The backstage at the City Theatre on March 1st, 2006 wasn’t filled with actresses as usual, but Icelandic parliamentarians performing in the Vagina Monologues. Like other actresses, the MPs sat and rehearsed their lines, some smoked cigarettes, some tried to figure out how the coffee machine worked and the rest worried about whether or not they’d have to go to the bathroom during their performance. When asked whether or not they were nervous, one of them replied: “No. Not until I see the President in the audience.”
The world’s first Vagina-friendly President and Honorary Vagina Warrior, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, was in fact among the audience, as always on V-day since it became an annual event in Iceland. The “congractresses,” as they were called backstage, were greeted with warmth and applause when they walked onstage. Dressed in white and red, they delivered stories of women who love other women, women who refuse to shave “down there”, women who have been raped and women who discovered their vaginas when they were well into their thirties.
All the performers did well, resting comfortably in their text and delivering it with sincerity under the guidance of María Ellingsen, director. But this performance wasn’t about Oscar-winning acting skills. It was about the issue at hand, about violence against women and how to make it stop. Afterwards, the V-day organisation in Iceland premiered a television commercial from their upcoming campaign attacking misconceptions about rape.
In today’s political landscape, women are still vastly outnumbered by men–even the word for minister in Icelandic, ráðherra, contains the word herra, which means gentleman or sir. Iceland has twelve ministries, only three of which are headed by women, or 25%. For some reason, none of these three women could participate in V-day 2006. The Minister of Education, the Minister of Trade and Industry, and the Minister of Environmental Affairs were all said to be abroad and unable to participate, which was a disappointment.
Apart from the absence of female ministers, V-day 2006 was a unique success. Parliamentarians have likely never before shouted out the word ‘cunt’ and faked multiple orgasms in front of a full auditorium, including the president, anywhere else in the world. It was a powerful reminder and hopefully a precedent for other countries, where the Vagina Monologues are still frowned upon.
Having seen the former Minister of Environmental Affairs say that she’d like to be licked and the former mayor of Reykjavík describe a gang rape in Bosnia, we might be getting closer to breaking the wall of silence surrounding women’s issues.