A Response to the Vagina Monologues

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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 

4 Comments
  1. Nice post, Tanya! Centering the experience around the vagina also raises the question of inclusion of trans* women who may or may not have chosen (or had the resources) to have gender confirmation surgery. The exclusion of trans* voices from the performance made me a somewhat uncomfortable given feminism’s legacies of forcibly excluding trans* folks from the movement(s).

    1. KYLE! Thank you for this. I could not find the words during the “I am rising section” for what I wanted to say because I wanted to say just that^ and to bring up the script’s exclusion trans*men as well. I wanted to say that there are men who have or have had vaginas too. That the violence they face and the vaginal experiences they have had are also stories and monologues that would be important in a play. The Vagina Monologues were written when most “feminist” discussions were cis*women-only-spaces, but if the this is a feminist discussion about vaginas lets talk about all the different ways that we identify with and experience vag.

      Overall, I loved the play, but it did feel dated at times. Brave actresses, beautifully done, and powerful. I died at the coochie snortcher, the Cunt piece, and the moaner. I was moved and glad that it happened!

  2. Hi Tanya, thanks for your review! I was in the production you saw this weekend (I’m also web editor for Bluestockings) and I wanted to take a moment to respond.

    First of all, thanks for voicing both your support and criticism; I appreciate hearing both sides of your experience.
    Second, I’d like to offer my own reading of the particular monologue you mentioned: It’s true that it is one of the more explicitly sex-related monologues in the show. The way I interpret the piece, though, is that the woman in question learned to love a part of herself in a way that goes much deeper than a sexual context. What’s more, she acknowledges that her story is not “politically correct”, not what her ideal vision of that process would be. Again, though, that’s just my reading.
    Aside from that, I’ll aslo say that we spent a long time thinking and talking as a cast about how to find the right balance of sexual and non-sexual content, because the monologues (which very significantly end with a piece on childbirth, a piece which explicitly states the remarkable ways vaginas work in the world in non-sexual contexts) are about so much more than that.
    Of course, the best test of whether the monologues succeed in their goal is the effect they have on their audience, so your reaction is definitely valid and important. Still, I hope you also came away with a more general feeling of empowerment from the show as a whole.

    Thanks again for reviewing!
    – Danaë

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