January 22, 2005


Just trying to do my part to... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

You have by now probably heard of The Vagina Monologues, a performance written and originated by Eve Ensler, that has grown and morphed and blossomed into something of a phenomenon. I first heard of the show when it was performed at Brown, in what had to be one of the very first off-Broadway productions thereof. I didn't go, then.

Tonight, the Prairie Players put on The Vagina Monologues, or rather, The V Monologues, title edited so as not to offend delicate Galesbourgeois sensibilities. The redaction seemed irritating when I first heard about it, because it seemed like the producers must not have gotten the point as I understood it; indeed, the opening monologue, spoken in the voice of Eve Ensler herself, makes disparaging reference to the fact that a lot of publicity amends the name. Having now seen it, I'm completely baffled. The people in the show clearly understood the point, and I have no idea who it was that edited the title. Perhaps the venue (Cherry Street Biergarten) insisted. I guess I should inquire.

Anyway, I showed up about ten minutes before showtime, and asked if there were still tickets available. They sold me one, but when I walked into the Biergarten it was packed. Chairs were crammed in edgewise, some behind the bar; I managed to find a spot in the bleacher seating way in the back, that hadn't been taken because it straddled two bleacher sections; sitting on my coat made it moderately comfortable, as much as bleacher seating can be, anyway. It turned out to be a fabulous seat, actually, because there was an aisle directly in front of me, and I had a totally unobstructed view of the stage. Looking around, there appeared to be no more than ten men in the room (and all of them besides me seemed clearly attached to a nearby woman); there appeared to be at least 200 women, though, of all ages. Like I said, packed.

It was a little hard to get into the intro monologue at first, because it is told in the voice of the author and as if she were the only one performing the monologues. (I understand the original production was a one-woman show.) The lighting was poor and didn't cover certain parts of the stage, so she (and later, the other women) occasionally wandered out of the light. But these minor issues aside, the rest of the monologues began, and it was... entrancing.

I sort of knew already that women didn't look at their vaginas. There are certainly a number of places in pop culture where we hear about hand-mirror-wielding women instructed to take a look; usually it's in a somewhat pejorative context, or at least carries a connotation of "silly thing that is being done for some flaky new-age therapy group". So the thought was out there.

Still, it had never really registered. That there are women out there who have never even once seen their own genitalia. That there are a lot of women out there who have never seen their own genitalia. Possibly even a majority of them. (Almost certainly, if you consider women internationally.) What a crazy, completely foreign concept.

And the extent to which the very idea of a vagina is hidden away in society: it's something that becomes totally obvious as you see the show, and perhaps just on simple reflection. Why? I don't just mean that you don't see vaginas discussed on talk shows; I mean that vaginas aren't talked about at all. Penises and testicles get considerably more airtime, in one guise or another. No vaginas, though. Jon Stewart says "pussy" nearly every night on the Daily Show, but that word in that context is pretty decoupled from anything anatomical. (On the other hand, I'm now wondering if that word shouldn't be just as déclassé as "gay" as in "This assignment is so gay", given that "gay" gets exactly the same excuses I just gave for "pussy". Hmm.)

I think my favourite of the monologues was "My angry vagina". It was really funny, but made some really good points. I think that, being male, I can be excused for not thinking about tampons much, but really, why don't they lubricate them for easy application? I can only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to shove a dry stick of cotton into a vagina, but my imagination is conjuring up something pretty damn uncomfortable. And to do that several times a day for a week?

What really made my day on the angry vagina monologue, though, was hearing the little old ladies laughing riotously at the characterisation of the "cold duck lips". With-it guys like me have, at best, some vague notion of the use and purpose of this tool in an annual gynecological exam; it was obvious that every woman in the room, of any age, knew precisely what she was talking about. Our society is so stratified by age, especially when it comes to attitudes about anything even remotely related to sex, that we expect (say) a 25-year-old woman to have a reaction more similar to a 25-year-old guy than to a 75-year-old woman when something involving vaginas and/or penises is being discussed. So it was kind of cool (and, frankly, just a bit disconcerting) to see the lines drawn the other way.

One of the goals of this show is to educate people, men and women, about vaginas. It's unfortunate that so few men are willing to go; they may find the subject matter intimidating, but I really think it'd benefit them. On the other hand, there was an old guy seated right in front of me who was really damn annoying; he kept saying things at odd times and laughing at the points you would expect a, say, junior-high-age boy to giggle. But, still, maybe this 70-year-old man progressed from "7th grade boy" to the level of maturity that I'd expect from, oh, an eighth grader. It's progress... and at least he was there.

Another major goal is just to get people to talk about them without making "vagina" sound like a dirty word. Actually using it helps: vagina vagina vagina. Maybe throw a cunt in there for good measure. I'm actually already finding it easier to type than it was at the beginning of this post. I don't have quite as much of a personal connection as women do, and I'm not reclaiming a word for a part of me; but I'm happy to do my part to contribute to making it easier for every woman trying to reclaim the word for herself.

Vagina vagina vagina!

"Schweitzer's display of independence worked, and red Montana, like red Wyoming, red Arizona and red Kansas, installed a blue leader, thus turning his state purple -- a color the Eastern analysts seem blind to, but which Westerners recognize as the color of sagebrush and, as the song says, of mountain majesties (whatever those are)." --Walter Kirn

Posted by blahedo at 10:14pm on 22 Jan 2005
I know you don't run in GodBlog circles, but The Feminarian is putting together a kind of Christian Vagina Monologues. She's already posted a few of the stories--they're at the top of her blog right now. Posted by Chris Tessone at 4:00pm on 23 Jan 2005
The one problem that I have with the whole thing is that most of the time they say vagina, they are talking about a vulva. Maybe that is why it was the V monologues. Too much to hope for I guess. It does really bother me that people say vagina to mean the whole of a woman's genitilia, almost as much as it does when people use terms like pussy to meal all of a woman and then use that as an insult. In the showing I went to there were a few more men there. One was a giggler. One shouted "WHORE" and "BITCH" and other innappropriate things at key moments to do his best to not let the play be heard or taken seriously. Posted by lee at 8:23am on 24 Jan 2005
Hi Don - I found your opinion of the Vagina monologues interesting and provocative, having never thought about how little men probably think about these things. Still, the Vagina monologues bother me, as a woman, a lot, for a couple reasons. One, I think they do exactly what they criticize men for doing, i.e. reducing the sum total of a woman to her genitalia. "Taking it back" is not the same thing as recognizing that sexuality is an integral and integrated part of a human being, but in the context of a body that can run and jump and think and act, etc. Also, from a medical perspecive . . . female pelvic exams are not particularly more uncomfortable than properly done testicular exams, although men frequently refuse them. Also, if you need a tampon, it's already lubricated for you. And if it had other lubrication, it would probably be unable to absorb the blood it's supposed to absorb. Just some medical advice . . . Posted by Theresa at 10:30am on 24 Jan 2005

Too bad about the obnoxious guys, Lee. Didn't somebody ask them to leave? I'd think that by about the second outburst it'd be time to call security.

The vulva/vagina thing was covered in the intro monologue: basically, although not technically covering the whole region, it's the best word that doesn't carry a lot of extra baggage along with it. It seems like a reasonable compromise---it's a word everybody knows, is nearly accurate, and doesn't have specific connotations.

And, of course I'm not going to argue that any female-specific thing is or is not uncomfortable; I'm obviously a little underqualified for that. What most amazed me about all of it was how much of it was stuff I hadn't really thought about much before, despite considering myself relatively well-informed. Good to have the counterpoint on the record here, though.

Posted by blahedo at 11:52am on 24 Jan 2005
Well, the play I saw was riveting and I was not going to miss out by leaving to call security. I have heard of women who put a little lube on the tip of the tampon to ease insertion. The blunt cardboard looks harsh, but usually there is enough flow coming out to lube the tampon going in. However, they can pinch as the sections of the telescope are pressed into each other and that hurts. Posted by lee at 4:48pm on 24 Jan 2005
Fascinating. Posted by blahedo at 5:47pm on 24 Jan 2005
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