Wednesday, February 21, 2007

speaking of vaginas . . .

during a recent conversation, a friend of mine (and member of our intrepid goup!) told me about an email exchange that they'd recently had with a beloved old aunt. the subject of the exchange was the Eve Ensler production titled The Vagina Monologues. i have not yet seen this show but have heard a great deal about it. the main gist, from what I understand, is that a rotation of characters on stage present short vignettes that have to do with womanhood, vaginas, feminism, vaginas, sex, and, of course, vaginas.

my friend (who would like to remain anonymous and thus shall be referred to from here on out as #23) thinks (and I agree!) that there might be some themes, issues, and/or positions within the brief exchange that took place with dear ol' aunty worth discussing and has thus submitted it for your consideration.

AUNTY: You never answered my question back then to say if you had enjoyed it. What did you think of it? The audience here had a few men, but mostly women. A lot of it was very funny, and some very moving. Altogether well done (I read that the playwright, Eve Ensler, originally did all the roles herself!)

#23: ...I saw it with the actress who played Sue Ellen in Dallas. My favorite part was when the narrator was talking about some guy examining her, but talking about how plain he was. Not some guy who listens to Prodigy and eats spicy food, or some guy who blah blah blah.

The reason that was entertaining, is because the entire group I was with, turned and looked at me at that point. This is because I was (and probably still am) known for, both, listening to Prodigy and eating spicy food.

It has been many years since I have seen the play, but from what I remember a lot of the play seemed to vilify men. I do not remember the context [of our conversation], because I am sure I had a point, but right now I would say that it seemed (and this is a gross simplification) fairly sexist...

I maintain an open mind and I can enjoy and learn from other people's view points. But I prefer it, if they are balanced and just. The Monologues did not seem so.

One other story that sticks in memory is [of an] underage girl experiencing her first lesbian encounter with an older woman. She had to be maybe 12 in the story. The older woman was not presented as a pedophile, but she was. Such an upbeat story, I have to wonder if the older person in this story had been a man, would it have been presented in the same
way? Would it be socially acceptable?

One of the definitions of monologue: "a long utterance by one person (especially one that prevents others from participating in the conversation)". I do think it is aptly titled. I would assert that this monologue is concerned with the self, without the consciousness about others and the world around you. It represents a selfish perspective that is a luxury, more frequently of those that cannot break out of molds presented by society, while attempting to appear as "out of the box". It is definitely, "in the box".

Now, like I stated above, I have not yet seen The Vagina Monologues. But some interesting questions came to mind when I read #23's review. In no particular order, they were: to what extent is a certain amount of vilification unavoidable or even necessary in a reclamation project (of one's comfort with or ownership of their own femininity, blackness, sexuality, or what not)? To what extent is The Vagina Monologues a reclamation project (were vaginas co-opted?) versus a celebratory one? If it is celebratory, it would likely have little appeal to men (who have no vagina to celebrate), but what does such a celebration have to do with denigrating men? Should gender matter when it comes to salacious, lude, pornographic, or pedophilic content? Does it anyway (whether it should or not)? The word 'vagina' is in the title and from what I understand there is plenty of (shocking? provocative?) content to go with it - is this play empowering/liberating or is it a series of gimmicky vignettes? I am sure that there are plenty more interesting questions, but you get the idea.

Thanks to #23 for contributing.

1 comment:

amanda said...

to speak for a moment of vaginas . . .

coincidentally, i am currently involved in a production of the vagina monologues. which, of course, means i have a few things to say. my quills are raised.

so, to begin: a factual correction. the girl in the lesbian monologue is not twelve but sixteen. the woman who sleeps with her is 24. to be certain, this is not considered socially acceptable—whether it is between a man and a girl or a woman or girl. surely, surely, nobody would dare contend that lesbian statutory rape is more socially acceptable than your run-of-the-mill heterosexual statutory rape. at the same time, that monologue is definitely presented in a positive light. there is a lot to be gleaned from that.

the monologue under discussion, formally titled "the little coochie-snorcher that could," is one woman's story about what got her through and over the awful ordeal of growing up with abuse, growing up feeling dirty and ashamed of being a woman. about an unlikely experience with an older woman that made her feel good about herself again.

sex is not politically correct. sex is messy and confusing. and perhaps even more so to women, who are afflicted with the madonna/whore complex, at the very least. in many cases, women have a far heavier load to bear with regards to their specifically female experiences—rape, abuse, debilitating embarrassment. there are monologues about female circumcision, rape as a war crime and the crushing mysogeny of afghanistan circa 2001. there is a touching monologue about a woman having her first orgasm at 72. these are real stories. they're interviews, not inventions.

these monologues are not about political correctness. they're not about "girl power" or "man hating." they're experiential and experimental. and hopefully they're the beginning of a dialogue.

in the process of putting this production of the monologues together, i have been excited and encouraged by the conversations that are occuring behind the scenes. women are finally, finally asking where the clitoris actually is. sharing stories, good and bad, feeling a little more free. if you could see the exhilaration on their faces, you too would know that this cannot be bad.

this is a reclamation, of sorts. and certainly, a reclamation is necessary. most girls don't masturbate! they have never really even looked. this isn't an issue of hormones, it's an issue of culture. boys learn that the penis is actually man's best friend. girls learn . . . well, not much. and i'm only speaking of our "liberated" culture. we've come a long way and we have so much farther to go. women may have all the same rights as men do in this country, but they certainly don't have the same sense of sexual freedom.

this is also a celebration. and why not?