recent years, the Vagina Monologues has come under criticism for excluding non-cisgender women — or women who may not have vaginas. In 2015, Mount Holyoke College cancelled a staging of the Vagina Monologues because it offered a “narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.” Ensler responded to the decision, writing in Time Magazine that she “never defined a woman as a person with a vagina.” Since then, campus chapters of V-Day have taken active steps to make the campaign more inclusive to non-cisgender audiences. In February this year, Washington University used part of the money they raised through the Vagina Monologues to assist the St. Louis Metro Trans Umbrella Group.

Penn’s V-Day Campaign is hoping to make similar efforts.

“The definition of womanhood and of gender is so unbelievably fluid. This year, we want to make it very clear that this space is safe for anyone regardless of their gender identity,” Graham said.

“I want people to go see the Vagina Monologues and be able to see themselves in it.”

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