I attended Kenyon College’s production of The Vagina Monologues on Friday, and had an excellent time. When I came home, I wrote the following:
I can’t praise Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, enough. She has written one of the most culturally necessary performances in our society today. She renewed a sense of activism for a generation that is, on the whole, apathetic to the point of atrophy. And, she has a great haircut.
On the whole, I think Eve got it right. Feminism is still very relevant in the United States, not because women are treated as inferior citizens (though it would be unwise to believe that those issues have been resolved), but because we’ve largely abandoned the dialogue regarding the ways that gender plays out on a daily basis. In other words: It’s not that the United States hates vaginas; it’s that the we don’t want to talk about them. A friend of mine left the performance halfway through because he was bored– he had “expected it to be more outrageous.” It is precisely because female sexuality is so suppressed and controlled that the idea of merely talking about it seems “outrageous” to us. Referencing one’s cock, on the other hand, is fairly acceptable in the media and in most casual conversation.
So, in general, I’m pleased to support the cause by attending The Vagina Monologues. I get to spend two hours watching women in little black dresses confess, declare, rant, and have multiple orgasms on stage. I get to watch women talk about things that don’t get talked about. Hell, that’s worth two dollars.
I’ve seen The Vagina Monologues three times now, twice at Kenyon and once at Hollins University. And yet every time, I can’t help feeling that something is off when the latter half of the performance begins to turn primarily to issues of global violence against women. Performers throw out random facts and statistics about “female genital mutilation” (FGM)* and systematic rape in various parts of the world– areas that we often label “third world,” “undeveloped” or “developing” (as though these nations are awkwardly trying on their training bra for the first time). It is precisely the practices and events that the Vagina Monologues denounces that we “first world” activists often use as evidence for the inferiority of those nations. Ensler’s script calls for action, yes, but it feels awfully like a white woman’s burden to me.
* I prefer the term Female Genital Cutting (FGC) because labeling this practice “mutilation” assigns a judgment without acknowledging any cultural autonomy. I do believe that FGC is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I do believe that it is representative of systemized practices worldwide designed to control the female body (both in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States). If the script had only used the term “cutting” instead of “mutilation,” or if it had made note of the complexities involved in judging another cultural practice, I would have felt more comfortable.