I Stand For Ending Violence Against Women


In honor of Women’s History Month, the Observer spoke to the president of ISIS (In Strength I Stand), a women’s empowerment group at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC), and proud member of the Vagina Vigilantes, Rebecca Gehman, FCLC ’12. We asked her about the Vagina Vigilantes and ISIS, why the two groups are not the same and what the groups plan on doing in the future.

The members of ISIS are trying to provide a forum for furthering a dialogue about sexual violence. (Kyle Morrison/The Observer)

The Observer: Tell us a little bit about ISIS.

Rebecca Gehman: Our main goal is to have fun while lining up the history of feminism with what’s actually happening right now. But more importantly, we try to provide an outlet where students can talk about rape and sexual violence without politics or judgment.

Observer: What have been some of the events you have held?

R.G.: One of our biggest events that we do is “Take Back the Night,” a rally to end violence against women. We invite survivors and students to share their stories and we have performances. Each year we get a bigger and bigger turn out. Recently, we had an event called “Hot or Hostile,” which was led by Professor Margaret Schwartz, a [communication and media studies] professor and the advisor for ISIS. We talked about Rihanna and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” music video, and took everyone’s opinion on it. It sparked a debate on sexual and domestic violence in relationships.

Observer: What inspired you to join ISIS?

R.G.: As seniors in high school, we had to tell an inspiring story, a story where we learned something, to the freshmen. Some students told stories about drinking, some talked about not studying enough, but one of my best friends, who was very close to me, shared that she had been molested. The school didn’t let her tell her story. They didn’t want to hear it because it was not “appropriate.” Then when I came to Fordham, one of the board members shared her story about being molested. It made the statistic that globally, one in three women are raped each year, real. It was happening to my friends around me and I hadn’t been exposed to this until I was older. I was heartbroken.

Observer:What can you tell us about the “Vagina Monologues?”

R.G.:“Vagina Monologues,” according to Student Affairs, cannot be produced by a student club because they feel it is an “improper” way to talk about women’s bodies and an “improper” way to talk about sexual violence. However, as individuals, we have free range. It’s a double-edged sword because if we’re not actually recognized as a student club under Student Affairs, we don’t get funding. “Vagina Monologues” is therefore sponsored by the Women’s Studies [Program] and is produced by the Vagina Vigilantes. “Vagina Monologues” aren’t fiction; they’re based on women’s real experiences. You can’t censor someone’s experience to make it politically correct.

Observer: How successful have the “Vagina Monologues” been?

R.G.:We raised over $2,525 last year and the play was produced on only $200, which was given to us from academic departments. We had 300 students, faculty and guests attend the three shows. 90 percent of the profits from the “Vagina Monologues” this year will go to the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS), which houses girls in NYC who have been forced into prostitution, and 10 percent goes to the VDAY organization.

Last year, at the end of the performance, our director asked for anyone who has been sexually violated to please stand up and 10 percent of the audience stood up. Then, she asked the audience to stand up if they knew someone who had been sexually violated and the entire room stood up. There is an obvious support and need for something like “Vagina Monologues.” The bad part is that counseling services, res-life and administration aren’t allowed to come to the play [because they’re all a part of Student Affairs]. We’re talking about these sensitive issues and counseling services can’t be there? To me that is a dangerous situation.

Observer: Tell us about the Vagina Vigilantes blog.

R.G.: Vrebels.blogspot.com is run by the Vagina Vigilantes, not ISIS. We are [writing as] individual students, [not as representatives of the club]. There are always restrictions and regulations [with] what we can say in public and we wanted an outlet where we could say whatever we wanted, so we started a blog. The whole V-Rebels movement says to Student Affairs that if you don’t want to recognize us, we’re going to capitalize off of that and make ourselves anonymous. The blog is a satire, wild and ridiculous. We’re not trying to be conservative; we’re trying to say the reality of how things are. We’re not just about creating shock; we’re trying to show why the “Vagina Monologues” are so important. The play provides a path where people can have a discussion about real issues, issues that are not always so black and white. If we can’t talk about the word vagina and we can’t talk about sex, then how are we supposed to talk about rape?

Observer: What goals does ISIS have for the future?

R.G.: Right now there’s a group at Rose Hill that was started by Caroline Egan called SAFER (Students Active at Fordham for Ending Rape). We have little to no services for rape victims in FCLC, so our ultimate goal is to have these services here, and we hope to do that step-by-step in the years to come.