The Vagina Monologues have been celebrated as a worldwide phenomenon, empowering womento focus on the body and being a woman. It is more than a script, it deals withtaboo feminine experiences such as rape, sex, female genital mutilation. EveEnsler, author and playwright, interviewed women on their experiences, startingoff with the views on being a woman then gathered 200 monologues and compiledthem into a play representing female sexuality. “I did the first show solo. Iwas terrified: then women started lining up to tell their stories.
” (Barnett,2013 Online). Ensler felt that she grew up in a violent society. The Vagina Monologues were firstperformed in New York City in 1996. Following this, the play started a feministmovement raising awareness and advocacy to end violence against womenuncovering that female sexuality plays a vital role in society. Although Enslerwanted to ‘celebrate the vagina’, it brought to light tragedies among womenacross the world when at the time it wasn’t publicly accepted to talk aboutfemale sexuality. This essay examines the importance of the female body in post-modernperformance, how Eve Ensler used this play to empower women about theirindividuality, and how the vagina is a complete representation of the body. Opening themonologues with “I bet you’re worried” (Ensler, 2001, 3) allows Ensler tocreate her much wanted concern about what they’re about to read.
Inperformances, audience members would yell as the opening line was read. Enslerexpected these responses but ultimately, creating such a stir at the first lineis what Ensler wanted as it drew them in to watch further allowing their bodiesto change and potentially feel uncomfortable. The monologue continues “that’swhy I began this piece…I was worried about what we think about vaginas, andeven more worried that we don’t think about them.
I was worried about my ownvagina. It needed a context of other vaginas- a community, a culture ofvaginas” (Ensler, 2001, 3). The concern about the subject caused people to comeand watch, the worry that Ensler writes about became the reason why they’rethere.
The fact that so many people came to watch advocates a culture that doesthink about these private parts. The monologues, coming from many women, assurethe audience safety is in numbers. One of the monologues addressesviolence against women is “My Vagina WasMy Village” which describes the testimonies of Bosnian war rape victims. Thereare many ways to describe the identity of a woman, Ensler uses the vagina asonly one aspect. Even discussing sexuality on stage, especially women talkingabout sexuality and their experiences is very post-modernist. Furthermore, whenreading this monologue, Ensler believed that having a vagina is not a conditionfor being a woman. A lot of people argued that theaudiences and performers were always white and straight but Ensler enforced thebelief that it’s right to speak for women through her middle class white voice. Of course, the audience’s culturalbackground defines their meaning of the performance and as Ensler is astraight, white woman and ultimately connects with audience members of thatsocial background.
However, Ensler brought together a variety of experiencesfrom women of all backgrounds. Within this monologue, women should feel they canopenly discuss their bodies. Bringing this monologue to performance has allowedthese hidden subjects to come to light and for women to speak about genderidentity as women.Women should not be presented as stereotypes;the monologues can be performed by changing the physical portrayal of thecharacters. The idea of having women dressed in different clothes and coloursis to represent their different backgrounds.
However, Roy Berko states “The production concept is simple. There are three women, sitting on stools,dressed in nondescript clothing, reading their lines with the use of notecards. The importance of The Vagina Monologues is what is said,not how it is performed… We don’t need sets, costumes and special lighting tomake the point…the dialogue does it all.
” (Berko, 2002 Online) Simply,women on stage without costume just reading their lines and their bodies is allyou need. Having a vagina is not the only thing that define the women in thisplay. The characters are represented individually and then as women. Incontrast to this, in the play “The VulvaClub” the woman is never a woman of colour. Upon reading the play, onewould assume the monologues should be read by a white woman. To break againstthese stereotypes, casting a woman of a different ethnical background couldbreak this.
There are many ways to describethe identity of a woman, Ensler uses the vagina as only one aspect. Even discussingsexuality on stage, especially women talking about sexuality and theirexperiences is very post-modernist. In Ensler’s monologue “The Flood” thecharacter explains “It stopped being a thing that talked a long time ago.
It’s a place. A place you don’t go” (Ensler, 2001, 29-30). The audience member could think this refersto her sexuality, which helps to understand that generation of women and thatsex was a dark subject in those times. Women did not talk openly about their privateareas; most women were ashamed even if the word was mentioned. This monologuecreates a sense of how this subject has changed over time, the main seventy-two-year-oldwoman finally able to reveal her guilty secret. The emphasis of thesemonologues focuses how each woman’s story fits into the wider spectrum of society,allowing difference women to use their real-life experiences on stage to connectto people in different ways. The play collates the vagina with womanhood as the main theme. Enslersees the vagina as a liberator.
Creating a foundation for sharing embodied experiencesis vital in performance as it shows the importance of life experiences thataudience members can relate to. Ensler attempts to make the female body areality, not which women should be ashamed of. In performance, the writing hascaused some audience members to walk out, perhaps because some do notunderstand that the words express physical and sensual sensations. Enslerwrites, “well, the people who seemto be opposed to the play, in my experience, are usually people who haven’tbeen to it. So, part of what we have been working on is inviting people to comebefore they have objections.” (Roark, 2016 ONLINE). A few of the monologuessuch as “Because He Liked to Look at It”and “The Vagina Workshop” focus onthe topic of body positivity. In a culture that sends messages out to women tonot be too confident or sexy, these monologues advocate women embracingthemselves as individuals.
Ultimately, Ensler wrote this to challenge the audience allowing them tothink about female sexuality. This method relates tothe French dramatist, Anton Artaud, as he likened theatre to the plaguebelieving that it could impact anyone of a certain class, race, or background. Artaud explored in its fullest the body as “siteof all human transformation, liberation and independence”; (Barber, 1999, 72). Watchinga play can bring out raw emotions, ones that are not felt every day, thus,losing a sense of normality. Ensler did this by writing about subjects thatpeople couldn’t talk about in public let alone perform. In theatre, theaudience lose control of the behavior of others compared to a work environment,making the use of the body so important.
Theatre can impact their way offeeling and thinking even without audience contribution. Thus, creating truetheatre. Actors performing one of TheVagina Monologues may be discussing one organ but are feeling with everypart of their body. Ensler’s writing creates such raw feeling on its own butperformers must fully commit openly with their bodies. Artaud believed that words could only do so much.
ForArtaud all there is, is a body. “The body is the body, alone it stands”(Artaud, 1977, 59). Much like Artaud, theatre became a medicine for Ensler, theplay had undoubtedly a lot of criticism, but it allowed women to start improvingsociety’s image of the women’s body and self-esteem. In conclusion,although there is still a much larger problem in many countries with womenbeing abused, the use of bodies in performance has been one stepping stone inhelping this.
Ensler wrote this to help women speak openly about all thesesubjects. This play demands to be recognised and heard. Ensler showed theimportance of the female body in an intimate way through challenging theaudience with these monologues.