So you want to talk about Vaginas...
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Updated: Sunday, January 31, 2010 12:01
Promiscuous sex. Prostitution. Vulgarity. How do any of these stop the violence?
Confused? So am I.
Let me back up. I attended the Political Science Department-sponsored production of the Vagina Monologues last Thursday night. There were some great messages and noble goals conveyed: violence against anyone, especially women, is awful-particularly sexual violence such as rape and genital mutilation. Women should not feel inherently dirty about their sexuality. Women around the world should not be second-class citizens. Birth is a beautiful event. Uplifting stories of any kind are heart-warming.
And you know what? It was entertaining. That's right. It was funny. I laughed. Even as I found myself chanting "vagina" or "cunt" with 200 others, it was still entertainment, and even educational. On the whole, it was well performed, produced, and acted.
Yet, it was entertaining in an indulgent, I-want-to-talk-about-sex way. Among the monologues making strong, righteous stands were monologues depicting masturbation, promiscuous sex, and prostitution, including a live portrayal of multiple orgasms and the variety of female moans that go along with sex. It was entertaining, but entertaining in a female "Man Show" sort of way. Call it the "Woman Show," but with political tangents. Maybe Eve Ensler should call Comedy Central.
Given all this, it is understandable that the College administration was reluctant to allow the production. Homosexuality, prostitution (they are called "sex workers"), vulgarity (apparently, vaginas only "talk" about sex and "Angry Vagina[s]" want to see "coming, happy vaginas"), promiscuous sex (sex was never once portrayed as an act of love), and masturbation were not only portrayed, but they were also glorified. It would have been reasonable for a Catholic college to refuse the use of its facilities for a production promoting values contrary to its own. In fact, it is surprising they did not.
Misplaced indignation must have won. Many claimed that the school was conservative as usual, not wanting to contemplate orgasms or vaginas. When the Political Science Department signed on to sponsor the production early this semester, some, including The Cowl, rejoiced in the department's sheltering wing of "academic freedom."
Still, what about the Vagina Monologues is particularly academic or political? Christine Tangel's introduction presented the monologues as a feminist-rallying cry. However, strip the monologues down to what is supposed to be distinctly feminist. Opposition to violence against women is common across ideologies and religions in 2002-hardly revolutionary. So, the feminist aspect of the monologues is a fascination with and the entertainment of female sexuality.
The conclusion of a sex scene in "The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could" depicts a 24-year-old woman teaching a 16-year-old girl (changed from a statutory-rape-eligible 13 years old in the book) how to masturbate so she will "never need to rely on a man." In "The Vagina Workshop," women are taught how to find their clitoris and masturbate. The subject of the monologue discovers that her clitoris "was me, the essence of me."
So feminism is now reduced to sexual organs and describing the most primary, biological differences between "boys and girls." What a shame. The Vagina Monologues is not all feminism. Yet, the play still makes a claim on feminism with its introduction and calling a short skirt "the liberation flag in the women's army." And Gloria Steinem, feminist leader of the last 30-plus years makes a claim on the monologues: "It's the journey of truth telling we've been on for the past three decades."
Supposedly, the vulgarity and other questionable aspects of the monologues are needed for "the message." As we were repeatedly told last Thursday, the vagina is not vulgar. So if the questionable material is not inherent in the subject matter, maybe it is present for popular appeal. In other words, this extraneous vulgarity is needed to convey "the message." If this is the case, then Ensler underestimates humanity; we can appreciate and act on great causes without appealing to our common love of cheap humor.
If you want to talk about sex and vaginas, fine. Just realize it is not such a big deal. Sex talk is in vogue. "The Man Show" and American Pie (and other movies of its genre) have realized commercial success. The Vagina Monologues is doing quite well as an HBO special and a stage production. But do not try to legitimize sex talk and make it righteous, disguising it as feminism. Reducing the power and beauty of women to their vaginas is not empowering. The show conveys great and noble goals, but the Vagina Monologues travels an unnecessarily rocky road to get there.