Monday, February 13, 2012


This weekend I had the privilege of participating in the 3rd annual Vagina Monologues at my medical school.  I wrote in my bio that I was inspired to try-out after watching KC Baker's TED talk on women claiming the public stage.   In the talk, KC referred to the Dalai Lama's comment, "The world will be saved by the western woman." KC responded with, "The world will be saved by the western woman who speaks up."

For those of you who have not seen or heard of the Vagina Monologues, it is a play based on over 200 interviews with women about all sorts of vaginal topics: ranging from orgasms and the art of finding the clitoris to rape and abuse.  The themes from  the interviews were consolidated into monologues that are performed throughout the country to raise awareness of the ongoing violence against women.  Valentine's Day was dubbed V-Day as the official day to campaign and protest.

Each year, the Vagina Monologues also spotlights an area of the world where the violence has been escalated, and a monologue is performed to commemorate the women affected.  This year, the campaign focused on the devastated post-earthquake region of Haiti, war-torn Congo and post-Katrina New Orleans. While they are three very different areas of the world, the monologue tied the themes of oppression, racism and sexism together to highlight issues of which women all throughout the world can relate and stand in solidarity.   I was lucky enough to perform that monologue.

All aspects of the show impacted me.  I befriended fourteen other courageous and strong future female physicians, healed immensely through connection and bonding,  overcame nerves to claim the public stage and finally delivered an important message.  Heck, I even learned things about my vagina I had not previously been taught-no, not even in anatomy class.

The spotlight monologue was technically focused on other regions of the world, but the slam poetry could pull on a heartstring of any woman.  I could relate to it, the women of Philadelphia could relate to it, and by the end of two months of rehearsal, I could literally feel my life story with the life stories of all women being told in that poem.

While Saturday and Sunday's performance were delivered smoothly and moved the audience to both laughter and tears, today's performance at a local women's shelter, The Sheila Dennis House, left an imprint on me of gratitude, humility and fellowship.

We had never had an audience as animated at the Sheila Dennis House today.  At every mention of the word vagina or clitoris, they gasped, their eyes bulged out, and finally and without any inhibition, they let out roars of laughter.

My monologue was supposed to take the audience on a journey.  It started in chaos as I delivered the scenery of garbage, animals and rubble.  We then barged right through a wall of frustration as the audience and I realized no - no one was coming to help- even though help was promised.  Then, there is the line where the mood changes.

"Dances churches fields abuse centers carrying possibility bellies beings words."

At this point, my voice changes and I am moved.

It happened consistently, each time I practiced and performed the monologue: while running, in the shower or at rehearsal.  But tonight, during that line, I gazed into the eyes of a seven month pregnant twenty-something year old in the front row.  The entire audience let out an awe of relief as we all gathered our compassion and strength for her alone.

It is this line where the mood shifts.  It is this line where every single woman can relate: black, white, American, Haitian, Congolese, broken, rich, poor...

It is this point where the woman overcomes adversity, recalls her inner strength, finds enough courage to connect with others and remembers nothing can stop her.  It is this line when women band together, decide to dance regardless of circumstance, and realize that the world's destiny is up to their attitude, resilience and courage.

When the women were brought into my story, into chaos, they nodded in empathy.  I could feel their thoughts, "mmhmm, I've been there." They sang "Amens" during the frustration as they all knew what it feels like to be in a situation where they did not have control and to yearn for a helping hand that would never arrive.  But then, simultaneously with the inflection of my voice, they eased into the optimism of that line. From that point on, shy smiles gradually peaked out because we remembered, we all remembered, that we must carry on as the mother earth does.  We must carry on, for it is us that carry all possibility.

"What women carrying on outshining filth, outshining odds
What happens now New Orleans Haiti Congo women
Now or never
Women claiming what they carry claiming carrying
Now women colored brightly carrying everything, everything
Carrying on I tell you
Carrying on."

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