A night of theater can be much more than getting dressed up to watch a Rogers and Hammerstein revival for the umpteenth time. Theater can be a voice for change. It can be a call to action.
Case in point: Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.
Playwright and performance artist Eve Ensler interviewed over 200 women from a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds. Many of them bared their proverbial souls and responded to questions such as:
- What would your vagina say if it could talk?
- If you could dress your vagina, what would it wear?
In 1996, The Vagina Monologues began as a one-woman show, a series of character-driven pieces, almost like poetry, each revealing a different woman’s experience with topics such as: sex, love, tenderness, embarrassment, cruelty, pain, and pleasure. As the show increased in popularity, it began to be performed by an ensemble of actresses. Politically active theaters and college campuses began producing the Monologues, all of which helped to launch a global movement known as V-Day.
What is V-Day?
According to the official V-Day website:
V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls.”Are the Monologues Anti-Male?
Sometimes I ask my college students, “Raise your hand if you are a feminist.” Every time, only one or two students raise their hands. When I ask why, the female students often explain that they “don’t hate men.” Although many would define feminism as “equality for the sexes,” or “the empowerment of women,” it seems sadly that most students that I encounter believe feminism is anti-male.
With that in mind, it is easy to see why many assume that The Vagina Monologue is an angry rant of naughty words and feverish male-bashing. However, after watching the HBO special in addition to reading the monologues, I don’t quite understand why someone would label the show as hateful towards men. Clearly, Ensler is raging against violence and oppression, not the male species.
For further proof that Ensler’s work is “man-friendly,” visit the V-Men Page, a section of the V-Day Website in which male writers and activists speak out against misogynist violence.
There’s also a compelling article about Eve Ensler performing the Monologues for a liberal arts college for men.
Powerful Moments from The Vagina Monologues:
Although I might not be the target audience for this show, I found myself connecting with many of the characters. These were the three most powerful scenes:
The Flood: This monologue, based upon a conversation with a 72-year old woman, combines humorously erotic dream imagery with the pragmatic, worldly views of a tough, outspoken old gal. Picture your elderly great Aunt talking about “down there,” and you’ll get an idea of this monologue’s potential. (During her HBO special, Ensler has great fun with this character.)
My Village Was My Vagina: Absolutely the most haunting of the monologues. This piece is in honor of the thousands of victims from “rape camps” in Bosnia and Kosovo. The monologue alternates between peaceful, rural memories and images of torture and sexual abuse. Powerful, sad, and all-too relevant.
I Was in the Room: This monologue was based upon Ensler’s personal experience as she watched the birth of her grandchild. Arguably the most touching and optimistic of the monologues, this scene captures the joy and mystery of labor, in all its glorious (and graphic) detail.
The Controversial Monologue:
Sure, the whole show is controversial. There’s shock value simply in the title. However, one particular monologue involves two accounts of molestation. The first incident occurs when the character is ten. In that account, she is raped by an adult male. Later on in the monologue, the character describes a sexual experience with an adult woman – and the character/narrator is only sixteen. (In an earlier version of this monologue, the lesbian encounter took place at the age of thirteen, but Ensler decided to adjust the age). This monologue upsets many viewers and critics because it presents a double standard. The first case of molestation is accurately nightmarish, whereas the second case is portrayed as a positive experience.
On the one hand, because Ensler generated her monologues from real-life interviews, I can see why she wanted to display what she learned from her subject. However, considering the mission statement of V-Day, I would not fault directors or performers for omitting (or perhaps revising) that particular monologue.
More of Eve Ensler’s Plays:
Although The Vagina Monologues is her most famous work, Ensler has penned other powerful works for the stage. Here are a few worth checking out:
Necessary Targets: A gripping drama about two American women who journey to Europe in order to help Bosnian women share their tragic stories with the world.
The Treatment: Her most recent work delves into the moral questions or torture, power, and the politics of modern warfare.