Wednesday, February 22, 2006

O'Malley, stop looking at my vah-jay-JAY

So, "The Vagina Monologues." It's V-Day (or it was a week ago, I'm catching up here) and colleges around the country are performing Eve Ensler's woman-parts-positive monologue-fest. Is it a good play? Eh. Is it a good thing to be doing? I'm not sure, but I think so. When I saw it in college, I was deeply moved, not just by the actors onstage but by the sense of community. This giant group of women, none of whom were part of the usual "theater scene" all came together because they believed in the project, and, (in contrast to such goals as "make connections" "establish my career" etc) to have fun.

Ten Red Hen, whom I met, oddly, at a wedding years ago, makes some excellent points about the whole V-Day deal, but I also think she misses several important vaginal boats.

Yes, it's not that great a play. Yes, it's probably more about therapy in some ways than truly amazing art, but so what. I don't know if Eve Ensler was gunning for the Pulitzer, so much as trying to hit a chord with women, and, like it or not, the chord hitting.

'Hen criticizes The Vagina Monologues for being "your mother's feminism" and not "challenging," while at the same time, recounting stories of college-age women who have a hard time talking about their own sexuality. Which, to me, raises the question: is this really so generationally removed, or do many women, even now, need to reclaim the word, reclaim the idea of "Hey, I have a vagina and I like it." Hell, when Ensler wrote the piece, there were no Brazilian bikini waxes, there was no "labia reconstruction surgery." Just being okay with having the vagina God gave you seems even more revolutionary now than it was 10 years ago.

I'm not sure what "your mother's feminism" is (and, frankly, the tone of it is pretty anti-woman sounding to me -- but maybe that's just because I like my mother). However, the V-Day movement as I saw it was student-directed and student propelled, not a lot of aging boomers with gray pigtails storming the campuses and demanding that we all get down on the floor with hand mirrors.

Finally, 'Hen's final point seems to me, the most off-base. To quote:

Ensler clearly has a schtick she doesn't mean to change. When one of the actors from the above my friend's production actually attempted to write her own vagina monologue, about the misogyny of her religious background and her own exploration of her sexuality--Ensler called up and reamed the producer out for daring to add anything to her precious text.

I'm sure she did. Because she had a union contract with the theater. To produce every word she wrote, without changing the old ones or adding new ones. Because the posters said "The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler." Because that's how plays get produced in this country. And, if your friend's actor wanted to write about her own vagina and perform about her own vagina, that's fantastic. The 'Monologues as currently written are lacking in diversity and depth. Great. Fabulous. Call it "The Vagina Show." "Vaginas on Parade." Sell tickets. I'll be there. But don't use feminism as an excuse to break copyright.

1 comment:

8yearoldsdude said...

I think the copyright vs. evolution issue are confused because of the way the play is perceived in society. it does not feel like a play, like something that belongs to one person, but like a festival or a feeling... something that belongs to women at large. I think this is related to the fact that in the VM creation myth, the monologues are taken from interveiws with "real women." hence the stories are not ensler's, but everyone's. and given this opensource ideological framework, why are those women's vagina tales for real than any other?

I think you are right to defend the relevence of VM today. It is tempting, on the slash-and-burn leading edge of the cultural landscape as you and hen are, to see things that have past their boggling newness as trite. The chorus of boos that surrounded the cinema revival of 'rent' comes to mind. (please do not jump in with detailed critique of the remake) however, it is worth noting that in order for something to be passe it has be accepted. and both these ideas were radical at the time and remain so for big chunks of society.