Women’s societal roles have varied since the old days up until the present. Even if their achievements go back a long way, society didn’t start recognizing women pioneers and their contributions until the modern era. In celebration of National Women’s Month, Play! turns the spotlight on different women of different strengths. See them roll up their sleeves, man up, and do their share of work in shaping a better society by breaking conformity and the boundaries of standardized beauty.
VAGINA.Blurt it out casually in a conversation and much to your chagrin, there’d be awkward glances or a cringe. But that’s barely tapping the surface of the real issue. The bigger picture comprises of rape, incest, female genital mutilation, battery, sexual slavery. Sarah Mae Enclona-Henderson, producer, director, and mother of two, picked her weapon of choice—the power of words. The goal: Make communities a safe place for women and girls.
Director of “The Vagina Monologues” and organizer of V-Day Cebu, Sarah was the first to bring TVM to Cebu back in 2001 and became the V-Day worldwide campaign Cebu organizer. Last Feb. 26, at Radisson Blu Cebu, 30 women uttered the “V-word” on stage as a protest against violence toward women and girls. They were the Vagina Warriors. TVM aims to educate people of the harsh conditions women face, and spread the message of respect, equality, dignity and freedom for all.
This is also to raise funds for Bidlisiw Foundation, a local organization that helps marginalized womenand children build a better future.
The V-movement is moving at a rapid pace throughout the world and will only come to a halt when young girls can sleep at night peacefully, when women no longer have to look at their back in dark corners and isolated alleys, when violence ends, and when V could also strongly stand for Victory. (BHQ)
When did you realize that you wanted to be a producer and director? Is this related to your advocacy for women’s rights, being a voice for them?
I have always been in love with theater, that’s one. But I only realized that I enjoyed directing when I did our theater production back in STC (Saint Theresa’s College). I was taking mass communication, and one of the courses was theater production, so I directed an originally written play which happens to tackle abuse and exploitation. It was a collaborative effort with my classmates. It’s something close to my heart —activism, feminism, and issues that are socially relevant. While doing theater in STC, I saw the importance of choosing topics that are relevant and also materials, plays, musicals that depict reality. When I was introduced to “The Vagina Monologues,” Iknew that women’s issues are something I’d like to promote. For one, I am a woman; and second, I have friends who shared to me stories about all sorts of abuses. And I could say that as a woman, I also encounter these so-called abuses every single day.
Body shaming, for instance. When you are in a room where a majority are men, they think that it’s easy for them to talk to you in a manner that is sexually suggestive, very disrespectful and all that. So I’m using theater to advocate my causes—feminism and children’s rights.
Is this an anti-men sentiment?
I cannot hate men. I love my father and I have two brothers. Also, I have a husband who is very supportive, has allowed me to do all the many things I’m into. He has respected my person, my needs, my wants, my dreams, my choice of career, and my choice of life. He understands that
I’m doing this because I’d like to help other women stand up on their own… not necessarily to be alone… that you have a support group of other women who will make you realize your worth, help you be economically independent, to follow your dreams, pursue a career and all that.
On having brothers —how was it growing with them?
Being the eldest, I’m very domineering. I am used to being the boss, so I probably bullied them, bossed them around. Luckily, my brothers are very
loving, and they support me. They are there to make me feel better when I’m down, and they also defend me.
With your background in journalism— what do you think of way media today handles issues with regard to women?
They are a lot of things to work on. I feel so disappointed, frustrated, and sometimes angry when I listen to male
radio commentators making fun of rape. I don’t understand how an intelligent, supposedly ethical and reputable journalist would actually make fun of something like rape or to call women names on air. Come on, people are listening to you, you are very influential, and whatever you say is taken as gospel truth. So we have a lot of working to do. Partly education and we need to push for journalistic ethics. There was an issue where someone was
supposed to be a victim of rape… Would a woman really want to admit that she was raped? There are consequences, like they’ll say she’s just seeking attention. Who would want that kind of attention? With social media now where reactionsare almost instant, I am disgusted at how some people think it’s actually the victim’s fault for being abused. Back in 2001, I thought that after 15 years we wouldn’t need to perform TVM anymore, that the message would be obsolete and behind the times. Well, it doesn’t look that way. Our work is not done.
How do you instill these values to your two daughters other than setting a good example?
It starts at home. My daughters see that my husband is not the boss, that we are equal partners. We are mutual in making decisions. Actually, you don’t have to exert too much effort when it comes naturally. If there’s respect between you and your partner, you are creating an environment that is healthy for your children, and this will be their ideal when dealing with others.
How do you gather all these personalities for TVM?
The first time I brought “The Vagina Monologues” here in Cebu, it was a commercial production.
I produced it, and sold tickets for the idea of just having a production. Of course, the story alone promotes women issues, however, it was more
focused on the artistry, on the performance.
But V-day is more focused on the advocacy, on the cause. So, I had a lot of help because at that time, for a 21-year-old to be organizing an event, I
was limited to peers or to people who were introduced to me by friends. Let’s just say I am with very good friends. It was simply a call or a visit to women here who are considered influential. If they say no then it’s okay, but amazingly, there were a lot of women who said yes to us and they enjoyed it.
You strike us as someone very vocal and opinionated. Is there another side of you that you want the public to know, aside from being an activist and a feminist?
I don’t really know if people consider me as an activist, I think they think of me more as a theater person. But I am just someone who pursues what I like to do, like “The Vagina Monologues.” Then again, if there is something that people don’t know about me, it’s that I have been through a lot. The seven years I have been away… it’s a really huge learning experience for me to be away from my comfort zone.
Was this the time that you were in France?
Yes, I lived in France for seven years. In France, I gave birth, and I had to learn a new language. I experienced rejection so many times from people who were not helpfulto me by speaking English. I had no choice but to catch up. I had a hard time expressing myself. At the same time, I also realized the importance of silence, to feel the pain of not being able to express oneself. During the first half, I lived in Paris, which was very busy; and in the second half, I stayed at the countryside, where I probably started to enjoy the silence, being anonymous, not worrying about what other people
have to say. I never thought that I’d be coming back and have this life.
So the experience changed you?
Of course. It turned me intoa nobody in the sense that no one understood me, and I also became a mother for the first time. Later, I went through a
divorce and then I learnedto trust love again and find someone else, who is nowmy second husband. I realized that I can teach theater
again to children who don’t understand English, that I am starting to be understood by my speech, my language,
my French. I learned to be more open, less judgmental, accepting and tolerant. I have accepted the fact that people will have their own opinion,
will say things that sometimes are hurtful and it’s up to you how to take it, to be calm and in control.
Will you keep staging TVM here in Cebu ?
We will only stop when the violence ends. When we can be sure that you’d be walking on the street safe, when your children will not have to worry being attacked at the workplace or in public areas, when you feel secure. That means we have achieved our goal. Meanwhile , we will continue doing our part, to show that as women, we have rights and we have choices. Like all humans we want to live in an environment that is free from prejudice and violence.