“Finding the Vagina Warrior” in the Filipina Woman

The Stimulant: When I auditioned and was selected to deliver a monologue in the Filipina Women’s Network production of “The Vagina Monologues” or TVM, which had its first San Francisco Bay Area performance to a sold-out crowd at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on March 30, 2004, my “work & life” seeds with “Women in Focus” really started sprouting into roots in very fertile ground.

In early 2001, I dared to read a monologue as part of a program in a birthday party because I had wanted to earn a $50 gift certificate. This also marked my first encounter with the message behind Eve Ensler’s off-Broadway play: to honor “V-Day,” the global movement to stop violence against women and girls. I did not know that over 2,000 performances were held in over 1,000 locations world-wide between February 14 and March 31 yearly to assist and support the victims of horrifying realities such as domestic violence, rape, genital mutilation, or a law prohibiting women from eating ice-cream.

Eve Ensler told us, during a private interview, that Monique Wilson and her TVM group in the Philippines helped accelerate the legislation process to protect women and girls from abusive relationships. They succeeded because the group used pop culture to bring awareness to a “quiet rage” by amplifying the “shock value” for a word that currently has a pornographic value in our internet servers: Vagina.

The auditions brought together women and girls of Filipino ancestry from all walks of life. Some of them had never grown up in the Philippines or spoken any of the dialects. A few auditioned to celebrate their freedom from abusive relationships.

There was one friend who was shaking with trepidation before her audition because she believed that the production was contrary to her religious beliefs. I replied, “The V-word is a metaphor for a woman’s self-esteem.”

I watched my friend’s confidence, from a different perspective, blossom. Her melodic voice echoed throughout the theater to praise “The Filipina Vagina Warrior.”

“Somehow,” our directors told us, “whether you know it or not, the play has changed you.”

They are right. I did change. For instance, I am now more comfortable saying the word “Vagina” or its many Filipino variations in public.

During the seven weeks of rehearsals, I bonded with new friends such as our 9-year old cast member in her cameo role, our 17-year old volunteer who willingly substituted for her mother who discovered she had a rare form of cancer that required immediate surgery, and our 72-year old grandmother who performed with her daughter in a monologue about birth, as we acknowledged our Filipina Vagina Warriors’ strengths and vulnerabilities with “Yes, we can!”

The men and significant partners in our lives, when invited to watch our performance, either giggled or curiously asked, “Isn’t this supposed to be obscene?” They came, anyway.

The play succeeded in bringing attention to a pressing problem: There are many women who suffer silently and don’t know who to turn to. One of the play’s beneficiaries, the Filipino American Outreach Program of CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse), can be one of the support systems for an abused Filipina woman.

The Lesson: Marily Mondejar, the president of FWN, once told me that “Reshaping the Filipina Image through Popular Culture” meant being able to boost our women’s confidence in the workplace, asking them to speak up and be counted. Launching “The Vagina Monologues” hopefully sent a message to these countless women that when they are ready, there are sisters they can turn to for support.

Marily adds, “If we want to change public perceptions of the Filipina women’s capacity to lead and enhance their ability to positions of leadership in corporate, government, and non-profit sectors, then we need to be a mainstream community.”

The Emphasis: Eve Ensler says, “Every woman has a warrior inside, waiting to be born.” I believe she’s right. As a Filipina Vagina Warrior, I believe in my capacity to do what I want to do and to be the person I want to be.

To the new breed of Filipina women who want to be “Filipina Vagina Warriors,” there’s a community waiting to hear from you.

© Lorna Dietz, April 2004. Published by Manila Bulletin USA.






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