The Vagina Monologues on Campus

Over the last weekend of April, St. Olaf’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) organized two performances of Eve Ensler’s episodic play, The Vagina Monologues. The show is made up of monologues that deal with a different aspect of the feminine experience and what it means to be a woman. Throughout its life, the play has grown in size as Ensler collects more and more monologues. The monologues are based on interviews of over 200 women that Ensler conducted and then compiled into what is performed today. Some of the monologues are funny, some are tender, horrifying, and some are politically incorrect. Since its first staging in 1996, it has been translated into more than 45 languages, performed in over 120 countries, and most recently, has been re-created as an HBO film.

This was the third time that I went to see the Vagina Monologues at St. Olaf and I was really impressed by this year’s cast. Having read the book with the monologues that are usually performed at St. Olaf, I am fairly familiar with the texts and different performances of each monologue. Of all of the times I have seen the show, I would have to say that this year’s cast was the strongest cast so far. I could tell that each actress had taken to heart the meaning of their monologue and allowed themselves to live within that idea to share it with the audience. My one critique of this year’s show was that there were some awkward music cues between each monologue (the music came on right away after a monologue was finished, sometimes cutting off the final word) which detracted from the final delivery of the monologue and didn’t allow for the meaning of each monologue to sink in.

This is really one of the best things on campus to be involved in. Not only does it bring awareness to global women’s issues (struggles with body image and sexuality, domestic violence, rape, and female genital mutilation, to name a few) but it proceeds from the St. Olaf show go to support different women’s issues. This year, the GSC organized for the proceeds from ticket sales to go to the Hope Center in Faribault, which is a support center for victims and survivors of domestic violence. Tickets were $3 pre-sale and $5 at the door. They hold auditions for each production in the spring about two months before the performance weekend.

The success of The Vagina Monologues has allowed Ensler to create V-Day, which is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. The movement has so far raised $85 million to prevent violence against women and protect those who have been abused. Since The Vagina Monologues, some of Ensler’s other projects have been released/premiered, including The Good Body, a play that deals with women’s obsessions with their appearance, and a film What I Want My Words to Do to You. Her latest play, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World (2011), hit the New York Times bestseller list and has garnered several performances in Europe. She has also been a featured speaker several times on TED.

There are several elements of the production that critics continue to object to, including:

  • The amount of attention given to brutal, non-consensual sexual encounters compared to those that are consensual
  • Negative portrayal of heterosexual relationships
  • In “The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could”, an underage girl recounts having been given alcohol and then having sex with an adult woman––her female abuser is portrayed positively as someone “rescuing” her from the sexually abusive men of her past (why is it that sexual abuse conducted by women is overlooked as being bad?)
  • The monologues are not representative of the experience of all women (Eg. In 2004, Ensler worked with Jane Fonda and Deep Stealth Productions to produce the first all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues, which included a new monologue documenting the experiences of transgender women).
  • Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy stated that the play “equates men with ‘the enemy’ [and] heterosexual love with violence” and identifies the work’s inclusion of lesbian viewpoints as problematic, stating that “A play that claims to unveil the truth about vaginas but, somehow, overlooks the salutary role men play in most women’s sexuality has no credibility.”

What do you think about the function of this piece? Do you think that because it does not completely represent the experiences of all women that it should not be performed, or should it still be performed with a disclaimer at the beginning? Should it still be performed even though some of the monologues are politically incorrect or biased?