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The Struggle Continues…. Say Something By Sherry Cannon

Last month, Chama St. Louis and I were asked to perform spotlight pieces for Bradley University’s Women and Gender Studies annual Vagina Monologues.

The Vagina Monologues was written in 1996 by Eve Ensler as an episodic play.  Ensler interviewed 200 women of different ages, races, and sexuality, regarding their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. Originally Ensler performed all the monologues.

The monologues created from these interviews have gone through several revisions. In the beginning, Ensler wrote the play to celebrate the vagina, but in 1998 the purpose of the play changed from the celebration of vaginas and femininity to a movement to stop the violence against women.

The monologues tell the feminine experience of sex, sex work, body image, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, orgasm, birth, and gender identity.

Ensler says that a woman’s empowerment is deeply connected to her sexuality. She states that she was obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest, because all these things are committed against a woman’s vagina.

In the Bradley production nine students performed the monologues with provocation and humor. The title of the play and dialogue is intentional to make the audience experience some shock as well as discomfort, as the actors challenge our sensibility.

Proceeds from the Monologues go to The Center for Prevention of Abuse in Peoria. According to Dawn Wilcox, a school nurse in Dallas, TX, and founder of Women count USA, an average of 2,000 women a year are murdered by men, typically by partners or someone they know. Dawn created Women Count USA, a public database that track the women murdered by men, after she saw how horrified the country was when gorilla Harambe was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo. She realized that the same uproar is not met when women are murdered.

Ironically, the first night of the performance on February 15th, Peorians were awakened to the news that a 30-year old woman had just lost her life at the hands of an ex-boyfriend. Tragically this young lady knew the potential of losing her life to this man. After receiving threatening text messages, she reached out to law enforcement.

Instead of picking the guy up after reading the text messages for parole violations, an officer told the young lady to find a safe place to stay and file for an order of protection. This young woman had just given birth two weeks prior, was basically dismissed by law enforcement and told to leave her home, if she felt threatened. 

Her assailant had been sentenced to prison In 2017 for beating her while she was pregnant with their child. He had been paroled less than 30 days when he broke into her home and shot her three times.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all the external genitalia. Although prevalent in Africa, Asia and Middle Eastern countries, FGM was considered standard medical procedure in America for most of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1996 a Federal Law, the Female Genital Mutilation Act made it a felony to perform FGM on anyone under 18-years old. 

On November 20, 2018, the Act was struck down as unconstitutional by US federal judge Bernard Friedman in Michigan, who argued the federal government did not have the authority to enact legislation outside the “interstate clause”. As part of the ruling, Friedman also ordered charges against 2 doctors and several mothers, who prosecutors accused of mutilating the genitals of 9 girls, be dropped.

As of 2019 twenty-eight states have enacted specific laws prohibiting FGM, while the remaining 22 states have no specific laws against FGM. 

Human trafficking is the second largest profitable illegal business, after the illegal drug trade. It is where peoples’ lives are stolen for profit. Humans are traded for the purpose of force labor or sexual slavery. Many cases go unreported, but in 2012 the International Labor Organization estimated that there were 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide.

Recently, New England Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft was arrested as part of a crackdown on sex trafficking in Florida. Although, Kraft was only charged with two misdemeanor counts of first-degree solicitation; Palm Beach County authorities, after a six-month investigation closed ten spas from Palm Beach to Orlando. Several individuals were charged with sex trafficking.  Most of the women were forced to live in the spas, and only allowed to leave with an escort. 

Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy Financier, was indicted in 2007 for abusing more than 30 underage girls. Some of the girls as young as 13, were poor, some homeless and all vulnerable. The Miami US Attorney General at the time was Alexander Acosta. Acosta allowed Epstein to avoid a lifetime prison sentence by entering a secret non-prosecution agreement, instead giving Epstein a 13-months sentence that was served in the county jail, and all his possible co-conspirators were given immunity. Epstein’s victims were not told about the plea agreement, and Acosta left Epstein’s victims to believe the case was still under investigation. Today, Epstein is still free and Acosta, is serving as the Secretary of Labor in the Trump’s administration.

The abuse against women around the world is real, and the US is no exception. Last year the #METOO movement put a spotlight on the dirty little secret of sexual assault that was happening to women from Hollywood to domestic workers. We must not keep silent, because the secret we keep today will result in the abuse of our daughters tomorrow.

Vagina Monologue Testimony Spotlight Piece

I believe what God says about me, not what people say or think about me. I am one of His works of art, and after He created me, God proclaimed, Very Good!

In 1619, Dutch traders brought the first African enslaved people to this country. From then until 1866 more than 12.5 million people were stolen from Africa and brought to the Americas. Almost 2 million people died during the Middle Passage.

I am 5-generations from slavery. Oral history on my father’s side says that my grandfather, Curtis Jones Sr., a Mulatto, born in 1893 fled the segregated south as a young man, to avoid being lynched.

I was born in the 50’s in Hannibal, Mo. I had little interaction with anyone that wasn’t African-Americans except at school, which was integrated in 1959 the first year, I started school. In Hannibal, It was understood that there was a place for Black people and one for white people.

In my early 30’s, I found my voice, recognized my worth, and no longer allowed, what others thought about me, control me. I also realized during that time, it wasn’t enough to just free myself, but I had a responsibility to show others how they too could be free.

Today as a great-grandmother and watching all the gains made in the 1960’s and 1970’s slowly erode; my commitment, conviction, and resolve to leave this place, for my GG, Harlem Xavier Rush, better than it is now, has become even stronger.

In this environment of racism, sexism, misogyny, I know why Rosa Parks refused to stand up. I understand Shirley Chisholm saying, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

And in the words of Mary McLeod Bethune, “I leave you love, I leave you hope, I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you faith. And I leave you racial dignity.”