I first saw The Vagina Monologues in 1998. One of my sisters bought tickets for the women in the family while I was back east for a visit from California. We trundled off to Manhattan to see playwright Eve Ensler perform her one-woman show at an off-Broadway theater. It was a stunning celebration of things down there, one that stunned my then 70-something mother into silence, which was a first and, perhaps, a function of her Depression era Southern upbringing. The rest of us cheered all the way home. The play was, as the title indicates, a lot of talk about vaginas. Or, more accurately, about vulvas, labia and clitorises, pubic hair and orgasms, and the grand diversity of women and girls who possess them — with varying degrees of familiarity.
For research, Ensler interviewed more than 200 women of all ages, orientations, races and ethnicities. She described her methods in a 2000 interview about the play, “I first started with friends, and they would say, ‘You should really talk to so-and-so.’ It was like this great vagina trail I got sucked into.” And Ensler followed the trail all the way to its fountainhead, so to speak, and then translated her research into a performance piece that informs, engages the audience in a potentially transformational experience, and establishes a platform for social action.
Vaginas are really something, eh?
I saw the play again in Beverly Hills in 2000, performed by Teri Hatcher, Sally Kellerman and Regina Taylor. They were fabulous, and Hatcher delivered a riveting rendition of what repeat audience members refer to as the orgasm monologue, in which the actor performs the great diversity of moans that climactic women generate, from the “Grace Slick moan (a rock-singing sound)” and “the WASP moan (no sound)” to “the uninhibited militant bisexual moan (deep, aggressive pounding sound).” After the performance, Hatcher introduced her father, who ’lowed as how he was so proud.
That man is clearly a vagina lover.
I saw the play again this past weekend. Now, I admit I’m a theater snob. Despite having been a community theater bit player in my youth, today I avoid amateur performances — unless I can smuggle in a flask. But the Women’s Studies Student Association at Cal State San Marcos was presenting The Vagina Monologues in recognition of V-Day, a global movement co-founded by Ensler to end violence against women and children. And because I’ve come to love many of the student performers, I decided to go cheer them on.
They moaned the snob right out of my vagina.
Oh, there wasn’t a Theda Bara among them. Some stumbled on the occasional line. A few stumbled across the stage in their way-high heels. But they did not stumble in their performance, a performance dedicated to their mothers and grandmothers, sisters and friends, to the women who’ve mentored them, to the survivors of violence against women and girls, to all the vaginas out there. With their passion, the students honored the women Ensler first interviewed for her play: the woman who survived a Bosnian rape camp, where she was invaded by a rifle, bottles, sticks; the 72-year-old woman, who, after being interviewed for the play, launched into therapy and discovered her vagina for the first time — and then her clitoris, weeping at the revelation; the woman who learned to love her vagina because Bob liked to look at it; the woman who remembered that at age 12 her “coochi snorcher [was] a very bad place, a place of pain, nastiness, punching, invasion, and blood”; “the woman who liked to make vaginas happy”; the woman whose “vagina’s furious and it needs to talk.”
I came home from the students’ performance and re-read the monologues, the women’s stories, and then I re-read the weeks’ news, and then I wondered: If our vaginas are strong enough to survive rifles and sticks, punches and pain, ignorance and invasion, then our vaginas are strong enough to topple the parochial men who would withhold birth control from us, the wealthy men who think good girls avoid pregnancy by holding an aspirin between their knees, the privileged politicians who abuse their power to deny women theirs, the men who wage war on women.* Right?
Our vaginas are more powerful than those penises!
Our vaginas and our penis allies are strong enough to make these guys knock it off. We can challenge them at work, at social gatherings and at religious services when they spout their anti-woman rhetoric. We can call them on their crappola in letters to the editor and blog posts. We can topple them at the polls.
Tell them you love your vagina; show them you only vote for candidates who love it, too. That’s vagina power — use yours today!
* If no others, check out this link from MoveOn.org.
GOP War on Women’s Health Care graphic from ThinkProgress.org.