March 15, 2011
Vagina. There are many euphemisms for it, but after seeing The Vagina Monologues performed this weekend in the Carl J. Shapiro Theater, I’ve learned a few more to add to my vocabulary. Eighteen monologues were performed in all–some as solo pieces and some in groups of two or more. The actors didn’t simply stand on stage and recite, as I had first thought they would. Each monologue was more like a performance art piece. There was dancing, movement, screams and whispers. Each performance had a different feel to it and exposed a different way that women view themselves and their vaginas.
There were stories of losing virginities, of women changing themselves for men, of learning to orgasm, of lesbian experiences, of domination and even of transgendered women who didn’t always have vaginas. There were also stories of birth, rape, abuse and fear. A common theme among the stories was that many women don’t actually like their vaginas. They’re hidden, they’re ugly and they aren’t talked about much. That was one of the reasons The Vagina Monologues was created: to teach women to understand and appreciate a thing that is so inherent about themselves and yet so often overlooked.
The Vagina Monologues was written by Eve Ensler to “celebrate the vagina” and premiered off-Broadway in 1996. Since then, individual monologues have been added and removed. The play also inspired the creation of the V-Day Movement, which works to stop violence against women and campaigns for pro-female legislature. The monologues are based on testimony from over 200 women Ensler interviewed before she wrote the play. These women were of various races, ages, professions and lifestyles, and the resulting monologues are thus extremely diverse in viewpoint and content.
This performance, sponsored by the Vagina Club, opened with a monologue by director Asa Bhuiyan ’11 and coordinator Ashni Davé ’12. The first speech, also performed by Bhuiyan, concerned a woman named Myriam, a Haitian women’s rights activist who died in the earthquake last year. Each season Ensler adds one new speech to The Vagina Monologues, usually about an issue currently facing women. This year, Myriam was honored in the show as a woman who worked to change legislature in her country and made it a safer, better and more equal place for females.
After the opening, the full cast of nearly 30 women appeared to introduce the show. Each character described what their vagina would wear and what it would say, if given the chance. These characterizations were often funny, sometimes sad and definitely relatable. The audience was predominately women, though individual men were sprinkled here and there. After all, this is a show about women learning to love their lady parts for themselves, not for any further end. Men weren’t the focus.
What impressed me most about this performance of the Monologues was how comprehensive it was. Women of all colors, body types and backgrounds appeared on stage together. What they created was remarkable; the show was inspiring. The individual monologues were funny or painful, depending on the subject, but as a single play they created an almost euphoric appreciation for women and a desire to love our bodies and ourselves. These were stories of women taking back what belonged to them, shaking off what advertisers, mothers and general society had taught them. Instead, they embraced what made them women.
Living on a liberal campus, we forget that women aren’t always respected and seen equally. Beyond outright abuse or intolerance, women are still controlled by the ideas of what others think they should be and how they should act. Too many females give in to these static definitions of beauty and femininity, often willingly or because they don’t know there are any other options.
The Vagina Monologues encourages women to look inside themselves and find what it is that gives them pleasure and happiness without reliance on anyone else. Hopefully the women in the audience have been inspired enough to try it for themselves.