I spent the month of May producing and acting in Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues at my school. The Vagina Monologues is comprised of about nine monologues – all written by Eve Ensler and inspired by her interviews with hundreds of women in which she covers themes of domestic violence, systematic rape, stigmas on the female body, relationships, orgasms, and menstruation, among others. Before I went to bed that night, I had ordered a copy of the script on Amazon. The following morning, I asked my school’s theatre director how to obtain production rights.
One might question why I was so gung-ho about producing a show all about vaginas. My mom, for example, wasn’t completely sold on the idea until she came to opening night of the show; granted, the very first monologue she flipped to when I handed her a copy of the script a month ago was “Reclaiming Cunt.” Definitely not a beginner’s monologue, if you know what I mean. My 95-year-old grandmother, a retired women’s health specialist, surprisingly also disapproved of my proposal. She told me that the monologues overemphasized the vagina as a defining element of the female body. “The vagina is important,” she assured me, “but what about a woman’s brain or heart? A woman should not be defined by her vagina or her pursuit for sexual pleasure.”
I didn’t agree. She viewed the show as fighting societal stereotypes about the female body, while I saw it as redefining what we perceive of women’s sexuality entirely, not even responding to stereotypes. I saw it as a means of empowering women to embrace every part of themselves, especially a highly stigmatized part and, thus, one that many women have attempted to dissociate from the beauty and power they feel about their bodies. Ensler, in my opinion, doesn’t encourage women to be sexual creatures but instead to regard their sexuality with pride and confidence, as something that is just as much a part of them as their brain and that is perfectly acceptable to embrace, accentuate, and explore.
I closed the show a few weeks ago, after two performances. For our opening night, I invited only audience members who identified as women. This hunch turned out to be pure gold, especially for my monologue at the end in which I played a sex worker and concluded the show with a rousing cascade of orgasmic moans. We received a standing ovation! Teachers, parents, and classmates emailed me afterward to tell me how much they laughed and cried and learned. My mother and grandmother revoked their qualms about the show and told me I should take the show on the road. But I was ever aware that the next performance presented a new, more daunting challenge: men.
Back in January, I would have explained my enthusiasm for The Vagina Monologues as a means for me to (a) conveniently and entertainingly combine my foremost personal interests: theatre and women’s issues and (b) to raise awareness about stigmas on the female body and sexual violence against women. Only now that the show is over have I realized that I also achieved another very important goal, if not the most important one: I started a conversation about sexual assault between ALL genders.
The message I wanted to communicate to my audience was that this show and its messages about sexual violence against women is just as much about men as it is about women – a message that was taken willingly, seriously, and impactfully by the audience of our second performance. I remember the moment I first stepped on stage, horrified that half of the audience would be too uncomfortable or self-conscious to laugh at all of the vagina references. But I stood corrected. Underlying all the laughter was a surreal sense of intense listening. Everyone in the audience was actively trying to understand what the monologues were about and how they personally identified with them.
I think many people learned that men have just as much responsibility as their women counterparts to overcome the epidemic of sexual violence.
To claim that this is a women’s issue and not a men’s issue is to be appallingly ignorant. A quick look at a few statistics proves that college sexual assault, for example, is very much a men’s issue. According to the documentary The Hunting Ground, released in February 2015, less than 8% of men in college commit more than 90% of sexual assaults. That means there are roughly 92% of college-aged men out there who can be educated, empowered, and encouraged to stand up with women against perpetrators of sexual assault. We just have to make them feel included in the dialogue!
It’s all about starting conversations like those sparked by The Vagina Monologues. I’m grateful to all of the fathers and sons and brothers who came to watch their daughters and sisters and friends perform in the show, and to all of the men in the audience who laughed and cried and learned alongside the women in the audience. It is their bravery and their voices, not just mine or any woman’s, that will help to eradicate the epidemic of sexual violence against women.
This week’s guest author is a 2016 graduate of Westridge School in Pasadena. She worked with Esteem as an intern for part of the last year and is heading off to Stanford University in the fall. I feel hopeful for our future with young feminists like Grace making a difference in the world! – LaurenShare this: