I finally read and purchased the Vagina Monologues, all in the time span of less than 24 hours. It’s a quick read but an engrossing one, and I’m still in the process of digesting it. After hearing so much about it I knew I had to read it. I had heard both good and bad reviews but I wanted to see for myself. And of course, it has quickly become a feminist staple and was therefore at the top of my reading list. I must say that I really enjoyed it. Well, I’m not sure if “enjoyed” is really the right word. More accurately, I would say that it challenged my thoughts on vaginas, particularly my own. I’m pretty sure that was Eve Ensler’s goal, at which she definitely succeeded.
As I’m writing this post I find myself thinking, “What will my family say when they read this? My friends? I’m using the word vagina in a public posting!!” But then I stop and ask myself why this is so controversial, so inappropriate. Why do I feel so comfortable talking about my breasts but mortified at the thought of even writing (typing) the word vagina? After all, it is quite literally an anatomical term. Not only that, but it is a part of my body and particularly important one. There’s a lot of talk about penis (dick, cock, etc) in general conversation (from my experience in the social world of high school and college). Why can’t we talk about vagina too?
Okay, so I didn’t agree with all of Enler’s sentiments. I could not relate to every story. But I definitely gained a lot of insight from the work and learned a lot about myself. My conclusions were thus: Vaginas are not things to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. Vagina is not a bad word, nor should it carry negative connotations. Vaginas bring life into the world. They facilitate desire and enable pleasure. They are not disgusting and they are not ugly (beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or something like that). The point it that I need to embrace and appreciate my vagina for what it is and what it is capable of. It should be something I’m proud of rather than embarrassed to talk about. And let’s be real, vaginas are a hell of a lot stronger than testicles. So let’s stop calling people who we perceive as weak “pussies” and telling them to “grow a pair.” That makes no sense. Next time you find a pair of balls that can birth a child and endure the associated pain, let me know.
I’m still working out the specifics of relating the Vagina Monologues to my own experiences – it will take more than a day to mull over. But I can say that sexual violence was once again brought to the front of my thoughts. In the introduction Ensler remarks that the violence will not cease until we acknowledge that it’s happening. And in order to make that possible we must “enable women to talk without fear of punishment or retribution” (XXIII). It is crucial that we create a culture in which women are not blamed for violent acts against them but are instead encouraged to speak out about their experiences. By shaming victims of rape we are only perpetuating a climate of fear.
My friends often warn me that it is not healthy to live in constant fear of being raped, and they are right. But honestly, I have more than enough reason to fear it. Although I have never been the target of sexual violence, I am close to women who have and hearing their stories makes it real for me. I cannot fully understand what they go through, but I can feel with them and give them support. Living in the aftermath of sexual violence is one of the most difficult things someone can go through. I have seen the pain, the shame, and the loss of dignity and it literally breaks my heart. And more than anything it makes me angry.
There is some good news. Best put by Gloria Steinem: “Women’s sanity was saved by bringing these hidden experiences into the open, naming them, and turning our rage into positive action to reduce and heal violence.” So I may be angry and I may be sad and afraid. But this is what drives my desire to help women and men who have experienced sexual violence. And of course preventing it from happening in the first place.
Anyway, sorry about the slight tangent. I’m a bit passionate about that. Sometimes I wish I could turn off my big heart for a minute and stop caring so much, but I’ve realized that’s not going to happen. Back to vaginas: reducing sexual violence is a big part of liberating the vagina and empowering it rather than oppressing it. This much I know for sure, which the Vagina Monologues helped me to better understand. In order to prevent further rambling I will recommend reading/seeing a live performance of the V-monologues – it is definitely worth your time. And you don’t have to take my word for it.
Check it out (: