Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” celebrated its 15th anniversary on Valentine’s Day. I saw it with three women from different generations: a young woman in her early 20’s (a personal trainer/reflexologist); another woman whom I’d guess to be in her mid-30’s (a playwright and actor) and her 82 year old mother.
After the show we unanimously said, “I want to see that again.” The power of listening to the stories had shed a layer of dead skin to allow for the intake of fresh breath that satisfied a dry soul. The monologues ranged from happy discoveries to sorrowful mourning about femininity and the power of the vagina: its symbolism and its physical attributes.
The monologues is an anthology of interviews of women from different backgrounds. The interviewees were asked such questions like, “What would it wear?” “What would it say?”. These brought about the most passionate and whimsical answers. There is not any whimsy in giving a voice to a part of a woman’s anatomy that houses her wisdom and her power. About a quarter of the audience were men. I think everyone walked away with relief (and not from waiting for the show to finish), but with hearts more open and joyful.
The opening monologue describes how the word vagina in itself sounds unappealing to the ears, like the grating of a fingernail across the chalkboard. “Vagina,” spoken without emotion. “Vagina”, spoken as a question. “Vagina,” spoken with demand. It sounds more like a disease or a medical instrument. “Pass me the vagina.”
Then the story telling began. There was the story of a young woman who was raped by a family friend when she was 10 years old. After many years of being ashamed of her body she was awakened to the beauty of her sexuality by another woman who showed her how to love herself and her body. She was 16 years old when the healing began. Another story was from an elderly woman. She recalled her first date with a boy who was “a real catch”, the term used back in her day. She described his passionate kiss that surprised and shocked her. It caused her body to create a “flood” on the bench seat of his brand new Belair. He said it smelled like sour milk, unlike his changed mood. He drove her home in silence and this silence she carried to heart. She locked up her heart, never to allow for ecstasy to flood her being, except for glimpses of bliss with fantasies of Burt Reynolds. But always, her fantasies ended with Burt leaving her at the table of a fancy restaurant in Atlantic City, because she created a flood embarrassment in front of his peers, Sammy Davis Jr. and the other boys of the brat pack. She accused Eve Ensler, “What’s a woman like you going around interviewing old women about that thing down there?” The down there she also called “the cellar”. She acquiesced with a a confession that she did feel better, as she’d never told anyone about that.
I’ve watched myself change over the years in my acceptance of myself and the world around me. I’m grateful that I can still change. I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic environment. A school bus picked me up to attend a private all girls Catholic schools where nuns taught and ruled my 6 to 8 hours of tutelage. Another bus took me home, and just before 6pm my mother rounded up the household to recite the Angelus at 6:00 pm on the dot. (I always wanted to know why at 6 pm and not 3 am when we’re all suppose to be in bed fast asleep.) Worse yet, the rosary would ensue, and the drone of the Hail Marys and Our Fathers would put me into a trance that would rock me from my kneeling position to sit on my haunches. That would be offensive to God, I thought, so I’d kneel back up. The only real break from the inane boredom would be the announcement of a new mystery that varied based on the day of the week. I liked Sundays which comprised of the Glorious Mysteries.
All that background told, I guess my figurative rape was that of my mind and soul. There was the systematic indoctrination of the “Roman Empire” mentality (a reference from the book “The Heroine’s Journey” by Murdoch.) The word vagina was dirty in the culture I was brought up in. When I got older after experienced a little more of the outside world and being married I was bold enough to talk about my sexuality with my mother. She would get annoyed with me. She couldn’t control me anymore, but she could still choose to ignore me or shut me down by not responding to my questions or my musings. She’d say things like, “Why do you have to talk about those things?” Well, why not? We’re only talking. What’s the harm of speaking your thoughts? or did the priest tell you it’s a sin to express your feelings or to question authority?
When I got home from the play I met a neighbor while walking the dog. I told her I saw the Vagina Monologues. The reaction was shock that she could barely hide. The word vagina offended her, I think. I know she’s a religious woman. To soften the blow I said, “I know the word Vagina is harsh to some people.” She nodded and seemingly swallowed back something, I don’t know, “an idea” or “an opinion”. “It was really good,” I said and tried to explain what the play was about. But she was not really interested and we moved on to other less intense topics.
Not too far along the block I met another two neighbors. (I know a lot of people on my block because of my dog. They often ask about her.) They’re a couple of lesbians. I said, ‘Hey, I saw the Vagina Monologues tonight. It was really good.” I expected they would be more tolerant or excited to know more about it. But no. They either didn’t hear me or chose to ignore what I said. One of them said, “I can’t do anything for the next couple of weeks.” She said she has laryngitis. Her partner blurted out, “She’s going for an operation to get her gall bladder yanked out.” Ms. Laryngitis exclaimed in a normal tone, “I would’ve told her if I wanted her to know.” “Well she’s getting her gall bladder out,” the other said. Wow, I thought… Not even a reaction to the Vagina Monologues. Oh well, I’m probably zoned in on a thought while others are in their own worlds. Perfectly normal. This is life.
What I’ve learned from that exchange is that I had made a very embarrassing assumption that I was unaware I had been holding within. What I’m about to expose is a shocking revelation to me. I was nonchalantly thinking that lesbians are feminists. Conversely I ask myself consciously do I believe that feminists are lesbians? This is not logical. Men can be feminists too. In “The Heroine’s Journey”, Murdoch explains that the words feminine and masculine are not gender specific. They are qualities innate in both genders. I knew that but I was not conscious of it.
“The only way a woman can heal this imbalance within herself is to bring the light of consciousness into the darkness. She must be willing to face and name her shadow tyrant and let it go. This requires a conscious sacrifice of mindless attachments to ego power, financial gain and hypnotic, passive living. It takes courage, compassion, humility and time. The challenge of the heroine is not one of conquest but one of acceptance, of accepting her nameless, unloved parts that have become tyrannical because she has left them unchecked. We can’t go through life blindly. We have to examine all of the conflicting part of ourselves… The challenge according to Edward Whitmont, requires “the strength to sustain awareness and teh suffering of conflict and to be able to surrender oneself to it.” It is the job of the heroine to enlighten the world by loving it – starting with herself.” – Excerpt from “The Heroine’s Journey” by Maureen Murdoch.
I seriously laugh at myself for my square thinking, sometimes. (I mean I hope my square mentality is a rare occurrence, and I welcome any opportunity to blast it away.) I am shedding old skin that is being singed as its exposed to white heat. Some of that “Roman Empire” mentality had absorbed through a layer of skin and I wore it, like a floating film on the surface of a water that made my view of the world murky.
After the show I asked one of the actors how being part of the Vagina Monologues had affected her. I said, “It is more than just acting a part in a play. It’s participating in a movement.” She paused and her face lit up, “yeah, it’s really surprised me how it’s transformed me as an artist.” She explained that she is more active in promoting awareness of the violence against women on her Facebook account.
I was drawn to Eve Ensler’s work ever since I was exposed to the healing work she began and continues to grow in the DRC. She started the “City of Joy” in Bocavu, DRC. It is a shelter for the women victimized by rape and violence.
This is from the website of VDAY.
V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues. In 2007, more than 3000 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, the V-Day movement has raised over $80 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it, crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns, launched the Karama program in the Middle East, reopened shelters, and funded over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq. The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina. http://www.vday.org
I felt wounded when I watched monologue about a woman who was the vessel of the “dirty semen” of the rapists while her husband and children were forced to watch. She said, “kill me first”, rather than forcing THAT upon us. I can’t help but participate in some small way to the cause of helping to restore self-esteem and dignity for the women of the DRC by sharing what’s going on there through this blog. It really is a natural outflow of reading “The Heroine’s Journey”. It is not a coincidence that I happen to meet someone who told me about “The Vagina Monologues” playing at a theater in LA. I purposely went and invited other friends to join me.
The closing of the monologues goes something like this: The vagina is like the heart. It can heal. It can accept. It can endure. It can open and it can close. It is like the earth that gives birth, nourishment and it recycles through death and life.
Thank you for reading.
(The Vagina Monologues will be playing another show on Saturday, March 24th, 2012 at the Lyric Hyperion Theater & Cafe. 8pm showing.)