Photograph by Jennifer March
DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES: Commmunity members, including our own Mercedes Murolo (seated, second row, second from left), take on the 'Monologues.'
Victory Over Violence
Petaluma's V-Day brings to light issues in the world and our community
By Hannah Smith
On one wall, there is a vibrant orange painting about healing and a tranquil black-and-white photograph of a female's torso in water. On another, there are photos of dancing flowers and sketches of belly dancers and babies in wombs. The walls of Viva Cocolat are covered in colorful imagery of women, and Trisha Almond, the producer and organizer of V-Day Petaluma, sits at one of the tables, drinking coffee and proudly wearing a silver vagina necklace and earrings. She explains the V in V-Day as having several meanings, saying, "The V revolves around Valentine's Day. Victory over violence—to end violence against women is another. And then vaginas. Ultimately, that is the source of life. We need to honor that source of life."
Almond and her husband first saw the Vagina Monologues 10 years ago in San Francisco, and thought it was just a small play making its way around the country. "I didn't know there was a whole movement behind it," she says. Years later, she saw it again in Petaluma and decided she wanted to produce it herself. Almond had no previous producing experience except for putting on events for her Girl Scout Troop, so her dream started small. But after doing some research and going to a "Vagina Warriors" workshop in L.A. with Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler, she decided to take Ensler's advice to "think big" and put on V-Day in Petaluma.
V-Day, which takes place March 13–14, is a worldwide event that raises funds and brings awareness to ending violence against women with benefit productions of Ensler's Vagina Monologues. Ninety percent of the funds go to the local community and toward efforts to end domestic violence against women. The other 10 percent goes to a group featured for that year.
This year's V-Day focuses on women in the Congo. Soldiers in the Congo routinely rape women and young girls, not only to destroy their bodies, but to wreck their souls and culture; this act shames the whole community. The Congolese war is over such resources as the minerals in our cell phones, which Almond says "is like gold over there. You don't think about it. Who would have ever thought that something in our cell phone is coming from there?"
Worldwide V-Day funds go to the Congo and toward a facility Ensler wants to build for women there. Her Vagina Monologues is made up of various first-person stories that focus on women and the difficult issues and tragedies many face. The show starts out with silly questions such as "If you could dress up your vagina, what would it wear?" and "If it could speak, what would it say?," but switches to deeper questions as the performance progresses.
Almond explains that one monologue, "Burka," was recently performed as a teaser at Pelican Art Gallery. "We had one actress reading the monologue and another actress was actually in the burka, so all you could see were her eyes," Almond says. "The monologue was about imagining what it's like being under here."
Another short called "Baptized" is about an eight-year-old girl Ensler had met while in the Congo, who had internal holes torn in her body because of rape. "She had no control over urination," Almond explains. "There are many women and young girls who are like that over there, and there's not enough skin to repair the damage. They have to wait until they are more mature and have grown enough skin. In the meantime, no one wants to be around them," Almond says grimly. "They're lucky if their families want to be around them, so they're not used to being touched."
Ensler grew fond of this one girl, and on a return visit brought her a dress as a birthday present. Ensler wanted to hold the girl on her lap, but the girl tried to squirm away because she was afraid that she would lose control of her bladder. "Eve said that's OK. The girl ultimately did pee on her, and Eve said she was now baptized," Almond says.
Almond is quick to point out that the Congo isn't the only place where women face violence, and that it's just as important to focus on women who are being hurt in our own communities. "It's not a matter of looking at it, like, 'Well they're in a worse situation than we are'—no, it all just needs to stop, the violence just needs to stop," she says emotionally.
As a mother, Almond also finds it important for young girls to have an awareness of domestic abuse. "That boyfriend you're dating right now who's being verbally abusive is not just having a bad day," Almond emphasizes. "That's wrong, and you need to stand up to it and walk away from it, because if you stay in that situation, you're allowing that to happen, you're becoming co-dependent, and then it could escalate into physical violence. It's emotional, it's spiritual breakdown, and it's wrong. It's absolutely wrong. And it's really no different than what's going on in the Congo. It's just a different extreme."
The art showcased in Viva Cocolat shows that there are inspired people, young and old, who are aware of the violence women can face. Their pieces are meant to promote positive themes of rebirth, love and beauty. The youngest contributor is a 13-year-old boy and the oldest is 86-year-old sculptress Mary McChesney.
The event is "not about male bashing," Almond says. There have been men who have misunderstood the message of V-Day, but the event is about celebrating women, not putting down men. She proudly mentions that her husband wears his own vagina jewelry, but on a manly black cord, despite odd looks at work. "We were a matriarchal society, way back when, and now it's gone patriarchal. We need to bring back some balance," Almond states. "We need to honor Mother Nature, because we're destroying Mother Nature. By destroying women, you're doing the same thing."
V-Day Petaluma runs Friday–Saturday, March 13–14 at the Petaluma Community Center. Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt speaks on Friday; Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, on Saturday. Both days include a performance of the 'Vagina Monologues,' a silent auction, community altar, belly dancers, musicians and tables with information on domestic-violence services. 320 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma. From 6:30pm. $15–$25. www.vdaypetaluma.org.
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