"As Told By Vaginas" is, without a doubt, going to spark serious conversations about how women are treated. Following the success of "The Vagina Monologues," the new show compiled a series of different stories from across the Connecticut College spectrum and presented them for $8 dollars to anyone who wanted to listen. Boy, did people listen.
I'm a floor governor in Branford House and I attended the show with all the residents from my floor, who are all first-year students. I wasn’t sure what the show would be like, and I could never have predicted the reactions I saw from my residents. Halfway through the show, right after one of the most intense monologues, I looked down the row of my residents and saw some ashen faces. The women in the row were happy their stories were being told but the men were stunned. One turned to me and said, “This makes me ashamed to be a man.”
At first I was taken aback by his statement, and because the show was about to begin again, I couldn’t attempt to unpack it any further. Later, as the floor walked back to Branford House in silence, I decided to try and spark debate and asked my resident what he had meant. As he began to explain, I started seeing his way of thinking. "As Told By Vaginas" shared some terrible experiences women have had with men, and what he had clued into was feeling ashamed that many men treat many women poorly. Don’t get me wrong — most men treat women well, but if one man treats one woman badly, we’ve got a problem.
The conversation continued and my residents stuck around. The rest of the night evolved into a conversation on masculinity, our role as men in the world, and what we can do to help change the definition of masculinity. We talked about the “Man Box," a term defined by Tony Porter in his TED Talk, "A Call To Men." We talked about how men are afraid to show emotion because they’ve been socialized that way. We talked about how many men see women as objects, because that is how they are told to behave around women. “Man up! Boys will be boys. Stop crying, son. Go over their until you are ready to talk to me like a man.” These are all phrases men are told to live by as they grow up that lead to the violent and dangerous behavior they exhibit towards women.
By the end of the night, my resident was still upset by seeing the effect men can have on women. But after engaging all the residents of our floor in the discussion, he had come to the realization that he could make change by changing the way he thinks about masculinity and femininity. Being a man should mean being sensitive, hugging it out when necessary, being friends to women, and standing up for both men’s and women's rights.
I had never dreamed that this kind of conversation would rise from "As Told By Vaginas," but because these stories were from Connecticut College women and told on stage to members of the College community, the stories felt relevant. I know that I’m a better man for seeing the show and so are my residents.