“We were worried about vaginas.”
Two weeks ago, I performed in my campus production of The Vagina Monologues. It was an incredible experience.
“My vagina’s angry. It is. It’s pissed off. My vagina’s furious and it needs to talk. It needs to talk about all this shit.”
Some people might call it a problematic experience, because the play by Eve Ensler is by no means uncontroversial. It’s been denounced by conservatives (of course). It’s been denounced by liberals. It’s been criticized by feminists, for what it is and what it is not, for who it represents and who it does not, for how it represents women and how it doesn’t. People have said it leaves out trans* women, that it shoves lesbians to the side, that it sidelines minorities, that it perpetuates stereotypes. It portrays heterosexual sex as violent. It whitewashes feminism. It reduces women to a single body part. It portrays Third World women only negatively. It’s been blasted for being exclusive, ethnocentric, colonialist, racist, classist, misogynist — anything you can think of, someone’s probably said it.
“I realize later she was my surprising, unexpected and politically incorrect salvation.”
These are all decent criticisms. They all have their place. Some of them have been addressed, and I hope that as the years go on, Eve Ensler will continue to modify her piece to address more of them.
“In the United States, each year, about two hundred thousand women are raped, which is another kind of war. “
Many people have criticized the piece. Yet not one person has written anything better, that the mainstream has yet to experience. The Vagina Monologues, as flawed and problematic as it is, is the best device we have so far. In terms of building awareness, combating domestic violence, and empowering women, it succeeds. It does what it sets out to do — it opens the door for new conversations.
“If your vagina could talk, what would it say?”
Year after year, it is produced on stages and in classrooms, by professionals and amateurs. And year after year, new audiences walk out of theaters talking — talking about the laughs, the horrors, the violence, the sorrows, the shock value — talking about vaginas. Nothing else has done this — no show, no movie, no book — nothing else has brought the female “down-there” so out into the open. Every year it’s seen by new audiences, and every year, that audience grows larger. That audience laughs at the things a vagina would say, sympathizes with the plight of vaginal exams, thinks about their slang, and learns of the violence against women all over the world.
“I am rising because I am tired of being afraid to walk home wearing a skirt.”
And you know what? However flawed the play is, the world needs it. The fact that there is nothing better says something. The fact that the play is banned from some campuses says something. The fact that certain buildings on my campus don’t allow us to put up flyers because they feature the word vagina says something. It means that The Vagina Monologues still has a place, and a role, a powerful mission to accomplish in this world.
“I had never really seen the thing. It had never occurred to me to look at it.”
It had a role for me, as well. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I was like the woman in “The Vagina Workshop.” Before I saw the play for the first time a few years ago, I hadn’t seen my vagina either. I mean, how could you, without knowing the mirror trick? And yeah, there was so much secrecy surrounding it. I’m pretty sure most of the conversations that referenced my vagina involved my period. The rest were about sex. And most of them didn’t actually use the word “vagina.”
“This was the key, I see now; moaning was the thing that ultimately seduced me and got me addicted to making women happy.”
Now, I not only said the word vagina several times in front of an audience, I also shouted the word cunt. I portrayed a trans* woman. I moaned. I learned the One Billion Rising dance, and somehow became the dance captain. I wore more makeup than I’ve worn in years. I not only made my peace with the color pink, but wore a flamingo-pink dress. I got to know 24 other wonderful, courageous women. I watched them grow, and realized that I had grown as well.
“You know, actually, you’re the first person I ever told about this, and I feel a little better.”
In other words, I was empowered.
Reader submission by Laura Koroski