If there is one topic bound to make my college (Mississippi University for Women) alumnae listserve in February, it is the Vagina Monologues. The production has been banned from campus, but I believe was performed there last year, if memory serves me correctly. Those in favor of it say the presentation empowers women; those against say it is obscene and of no literary merit. Until tonite I had not read it and so pretty much stayed out of the conversation except to point out that tolerance goes both ways as does censorship.
Tonite when I got home a copy of the Vagina Monologues was waiting for me, thanks to Bookmooch. Now that I've read it, I'll comment. I'm glad I didn't pay good money to see this foolishness on stage. This edition (ISBN 0-375-75052-5) begins with a forward by Gloria Steinem who said she grew up hearing that area of the body referred to as "down there". She points out that the clitoris is the only human organ made solely for pleasure. She talks about the vagina as a religious symbol, even going so far as to compare the churches of Patriarchal religions to the female reproductive tract, with the aisle as the vagina and the sanctuary as the womb. She talks about men in dresses sprinkling imitation birth fluids on peoples heads and giving them new names--men giving birth.
Next, there is an introduction by the author that includes such gems as "I was busy working, writing; being a mother, a friend. I did not see my vagina as my primary resource, a place of sustenance, humor and creativity." She did mention that she'd been raped as a girl, maybe that explains it.
Next come the series of monologues, usually two or three pages, on various vaginal topics. The first mentions all sorts of slang words for that area. The second tells the story of a woman whose husband wanted her to shave her pubic hair. Not liking the results after the first time, she refused to continue. He had an affair. The counsellor told her to do it again. She let him shave her. He had another affair. In the third monologue, the author asked women "If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?" Answers ran the gambit from a bikini to combat boots. Another question put to vaginas was "What would you say, in two words" The answers were predictable.
In a chapter called "The Flood" a woman recounts excessive vaginal discharge after sexual excitement caused by her first boyfriend. A "Vagina fact" says that a married man identified a clitoris for the first time as devils teat, a sure sign of a witch's guilt. Next, a bunch of women recount their first period. Two said their mothers slapped them. Then there was one about a bunch of women attending a workshop given by Betty Dobson where they sat on mats and looked at their genitals with hand mirrors and then learned how to pleasure themselves.
There is a short poetic reflection of a woman who was raped in Bosnia. This is followed by more "vagina facts"--that girls who achieved orgasm via masturbation were regarding as medical problems and treated by surgical means, and a comparison of female genital mutilation to male circumcision.
Next the author states that based on her interviews, many of the female homeless population was sexually assaulted at home, and feels safer on the streets. This is followed by as section called "The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could" [Southern women of color]. It is the memories of one woman. At age five her mom told her to stop scratching down there. At seven a neighborhood boy punched her there, and her mom told her not to let anyone touch her there. At nine she was jumping on the bed and impaled her vagina on the bedpost. At 10 her father's best friend raped her--and her father shot him. At 12 she says her "coochi snorcher is a very bad place". At 13, the lady next door gets her drunk and has sex with her. Her comment about it was "I was only thirteen and she was twenty-four. Well, I said, if it was rape, it was a good rape then, a rape that turned by sorry-ass coochi snorcher into a kind of heaven."
Next,we are treated to a list answering the question "What does a vagina smell like?"
The most telling statement came near the end. The author said "I had been performing this piece for over two years when it suddenly occurred to me that there were no pieces about birth". This book ends with one monologue about birth, but the two year lack of such a piece is as illustrative as anything of the dangers of divorcing sex and babies. The Vagina Monologues has pieces on rape, a piece on sexual exploitation in marriage, pieces on lesbian sex, and pieces on masturbation. There are no pieces on loving marital sex and the only one on childbirth is an afterthought. Perhaps that is because the author hasn't experienced them, and didn't consider those very normal vaginal experiences worth mentioning.
I don't see The Vagina Monologues as empowering, I see it as sad.