Speaking Out Over Silence: V-Day Addresses Violence Against Women

by EMILY CENTER, Contributor

“My silence speaks.”

The end of the night’s last poem hung in the air as applause slowly began to take over Hayden 100. Actors in this year’s V-Day production, My Silence Speaks, left the production in a single file line of black clothing and without any closing remarks.

The absence of finality left an uneasy audience deliberating and celebrating the powerful words of the night. Even with actors dressed in black, love and hope filled the room while the Manhattan College Players stated that they would not be silent in the face of violence against women.

Valentine’s Day “is about spreading love,” said performer Katie Doyle. “It is about spreading love to women, spreading love to survivors, spreading love to people in the LGBTQ community, and more.”

Manhattan College students spread this love on Friday, Feb. 23, as they performed pieces written by members of the Manhattan College community, as well as a selection of monologues, poems, and speeches from outside sources.

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Carolyn Flannery performed in this year’s V-Day production, which took place on Friday, Feb. 23, in Hayden 100. ROSE BRENNAN / THE QUADRANGLE

“You kind of have this moment where it is bigger than just the cast. You have the split second when you think, ‘I need to do this piece justice’,” said Doyle of the moments before her performance. “It hits you that people are really listening and then you just do it.”

Doyle performed “In Memory of Immette”, a dark poem about one woman’s reaction to the rape and murder of an NYU student. While not everyone stops showering in fear of being attacked at any moment, as author Periel Aschenbrand did, the topic was still something that hits close to home for many Manhattan College students.

Doyle and other women at Manhattan College understand the terrors described at the end of the poem all too well; the terrors of walking home alone at night and seeing a man on the other side of the street only to be scared for their lives.

Groups around the world put on productions of different feminist works every February that raise money and awareness to support the fight against violence toward women and girls. Manhattan College has long participated in the global movement, with this year’s V-Day donations going to the Concourse House home for women and children.

“This year we want people to think about how we define violence, and we would like to speak to every facet of violence that we can” said co-director Siobhán Noonan. She stood up before the event to stress that while everyone attending knows rape is not okay, many types of violence against women exist beyond it. These include emotional abuse, gaslighting, political violence, and war.

The production went on to address issues of rape, sexuality, domestic abuse, self-image, self-defense, stereotypes, emotional abuse, abortion and more. Bridget McEvoy’s reading of “I Think She Was A She” directly addressed abortion, an issue never discussed in the show previously, according to Noonan.

Students on a Catholic campus reap many benefits of religious influence, such as Manhattan College’s supportive Lasallian community, and the many resources such as the Office of Student Life, Title IX, Health Services, and Women and Gender Studies program. In terms of sex education, however, Noonan feels that “sometimes that open dialogue can be stifled.”

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Olivia Haveron (left) and Erin Murphy (right) performed in Friday’s show, for which the proceeds went to the Concourse House home for women and children. ROSE BRENNAN / THE QUADRANGLE

Students recently came to Professor Jordan Pascoe, concerned that “a specifically Lasallian institution ought to be thinking about gender-based violence.” This inspired her to become involved in women’s issues on campus, and is one reason she was excited about a V-Day event she believes “creates awareness around the cultures of silence that allow gender and sexual violence to remain normalized parts of our culture.”

“It’s important to talk about uncomfortable things because that’s how change is brought about,” insisted Noonan’s fellow co-director, Isabel Quiñones. People do not often look into other’s stories, and therefore never know what other people are going through. Quiñones suggested that “V-Day is a great space to talk about things we normally don’t.”

“Well, my friend raped her, what will I do now?” read Joel Sanson, from an anonymous Manhattan College submission, “Interstate 78.” Sanson acted out an uncomfortable discussion between friends about a personal experience with violence, continuing on to read the friend’s response of, “I will protect others.”

Pieces such as “Interstate 78” were especially powerful because they were written by Manhattan College students and performed by the author’s peers, or even sometimes the author themselves. After auditioning and being assigned a piece, actors practiced every night in the week leading up to the event to ensure they did the powerful poems justice.

“Theatre is a powerful tool that can transform lives. V-Day is the perfect example of that,” said Martin Marchitto, professor of the Visual and Performing Arts and supporter of the event. On the night of Manhattan College’s own student-directed V-Day, theatre was a powerful tool for solidarity, and a tool to speak out on a topic that is so often surrounded by silence.