Letting their voices be heard

by Cristian Cano | 2/15/17 2:30am

V-February is Dartmouth’s month-long initiative to educate the community about issues related to gender and sexuality, including violence against females, in the month of February. Two of the main events that take place during V-Feb, Voices and Upstaging Stereotypes, are student-written performances that focus on the many complex experiences of femininity and masculinity, respectively, at Dartmouth. The Mirror sat down with a group of students to learn more about the work that goes into creating those performances. Paulina Calcaterra ’19 is the director of Voices; Breanna McHugh ’17 wrote and will perform a piece for Voices; Maanav Jalan ’19 is co-directing Upstaging Stereotypes; and Hannah Solomon ’17 and Jessica King Fredel ’17 are on the directing team for all performances, in addition to working as OPAL student coordinators.

Could you please describe what Voices and Upstaging Stereotypes are for someone who is unfamiliar with the productions?

JKF: Voices is a series of monologues written and performed by self-identifying women in the Dartmouth community. It’s a completely original performance every year and was inspired by The Vagina Monologues, but we felt that we needed an updated version that reflected the Dartmouth community of women as it exists in any given moment.

MJ: Upstaging [Stereotypes] is also a V-Feb performance in which performers explore masculinity and their relationship with it. In past years, it’s only been self-identifying men who have been performing in Upstaging, but this year, because Upstaging has to do with masculinity and not men, we thought we’d have people from all genders speak to their experience with masculinity. It’s something that a person of any gender has to come to terms with and experience in their lives.

Why did you decide to get involved in V-Feb?

HS: For me, it’s about having a conversation that’s necessary and providing a space for people to share their stories and to break out of this idea of what Dartmouth is supposed to be like, because that’s not a real thing.

MJ: I think Upstaging resonated with me because I’m interested in how masculinity functions at Dartmouth and how it can, in many cases, be toxic. I wanted to be a part of that experience but also try to facilitate that process for other people at Dartmouth.

BM: I really liked the experience of connecting with other people and giving a voice to something that maybe would have been missing otherwise. Hearing everyone’s stories and figuring out how my story fits into this wider web of experiences at Dartmouth has been one of the most validating experiences that I’ve ever had.

What are some of the difficulties that you all face in addressing these often-sensitive issues related to gender, masculinity and femininity?

PC: There’s a certain group that’s really interested in going to all the events, and that’s it. Then there’s the people who the messages really should be reaching, who are largely not going to take the time to go to these sort of events. I think it’s hard to not be redundant and to push yourself to get things across to new audiences.

BM: I had a similar experience trying to figure out how to frame my story in a way so that other people would be able to identify with my piece, but also have my piece push them a little bit. Also, in a parallel vein, trying to figure out how to tell my story so that it was effective but still something that I’m comfortable saying in front of conceivably any Dartmouth student or community member.

MJ: I think that trying to find the balance between validating and challenging someone is difficult because we’re dealing with such personal stories here, and you don’t want to police someone’s experience. It’s also hard to curate the show because, inevitably, you’ll be centering some stories over others, and it’s hard to pick and choose.

How has this programing evolved over the years?

JKF: For the ’17s, our freshman year was the first time that Voices had ever happened. It was a scary thing. We didn’t know if anyone was going to try out or perform or come to the show. It was very successful, and people responded very, very well. At this point, V-Feb has taken on a position in Dartmouth where people expect to see it and are excited to see it. It’s grown a lot over the years. I’d say we probably reach more than a fourth to a third of Dartmouth’s community.

If you could change one thing about the current discourse surrounding these topics, what would that be?

BM: I would like to see more people having discourse. As Paulina said earlier, the audience tends to be the same core group of people. I wish that more people felt more comfortable going. I remember one time last year, a male resident of mine said, “I can’t go to The Vagina Monologues. People will think I’m gay.” Listening to women talk about themselves is gay, apparently? It didn’t make sense. I wish that people were a little less shy about engaging, because there are those who shy away because they’re not sure if it’s for them.

PC: I’m tired of making everything appealing and packaging things in a way that’s supposed to reach a wide net. I wish that those groups that are very sensitive to hearing these messages would realize that they’re privileging their own comfort over the actual violence against women that’s trying to be discussed — and that those types of violence are so much worse than someone feeling a little guilty or pressured while they’re having talks about gender. There is a lot of the sense that we want to engage more audiences so we have to reach out and make this palatable, but I’m frustrated with what that means. It means that I’m stooping down to your level instead of you finding the empathy to engage with my experience.

JKF: Just in terms of talking about gender on a college campus, there’s been a lot of attention on a national level about social justice and trigger warnings and privilege. I think it can sometimes become overwhelming or taken to an extreme that I think is difficult to grapple with — where do we stop? But it is, more than ever, important to be engaging in topics of gender and violence.

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.