Vaginas take back the Capitol

Politicians, playwright and actresses unite on the Capitol steps for 'The Vagina Monologues'

By Bridgette M. Redman

Photos 1-11 by Bidgette Redman, 12-17 by Todd Heywood

LANSING - Thousands showed up to the Capitol Monday night protesting the silencing of Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga. In an event titled "Vaginas Take Back the Capitol," female Democratic lawmakers and professional actresses from around the state were led by Tony Award-winning playwright Eve Ensler in a rally and a performance of Ensler's "Vagina Monologues."

Nor did it seem to make much difference to protesters whether Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, instituted the one-day speaking ban because Brown used the word "vagina" or whether it was because her saying "no means no" likened the bill to date rape.

"I was really unbelievably disgusted by their First Amendment rights being violated," said Andy Adamson, Ann Arbor, who attended the rally with his wife. "That's why I have this sign: First aMENdment includes WOMEN."

Brown said she felt compelled to speak against a bill that she described as overturning Roe v. Wade.

"I decided I needed to speak in opposition to this bill, because we're not going to let legislators turn the clock back to the '60s where women didn't have a right to abortion and weren't insured they were going to have access to safe health care," Brown explained. "In my speech, I made a few points, but I dared utter the word 'vagina.' We shouldn't be legislating vaginas if you can't say vaginas."

Byrum's ban came after she objected to the Speaker not allowing her to speak to an amendment she had proposed to the abortion bill being debated.

"I was denied the right to speak to my amendment," Byrum told the crowds Monday evening. "(The Speaker) gaveled my amendment down. Then, being the daughter my mother raised me - hi, Mommy! - I said 'vasectomy,' there I said it, and I was gaveled that I was out of order."

A speaker for Bolger, Ari Adler, said Byrum's ban the next day came not for saying 'vasectomy,' but "for marching through the chamber and shouting like a small child throwing a temper tantrum."

Amy Geishert from Lansing, who carried a sign at the protest Monday stating, "Male Reps Have Opinions. Female Reps Have Temper Tantrums," was offended by such characterization. "It is sexist, plain and simple. (The democratic representatives) were making respectful opinions. It is just a double standard. I'm very proud of them for standing up and having a press conference and (this event)."

Lance Enderle, a candidate for U.S. Congress in the 8th District, agreed.

"What happened - that was uncalled for. I know Speaker Bolger has probably used worse language at his country club than what he heard on that floor."

Not everyone was angry with Bolger, however. Penny Gardner, president of the Lansing Association of Human Rights, saw the ban having at least one positive outcome. "If it mobilizes this many people to get here, I want to thank Jase Bolger. I want to send him a thank-you note and tell him I think this is incredible. We haven't had this many people at the Capitol for any of the things I support until now, and it came in a heartbeat."

Vagina heard everywhere

While 'vagina' may have been banned on the House floor, the word was in widespread use Monday evening, from attendees chanting the word, to the signs being carried and by the 30-some performers of Ensler's "Vagina Monologues," directed by Performance Network's associate artistic director Carla Milarch.

Ensler, who followed Brown and Byrum on the steps, was quick to praise all who came out and the two legislators. "I am so proud of Michigan. I am so proud you came out. You have sheroes here. You have sheroes in your midst."

Ensler is currently rehearsing a new play, "Emotional Creature," at Berkeley Repertory Theater in California and had but a single day off which she spent flying to Michigan for the performance of "The Vagina Monologues."

"I had to be here. Know why? Because these women stood up for our rights...and they were shut down. No one can put the genie back in the bottle. The vaginas are out and we are here to stay," Ensler said.

Monologues ranging from comic to tragic to reflective - but all involving the vagina - were performed by both female legislators and many of the theater industry's most recognized actresses.

Clara Lepard, whose step-mother, Emily Sutton-Smith, was performing a monologue about a Bosnian woman who was assaulted repeatedly in a rape camp, was out supporting the performance because of the speaking ban.

"I think it is ridiculous, and I'm glad to see so many people are out here and making a fuss because it deserves that sort of response," Lepard said.

In an impassioned speech at the end of the "Monologues," Ensler listed all of the things she was over - focusing primarily on the violence against women and those who value the life of a fetus over the life of a woman. She said those who are truly pro-life would have an entirely different attitude toward women.

"You will honor them and even worship their vaginas," she said. "And there is nothing dirty or disgusting about the place that all life comes from. I am over the Michigan state legislature refusing to let Lisa Brown speak because they find the word vagina contemptible or out of bounds or lacking in decorum. My vagina's got decorum."

On the Tuesday following the performance, Byrum said she would be speaking at an Obama rally and that she was fairly certain she would be allowed to say 'vagina' during it.

"In fact," she said, "I think they might be upset if I don't say it. I'm energized and I am so thankful my mom taught me to be an outspoken woman."

The protest drew people of all ages, from toddlers wearing onesies stating "Viva Vagina" and "I'm grateful for my mom's vagina" to veterans of the feminist battles.

"I am so tired of this fight, and I say it is time for the young people to stand up," said Sandra Ducklow, 68, of Waterford. "Where are the Gloria Steinems? Tell me. Bring them on."

Other signs expressed disbelief that this battle was still happening. "I can't believe we still have to deal with this S--T" was a sign carried by a woman dressed in turn-of-the-century emancipation style dress while another sign asked, "Didn't we do this already?"

"It's outrageous," said Kathleen Herrick of Okemos. "We fought this fight, I thought 40 years ago. Why are we here? I'm a mother and a grandmother. I don't want my grandchildren to have to continue to fight this fight."

Sixteen-year-old Roman Collins from Lansing, dressed sharply in a dress shirt and tie and carried a sign saying, "Stop Pussyfooting Around the Word Vagina." After the "Vagina Monologues" were over, he approached Rep. Byrum and asked for her autograph on the sign - a request she said she was flattered to fulfill.

The performers

Those performing the monologues were:

. Introduction - (Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield; Sen. Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing; Rep. Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga)

. Intro - Hair (Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Township)

. Hair (Jan Blixt)

. "Wear and Say" Lists (Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit; Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills; Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, D-Saginaw)

. Intro - The Flood (Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-MI 27th District)

. The Flood (Ruth Crawford)

. The Vagina Workshop (Courtney Jo Dempsey-Burkett, Lynn Lammers, Lindsey Ford)

. Vagina Happy Fact (Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor)

. Intro - Because He Liked To Look At It (Rep. Maureen Stapleton, D-Detroit)

. Because He Liked to Look At It (Jennifer Graham)

. Intro - My Vagina Was My Village (Rana Elmir)

. My Vagina Was My Village (Chelsea Sadler, Emily Sutton-Smith)

. My Angry Vagina (Q'Amara Black, Mary Jo Cuppone, Eva Rosenwald)

. Intro - Reclaiming Cunt (Renee Chelian)

. Reclaiming Cunt (Suzi Regan)

. Intro - The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy (Madison Deadman)

. The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy (Julia Glander, Dana Sutton, Elitza Nicolaou)

. Intro - I Was There In The Room (Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing)

. I Was There In The Room (Sally Pesetsky, Barb Christine, Naz Edwards)

. Over It - (Eve Ensler)

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