The Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues is an Obie Award-winning episodic play written by Eve Ensler which ran at the off-Broadway Westside Theatre after a limited run at HERE Arts Center in 1996. Ensler originally starred in the production, playing all the various women who share their views about their vaginas with the audience; when she left the play it was recast with three celebrity monologists. The production has been staged internationally, and a television version featuring Ensler was produced by cable TV channel HBO.
The Vagina Monologues is made up of a varying number of monologues read by a varying number of women (initially, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring three actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role). Every monologue somehow relates to the vagina, be it through sex, love, rape, menstruation, mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the variety of names for the vagina, or simply as a physical aspect of the female body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality. Some monologues include:
I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me: a chorus describing many young women's and girls' first menstrual period.
My Angry Vagina, in which a woman humorously rants about injustices wrought against the vagina, such as tampons, douches, and the tools used by OB/GYNs
My Vagina Was My Village, a monologue compiled from the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to rape camps.
The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could, in which a woman recalls memories of traumatic sexual experiences in her childhood and a self-described "positive healing" sexual experience in her adolescent years with an older woman. In the original version, she is 13, but later versions would change her age to 16. This particular skit has sparked numerous controversies and criticisms due to its content (see below).
The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy, in which a dominatrix for women discusses the intriguing details of her career and her love of giving women pleasure. In several performances it often comes at the end of the play, literally climaxing with a vocal demonstration of a "triple orgasm."
Because He Liked to Look At It, in which a woman describes how she came to love her vagina because of a sexual experience with a man who was in awe of vaginas.
I Was There In The Room, a monologue in which Eve Ensler describes the birth of her granddaughter.
Every year a new monologue is added to highlight a current issue affecting women around the world. The monologue is performed at thousands of local V-Day benefit productions of the play that take place annually in February and March raising funds for local groups, shelters, crisis centers working to end violence against women. In 2003, for example, Ensler wrote a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. This Monologue is known as "Under the Burqa."
Eve Ensler wrote the first draft of the monologues in 1996 (there have been several revisions since) following interviews she conducted with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals. In an interview with women.com, Ensler said that her fascination with vaginas began because of "growing up in a violent society." "Women's empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality." She also stated, "I'm obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas."
Ensler wrote the piece to "celebrate the vagina," which is described in one monologue as being superior to the penis because it contains the clitoris, which the monologues describe as the only body part in existence that has the sole purpose of giving pleasure. Ensler sees the vagina as being a tool of empowerment through which women can achieve total femininity and individuality. She claims inspiration for the piece came from Tina Turner: "I love Tina Turner. She's a woman who fully inhabits her vagina." Ensler states that in 1998, the purpose of the piece changed from a celebration of vaginas and femininity to a movement to stop violence against women.
The play first opened at HERE Arts Center in New York City on October 3, 1996 with a limited run than ran through November. The play gained popularity through a word of mouth campaign that culminated with a performance at Madison Square Garden in 2001, which featured Melissa Etheridge and Whoopi Goldberg performing segments of the play.
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Main article: V-Day
V-Day logo.The Vagina Monologues are the cornerstone of the V-Day movement, whose participants stage benefit performances of the show worldwide each year between February 1st and March 8th (International Women's Day. The first V-Day benefit took place on Valentine's Day 1998 and many of the local benefits are held on Valentine's Day. The "V" in V-Day stands for Valentine, Vagina, and Victory, linking love and respect for women to ending violence against women and girls. The proceeds from these performances go to programs that work to end violence against women and girls, including crisis centers and women's shelters.
On February 21. 2004, Eve Ensler in conjunction with Jane Fonda and Deep Stealth Productions produced and directed a new series of transgender monologues read by eighteen notable trans women, which documented the experiences of Transgender persons. It debuted in connection with "LA V-DAY until the Violence Stops" with moving monologues documenting the violence against Transgenders. The dialogue entitled "They Beat the Girl out of my Boy or so They Tried" was most moving and representative. Since that debut the Women's' Centers of many universities and colleges have added these three TG monologues to the original production. It is called The Transgender Vagina Monologues and may still be produced with permission except at Catholic Colleges.
Camille Paglia has criticized V-Day as "turning Valentine's Day, the one holiday celebrating romantic harmony between the sexes, into a grisly memento mori of violence against women".
Following the success of Eve Elsner's The Vagina Monologues many "penis parodies" began appearing at colleges and playhouses around the nation. While these imitations have generally been less popular, many have proven no less creative or, for that matter, controversial. Notable examples of such parodies include: The University of Puget Sound’s annual CockTales, The Beckett Theater’s production of Robert Watt’s The Penis Monologues, John W. Mader’s 7(M) film series The Penis Monologues, Boston University’s The Penis Monologues, Roger Williams University's "The Penis Monologues," and Ithaca College's The Penis Soliloquies.
Criticism of The Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues has been criticized by a number of people in the pro-sex feminist, gender egalitarian, and individualist feminist movements. Pro-sex feminist Betty Dodson, author of several books about female sexuality, saw the play as having a negative and restrictive view of sexuality and an anti-male bias. She called the play a blast of hatred at men and heterosexuality. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy shared many of Dodson's views.
Elements of the play critics find contentious include:
the amount of attention given to brutal sexual encounters compared with consensual or harmonious sexual encounters;
negative portrayal of male-female sexual relationships;
In "The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could", a lesbian encounter between a very young woman (13 originally, 16 in revised versions) and a mature woman uses the line: "If it was rape, it was good rape." This section has been excised from recent performances. Warnings have been issued by the copyright holder that using the line "It was good rape" could lead to legal action. The scene also mentions the older woman giving alcohol to the underage girl. Many have criticized this for portraying statutory rape in a positive light.
Social conservative criticism
The play has also been criticized by social conservatives, such as the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property and the Network of enlightened Women. The TFP denounced it as "a piece replete with sexual encounters, lust, graphic descriptions of masturbation and lesbian behavior", urging students and parents to protest. Following TFP and other protests, performances were canceled at sixteen Catholic colleges. Recently, Saint Louis University made the decision not to endorse the 2007 production, claiming the yearly event was getting to be "redundant." The response of the university's student-led feminist organization was to continue the production at an off-campus location.
in: Vagina Monologues