I went to see Brown’s production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues last Friday night. First staged in 1996, the episodic play originates from over 200 interviews Ensler conducted with women from all over the world. Part of the V-Day Campaign, The Vagina Monologues is now performed on college campuses across the nation to raise funds for organizations working to combat sexual violence against women. Each monologue focuses upon a particular theme of the “feminine experience,” including sex, birth, female genital mutilation, masturbation, orgasm, rape, and birth.
It was my first time seeing the show, and I haven’t really been able to stop thinking about it since Friday. On the whole, I found the performances inspiring and admired the courage of my peers to put themselves out there in such a raw, vulnerable fashion. Watching the monologues, I experienced a range of emotions from joy to sadness, from laughter to fuck yeah. I deeply believe in the grassroots sharing of women’s stories that the play grounds itself upon. After all, the women’s liberation movement of the late ‘60s and ‘70s was in part inspired by groups of women coming together to voice their personal experiences of oppression and disempowerment.
However, an internal discomfort clawed at me as I watched the play. I couldn’t figure out the origins of this discomfort then, or at least I didn’t possess the words to verbalize it. However, after multiple conversations and lapses of paper-writing procrastination this weekend, I realized what was bothering me. The Vagina Monolgues centers upon the use of vagina as a tool for sexual empowerment. I have nothing against women’s sexual empowerment. In a world where women’s bodies are constantly objectified, demeaned, and appropriated, women must fight to assume control of their own bodies. However, I often feel like when we talk about women’s empowerment, we tend to solely focus on sexual empowerment. The international Slutwalk movement, which seeks to reinvent the word “slut” as a vehicle to empower women and to stop victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence, is another more recent example of this trend. When we focus the entire discourse of women’s liberation on the body, we simplify the range of oppressive forces women face as well as reinforce the idea that a woman’s selfhood and her body can be equated as the same.
The monologue “Because he liked to look at it” particularly got to me. Bob, “a connoisseur of vaginas,” tells the protagonist that he needs to see her vagina. His explanation: “I have to see you,” as if her whole self is contained within that one body part.
I find myself saying “But I’m more than just my vagina.” I’m a student, a dedicated friend, a helpless klutz and a lover of spontaneous dance parties. My professional ambitions and personal aspirations reach far beyond my reproductive organs.
–Tanya Singh, Features Editor