What is the problem?Schools like Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts have decided to no longer produce the play, stating that it “was not inclusive enough of various perspectives on race, class, and gender identity”. (Statement Regarding The Vagina Monologues , 2015) UC Berkley has replaced the traditional production of The Vagina Monologues with “Our Monologues,” a student-led effort which will include parts of Ensler’s original play as well as “all-original pieces with topics ranging from gender identity and sexuality to intergenerational cultural shifts.” (The College Fix, 2018) Similarly, during the past 2017-2018 academic year, conflicting ideas and conversations about the effectiveness and relevance of The Vagina Monologues began to emerge from women associated with Eastern Michigan University. This has created a need to ask the question: Do we still need The Vagina Monologues? And, is it still relevant to next generation feminists?
Arguments AGAINST the Production of The Vagina Monologues I. The Vagina Monologues promotes a single voice.The monologue form used in The Vagina Monologues helps to shape how an audience will experience women’s perceptions of their vaginas. The Vagina Monologues converts conversations between Ensler and the women she originally interviewed into personal and confessional speech of a solitary female subject who sees herself through, if not as, her vagina. Rather than revealing the differences and similarities found among these female subjects, the ‘Vagina’ becomes a representation for a part of the body and a particular subset of experiences standing in for the whole female consciousness. (Gillespie, 2017) II. The Vagina Monologue reduces women to being defined by a Vagina.The use of the word ‘Vagina’ in this play has given permission for women “to deal with other secrets—like violence and rape, fear, and death”. (Gillespie, 2017) But what women are actually getting permission to deal with those secrets? And how is ‘woman’ defined? The subjective use of and focus of the word ‘Vagina’ in the play has created the problematic ideology that the vagina stands primarily as a sign of sexuality, and sexuality is made the very core of women’s identities. Additionally, the title is literal: women performers recite stories about childbirth and pap smears and masturbation and sexual assault, sharing the experiences of women from a vulva-centric viewpoint. The vagina is so easily accepted as natural through this play, that it ironically loses its conceptual status, cultivating a literal equivalence in the play that one’s vagina is necessarily one's womanhood. And this view dismisses the fight, for example, in the trans movement that has sought to define “womanhood” beyond biological borders (Gillespie, 2017). Women are not defined by their vagina’s. III. The Vagina Monologues trivializes diversity.“Diversity emerges only in the aggregate, via the show’s disparate voices taken all together”. (Gillespie, 2017) To indicate ethnicity and region, Ensler’s script describes the accents with which certain pieces should be read: the coochi snorcher voice, for instance, is that of a “Southern woman of color” (Ensler, 2001), and the older woman in the “The Flood” requires a “Jewish, Queens accent”. The play neither classifies all the voices nor explains how these social identifications came to be assigned to particular pieces. Consequently, it predetermines a arbitrary display of differences, marking these voices as other to the presumed normative voice of American whiteness. (Gillespie, 2017) Arguments FOR the Production of The Vagina Monologues I. The production of The Vagina Monologues is a tradition. Much more than a dramatic script, the play is a mass culture event, performed hundreds of times each year. It is also the motor behind V‐Day, an anti violence organization with the declared mission of ending violence against women and girls, once and for all, everywhere. (V Day, 2014) “The Vagina Monologues reinforces its political message and feminist ethos: we must hear each other’s stories to understand each other, that understanding thus fueling anger, compassion, and a sense of shared mission to foster change for the better in our lives and the world.” (Gillespie, 2017) Additionally, many feel that writing off such a play associated with an older era is a disservice to older feminists as a whole and keeps us from learning from our own history and growing as activist. It could also “mean that we are ashamed of anyone in our own community who might be invested in the healing aspect of that history”. (Do I Have to Give Up Lesbian History, 2018)
II. The Vagina Monologue still speaks for women with vaginas and “can’t be everything”.The Vagina Monologues supports a sense of sexual liberation, which promotes and creates space for other freedoms. "The repression of someone's sexuality is the repression of their life force. Repression of ambition, of creativity” (Ensler, 2001). Many argue that there is still a need for this space because “the pain and confusion that come from being born with female sexual organs lingers; women are still shamed for their unshaven bikini lines, are still unsure how to masturbate, are still being raped, are still giving birth and having their bodies irrevocably changed by the experience. (Cooper, 2007) According to Ensler, while a vagina-centric piece of art won't relate to every woman's experience, it will still resonate with millions. "The play has never been saying that the vagina is what defines the woman," she says (2001). "It's just a play about vaginas. She's adamant that The Vagina Monologues has always been as inclusive as possible, and transgender women have been performing it for decades. But as Ensler cautions, "one play can't be everything." (Cooper, 2007) III. The Vagina Monologue raises money In its first six years (1998–2004), through benefit performances of the play and other activities, V‐Day raised over $20 million, 85 percent of which was distributed to grassroots organizations fighting violence against women in their local communities. (Cooper, 2007) Since the production began at Eastern Michigan University in 2005, The Vagina Monologues have raised close to $87,000 which has been donated to local organizations like SafeHouse and FirstStep, who work to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.