Monday, July 13, 2009

The Vagina Monologues: a review

One of the first things I learned when I became interested in feminism was that there was this incredibly important book I absolutely HAD to read. This was, (you guessed it) The Vagina Monologues.
Seeing as The Vagina Monologues is Feminism 101 required reading, and that Athena is a feminist introduction in many ways, I thought these two pieces of literature were compatible enough to be discussed on the same blog.
The Vagina Monologues was written over the course of several years, with new narratives being continously added-on, and published in 1998. In the introduction, playwright Eve Ensler says that she "never outlined the play or consciously shaped it. [She doesn't] really remember how it began: a conversation with an older woman about her vagina; her saying contemptuous things about her genitals that shocked me and got me thinking about what other women thought about their vaginas."
Ensler says that she never "consciously shaped" TVM, and I think this shows in the reading of the play. The narrative is disjointed and would be much more enjoyable when presented in a play, as if you were talking quietly with a friend. Over the course of TVM, Ensler discusses the experiences of a diversity of women, which is one of the most beautiful things about the piece. A woman whose husband hates her pubic hair; an elderly Jewish woman from Queens with an 'embarrassing' reaction to arousal; an English woman learning to masturbate; a black woman from the Southern U.S.A. who was raped when young; a lesbian ex-lawyer who devotes herself to "making vaginas happy"; the story of a birth; and the piece that I found the most affecting of all, a Bosnian woman who was raped and reflects on what her vagina used to feel like.
Ensler asks questions such as: "if your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" and hears responses such as: "a beret; silk stockings; an electrical shock device to keep unwanted strangers away." Again, exercises such as this are ones that I feel are better presented on stage. In plain text on a page, these responses seem abstract, random, meaningless, and sometimes annoying ("ok, let's get to the real story...." I often muttered to myself).
The Vagina Monologues emphasizes the one-ness of woman & vagina. "I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as seperate things," says the ex-lawyer. At times, to be honest, this overwhelming aura of joy in the vagina seems a bit exaggerated to me. I find myself thinking: "yeah, yeah, yeah. Total BS. It doesn't really seem like a 'wondrous world' to me." But maybe this same frustration is the reason I need to read and experience The Vagina Monologues.
I feel that in order to be truly appreciated, The Vagina Monologues needs to be seen on the stage, with an excited, joyous crowd where 400 people can join you while you chant "vagina" over and over again. But I also feel that TVM is not a stand-alone piece. It is the rare individual, I imagine, who will see TVM and suddenly, magically, feel at peace with her vagina. Sure, begin with The Vagina Monologues. But there is much, much more to feminist literature than this.
Have you seen TVM live? Have you read the book and have an opinion? Please share your thoughts!
-Steph :)


  1. I've seen the Vagina Monologues performed once. I like that it openly discusses vaginas and female sexuality in a feminist way (in that it is women owning their sexuality, rather than being objectified sexually. Sexual object unfortunatley still seems to be the leading role for women in plays). However, I would love it if there were more monologues that featured healthy relationships :) --michelle

  2. ditto to what michelle said.

    the only power that women are gaining through objectification is that it ALMOST cancels it out since they are the ones doing it. but it does not negate that there is still women objectification occurring. we need to find a way to include women "owning" their sexuality, but not in an objectification sense. there must be other ways we can empower ourselvses.

    also...i saw them live. LOVED them.