Instructors and students at the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) in Grand Falls-Windsor celebrated Women’s History Month with a reading of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” March 14.
The book is part of communications instructor Kelly Harrison’s Self and Society course, addressing social movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp that aim to empower women, eliminate oppression and encourage them to speak up about sexual assault and wrongdoings in the workplace.
“I had two stories, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘The Color Purple,’ so I needed something to fit in between those two,” said Harrison. “Since I was going to look at women’s stories, that one fit nicely right in the middle, so it has sort of become the center of the course now, which led us to this reading.”
Students and staff either involved directly with the course or in attendance to support colleagues and friends gathered for the informal reading.
Each monologue dealt with a different aspect of the feminine experience, touching on subjects such as sex, love and menstruation.
Over a dozen people read short stories from Ensler’s collection to another 50 faculty and students. Those in attendance enjoyed baked goods courtesy of the students, who also collected small monetary donations and personal and feminine hygiene products for the local women’s shelter.
“It’s the first time I’ve done it,” Harrison said, regarding Ensler’s stories. “I’m really not sure if it’ll happen again, just because I like to keep things a bit topical, though it was well received by the students.”
Students from the course knitted hats and pins as part of The Pussy Hat Project, a social movement focused on raising awareness about women’s issues.
The Pussy hat, popularized in 2017 during the Women’s March on Washington, is described as a symbol of support and solidarity for women’s rights and political resistance, and was worn by both men and women at the reading.
“As a woman it was really empowering,” said reader Sarah Ward. “It was a bigger crowd than I anticipated. It’s cool so many people are willing to listen and willing to speak. So, I personally felt very empowered, I thought it was awesome.”
Ward said the Self and Society course is eye opening. There are two men in the course, whom she refers to as allies.
“It was interesting,” said Keegan Howse, one of the two male students. “A little bit funny, a little bit of facts. You learn a lot, especially with this class.”
“I think the students have enjoyed it more than they would actually want to admit,” said Harrison, with one going as far as baking a cake in the shape of a vagina.
Biology instructor Sara Sheehan tailored her reading of “The Vagina Monologues” by replacing names and events with things related to Newfoundland and its common practices.
Harrison said the course and the reading can help students open up about themselves, though speaking about vaginas is considered taboo by some.
“On campus I have had a little bit of resistance from some of the staff members about talking about vaginas,” said Harrison. “‘Oh, it’s pornography, what are you talking about that stuff for?’ – all those kind of ideas that I try to educate people on. It’s hard to make changes.”
Harrison noted how difficult it is for women to get into politics and called the world a male-dominated patriarchy.
“I think there should be more women in power, definitely,” said Howse. “I appreciate them, and I know what they go through. I definitely appreciate my mom and the women in my life.”
Harrison thinks openness is a bit of a generational issue, noting she was surprised how willing young people are to talk about certain things. A few of the presenters said they would have never talked about vaginas so frankly 20 years ago.
“I think with time things will change,” said Harrison. “But I think it’s going to take a whole generational shift for that to happen. I think young people today are much more egalitarian with those kind of things than perhaps my generation even was.”
Ward echoed Harrison’s sentiment.
“I look at people like my mom around Kelly’s age,” said Ward. “She couldn’t believe what I was discussing, and it was so odd to her.”
Harrison said she hopes her course is eye opening for women, and heart opening for men.