"At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman," Erin Murphy, a student on the Theatre Board, wrote in a campus-wide email.
"Gender is a wide and varied experience," Murphy continued, "one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive."
Don't expect me to cry a river. We already know that I hate the word vagina, and I've always thought The Vagina Monologues was stupid and tacky. I mean... how much do you expect me to care about a show whose most famous scene is this one:
Admittedly, I've never seen the play -- but that is very intentional. Based on what I've read, heard, and seen on youtube, The Vagina Monologues sounds completely disempowering. As philosopher, feminist, and author of Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women Christina H. Sommers said at a conference in 2004,
I have so many objections to the play it is hard to know where to start. I’ll limit myself to three. 1) It is atrociously written. 2) It is viciously anti-male; and 3) and, most importantly, it claims to empower women, when in fact it makes us seem desperate and pathetic.
First, a few words about the writing. Ensler begins each monologue with a description of the themes she wishes to develop. Here she is, for example, introducing a montage of voices on the theme of -- that time of the month.
"I interviewed many women about menstruation. There was a choral thing that began to occur, a kind of wild collective song. Women echoed each other. I let the voices bleed into one another. I got lost in the bleeding." (The Vagina Monologues, New York: Random House, 2001, p.33)
Not the subtlest of metaphors.
Another monologue concerns a woman who says she discovered her true self when she looked at her vagina in a mirror during a “vagina workshop.” Here are some excerpts:
"My vagina amazed me. I couldn’t speak when it came my turn in the workshop. I was speechless. I had awakened to what the woman who ran the workshop called 'vaginal wonder.'” P.46
"It was better than the Grand Canyon, ancient and full of grace...It made me laugh...It was the morning." P.46
"The woman who ran the workshop told me my clitoris was not something I could lose. It was me, the essence of me. It was both the doorbell to my house and the house itself. I didn’t have to find it. I had to be it. Be it. Be my clitoris." P.49
And my personal favorite:
"My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny. I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me." P.50
If you're really so excited to define yourself by your genitals... how are you any different from the whole oppressive patriarchy that has discounted the value of your brain and passions and goals because of your genitals?
Her lecture continued,
The Vagina Monologues features a rogues’ gallery of male brutes, sadists, child-molesters, genital mutilators, gang rapists and vile little boys. It is a poisonously anti-male play. When I wrote something to this effect in a critical op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ensler wrote a letter in response:
"What [Sommers] conveniently left out was Bob, the man who has an entire monologue dedicated to him. Bob transformed one woman’s vagina and subsequently her feelings about herself." (Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2000, sec. A., p. 19.)
Ah yes, Bob. That’s absolutely right. I did neglect to mention Bob in my article. So let’s take a moment to talk about him right now. Here is how he is described in the monologue:
"Bob was the most ordinary man I ever met. He was thin and tall and nondescript and wore khaki clothes. Bob did not like spicy foods or listen to Prodigy. He had no interest in sexy lingerie. In the summer, he spent time in the shade...He wasn't very funny or articulate or mysterious...I didn’t particularly like Bob." p.55
OK, nothing very positive so far. Right? But wait:
"Turned out that Bob loved vaginas. He was a connoisseur. He loved the way they felt, the way they tasted, the way they smelled, but most importantly he loved the way they looked...He stayed looking for almost an hour as if he were studying a map, observing the moon, staring into my eyes, but it was my vagina. . . I began to swell, began to feel proud." pp.56-57
Okay, cool. But remember that time Kathryn Stockett wrote The Help, and then they made a movie about it, and everyone started writing critical articles about the "white savior trope"?
This is the exact wrong approach to loving yourself and having a fulfilling sex life. As I wrote in The Orgasm Gap Is Real - But Don't Blame it on the Patriarchy, it is your responsibility to make sure you are getting what you want out of your sex life. Likewise, it is your responsibility to #ChooseBeautiful and embrace yourself. If your confidence comes from a man, it will only last as long as he does.
Beyond this, I can't speak to the anti-maleness of Ensler's play. But I can say that it is harmful to the feminist cause and female psyche to paint all males (except Bob) in a negative light.
So then there's Sommers' third point:
The latest published edition of The Monologues includes letters from excited students describing V-Day. Mary from Michigan State University tells how the rehearsal room for the play was next to a history conference:
“I think they were a little shocked to hear Crista screaming ‘CUNT, CUNT!! SAY IT! SAY IT! CUNT, CUNT!! Say it! Say it!’ . . . And when I did the triple surprise orgasm moan, well, let’s just say they heard that loud and clear too!” p.154
Here is Tyler from Cornell University:
“I loved how I felt being part of a movement that empowers women...Because of the College Initiative, I said VAGINA at least a dozen times a day for two months and I was able to reclaim the word. Thank you, Eve!” p.158
Now I hope you’ll join in me in asking: what exactly is it that makes this play empowering? Is it the freedom to obsess over one’s intimate anatomy? The freedom to say the v- or c-word over and over again? This is ludicrous. Men did not become powerful in this world by gathering in stadiums shouting out vulgar four-letter words... You don’t hear of men gathering in little workshops taking turns looking at their private parts in mirrors. Men who did that would be ridiculed -- not valorized...
One of the many laudable goals of the original women's movement was its rejection of the idea that women are reducible to their anatomy. Our bodies are not our selves. Feminist pioneers like Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth fought long and hard so women would be respected -- not for their sexual anatomy-- but for their minds. The struggle for women’s rights was a battle for political and educational equality.
I feel sorry for young women who consider themselves empowered because they have said the word “vagina” over and over again. I am sorry for girls who consider V-Day to be the high point of their college career. Some high point! College is the one period in your life when you can immerse yourself in the works of transcendent genius. It is a time to develop yourself by studying biology or astronomy or economics -- or learning Latin, or reading the history of philosophy. If you want to see genuine female empowerment, look at the work of Nobel Laureates such as Barbara McClintock and Rita Levi-Montalcini. Or, to mention my personal favorites, look at the astonishing achievements of two of the greatest field biologists of the 20th Century –- both women: Diane Fosse and Jane Goodall.
So my heart won't be broken by seeing it go bye-bye.
Nevertheless, I find the decision made by Mount Holyoke students to be ridiculous. Take a chill pill, people. The name of the show isn't The Woman Monologues. It's The Vagina Monologues. Eve Ensler never said you have to have a vagina to be a woman! She has always welcomed trans people to perform and modify her play. Moreover, in her own words:
Inclusion doesn’t come from refusing to acknowledge our distinctive experiences, and trying to erase them, in an attempt to pretend they do not exist. Inclusion comes from listening to our differences, and honoring the right of everyone to talk about their reality, free from oppression and bigotry and silencing. That’s real inclusion — to listen to different stories, with curiosity, and love, and respect, in all their particular and distinctive human individuality.
Want to know more? Check out:
- "Intersectionality" is the OPPOSITE of Feminism
- The Stanford Kink Club Has the Healthiest Sex On Campus - Here's Why
- Dear Confused Dude: If You Had to Grab Her By the Back of the Head And Force Your Faces Together, it Didn't Count as a Kiss
- When Did Colleges Become Preschools? Why It's Time to Stop Bitching About the Yale Email
- The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Gif All Women Need to See ASAP