Monday, February 05, 2007

The Absence of the Vagina Monologues

For the first time since I arrived at Yale in 2003, no group of students will perform the Vagina Monologues during V-Week. It is an unfortunate oversight, to be sure. When Even Ensler first presented the Monologues in 1996, they were truly revolutionary, and as such, deserve our respect. The Vagina Monologues gave us a vocabulary to discuss our vaginas, and a forum to recognize our shared experiences and fears.

That being said, however, the Vagina Monologues make me uneasy, and I have always been apprehensive about sharing my sentiments publicly. Indeed, I have been complicit in perpetuating the problem I have with how we discuss the Vagina Monologues--which is that I find in self-proclaimed feminist circles the Vagina Monologues often stagnates rather than promotes dialogue. Talking about vaginas is important, no doubt, and the Vagina Monologues occupy a critical space, giving the voiceless a voice, the uncomfortable comfort.

I am not sure, though, that I want to talk about my vagina in the same way that men praise their penises. I should certainly have the opportunity and the social freedom to shout and rant about my vagina until I'm blue in the face without shame or condemnation; however, without more sophisticated, dialogue surrounding cultural manifestations of sexuality, it simplifies complex issues.

I worry that in conversations I have had after watching the monologues, both here and elsewhere, that many women tacitly accept that the male ideal of sexuality and seek to emulate it rather than change it. Indeed, I feel similarly about issues surrounding work and family: the acceptance of the male ideal of work to the detriment of family is not an inherent good.

I want to acknowledge the passing of a year at Yale without the Vagina Monologues, without an important tribute to a watershed moment of the intersection of theater, activism, and feminism, with great sadness. My criticism is, perhaps, more about the rhetoric surrounding the monologues rather than about some intrinsic quality of the monologues themselves. In the next week, however, when women the world over are reclaiming cunt, orgasming on stage and lamenting about the gynocologist, maybe we can all try to envision incarnations of sexuality that empower us. The Vagina Monologues should open discussion rather than close it.


estv said...

basha - some points; first much respect to introducing a nuanced critique of the monlogues...
although i want to 1. question why praising our vaginas, sites that have been dismembered from an affirmatve female experience, should be regarded as masculine, as the way men praise or have written odes to/erected monuments of their phallus (plural?). mainly i'd like to steer away from the presumption that praising the female organ should be seen as emulating the masculine, assuming that there is something male about praising/honoring.
however, i absolutely agree with you on the stifled nature of the discourse that surrounds the vagina monologues, having done one every i've been here - the response has often been reactionary, leaving little room for a more in-depth critique about patriarchy and feminism, mainly because an easily-digestable binary is set up with women good and patriarchy (that oh-so-nebulous villain) bad. but then again, the monologues were clearly written to be a totally, engulfing self-affirmative piece, a "we're here and we're not going anywhere" performance. the problem is that feminist discourse has moved beyond that simple affirmaton of existence and has rightly started problematizing it's own past presumptions as history necessitates as well as combating misogny on the new frontiers that it appears, which are not those that it were in the 70s, 80s though some continue to exist.
it becomes too easy for the oppositionary to reduce us to a caricature they themselves have painted of feminism.
so the NEW demands of feminism request that there be a judith butler or audre lorde of the playwrighting world. someone who artistically and publically calls for a reclamation of the female body, but in a way that demands the audience face the complexities of feminism, without giving some ready-made answer for who and how we are.

but then again, judith butler isn't as readily consumer-friendly as eve ensler and the vagina monologues have proven to be.

is it the inevitable (not to mention unenviable) fate of feminist discourse to be reduced for mass consumption?
i hope not.


Basha said...

I don't think the idea of praising our vaginas is inherently male; rather, it is the centrality of our genitalia to our definition of womanhood, or personhood, for that matter, that makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps it is also an element of biological determinism that makes me wary: I don't want my vagina to define who I am. Does that clarify my point? As I made clear, or I hope I made clear, in my post, the Vagina Monologues continue, and should continue, to occupy an important role in feminist discourse. However, as you say, the vaginas-are-wonderful-patriarchy-sucks mantra, after a certain point of recognition and acceptance, breeds stagnation rather than change.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Bash

I consider myself to be a radical feminist. And, I agree with you, Basha. I went to a Vagina Monologues play and half way through I walked out. Any mention of serious matters of homelessness, statistics on honor killings, and other oppressions of women, etc...., even the mention of patriarchy, were extremely drawfed by the exagerated use by actresses of the word "vagina" and the excitement of saying it aloud and in so many different ways, "cunt" "hochi cochi" etc...--- as if this is something liberating. Maybe I would find it liberating if I were a femininst woman living in the 1950's era when times where repressive under McCarthy.

Then, the "Moaner" skit glamourized women used in prostitution, by use of the term, "sex worker" and this "sex worker" talking about how liberating her life in sex work is more rewarding than working as a lawyer, deminshing the honor and integrity of being lawyer. The 3rd waver's or post-modernist 3rd wave feminists align themselves with patriarchal ideology in their attempt to glamorize women used in prostitution when they use the term "sex worker" to describe women and children used in prostitution, extremely undermining the harms done to women (and children as with "child sex worker") and the harmful situations that cause women and children to end up in prositution in the first place. Prostitution glamourized, just the way the patriarchy wants it. This is not being judgemental of me. The 3rd wave, post modernist feminists would also like to think that they are objective by use of the term "sex worker". Which is a crock of shit. Post Modernists are no more objective about reality. Also, they use the term "sex worker" as if they, the ones using the term, are "sex positive", and the 2nd wave feminists are sex negative. That is obfuscation if I have ever heard. The right wingers also like to pull this type of obfuscation when they argue that any person on the left of them is being doctrinaire, whereas, they are so-called free from doctrine.

Also, regarding the skit "Little Coochi Snorcher that Could" when the actress talked about her experience when she was a 16 year girl old being solicited for sex by a 21 year old women, now if the 21 year old woman were a 21 year old were a man, in my book, the solicitation for sex would be sexual assault, even if the legal age was 16. But, the 16 year old was depicted as having a liberating experience versus any recognition of feeling used and discarded by the 21 year old woman in power, after the 21 year old didn't show up in her life anymore without any mention of why.

Again, I agree with you that after hearing the vagina mantra's on and on, gets to a certain point that breeds stagnation, becomes passe. I feel like the Vagina Monologues tries to reduce women down to a vagina. My message to myself is that, I am a human being -- a human being with a healthy body and mind. I am not a vagina.

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This was a great first night!!
Yeah there was the usual hiccups and slight nervousness; we worried that the audience might not get it (we are doing it in English and sticking to the original script); it wasn’t completely sold out; it’s pretty controversial and all that… but, to be completely honest… we rocked!!

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