The even more worried that we don’t think about

 

The Vagina Monologues have been celebrated as a worldwide phenomenon, empowering women
to focus on the body and being a woman. It is more than a script, it deals with
taboo feminine experiences such as rape, sex, female genital mutilation. Eve
Ensler, author and playwright, interviewed women on their experiences, starting
off with the views on being a woman then gathered 200 monologues and compiled
them into a play representing female sexuality. “I did the first show solo. I
was 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 first
performed in New York City in 1996. Following this, the play started a feminist
movement raising awareness and advocacy to end violence against women
uncovering that female sexuality plays a vital role in society. Although Ensler
wanted to ‘celebrate the vagina’, it brought to light tragedies among women
across the world when at the time it wasn’t publicly accepted to talk about
female sexuality. This essay examines the importance of the female body in post-modern
performance, how Eve Ensler used this play to empower women about their
individuality, and how the vagina is a complete representation of the body.

Opening the
monologues with “I bet you’re worried” (Ensler, 2001, 3) allows Ensler to
create her much wanted concern about what they’re about to read. In
performances, audience members would yell as the opening line was read. Ensler
expected these responses but ultimately, creating such a stir at the first line
is what Ensler wanted as it drew them in to watch further allowing their bodies
to change and potentially feel uncomfortable. The monologue continues “that’s
why I began this piece…I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and
even more worried that we don’t think about them. I was worried about my own
vagina. It needed a context of other vaginas- a community, a culture of
vaginas” (Ensler, 2001, 3). The concern about the subject caused people to come
and watch, the worry that Ensler writes about became the reason why they’re
there. The fact that so many people came to watch advocates a culture that does
think about these private parts. The monologues, coming from many women, assure
the audience safety is in numbers.

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One of the monologues addresses
violence against women is “My Vagina Was
My Village” which describes the testimonies of Bosnian war rape victims. There
are many ways to describe the identity of a woman, Ensler uses the vagina as
only one aspect. Even discussing sexuality on stage, especially women talking
about sexuality and their experiences is very post-modernist. Furthermore, when
reading this monologue, Ensler believed that having a vagina is not a condition
for being a woman. A lot of people argued that the
audiences and performers were always white and straight but Ensler enforced the
belief that it’s right to speak for women through her middle class white voice.
 Of course, the audience’s cultural
background defines their meaning of the performance and as Ensler is a
straight, white woman and ultimately connects with audience members of that
social background. However, Ensler brought together a variety of experiences
from women of all backgrounds. Within this monologue, women should feel they can
openly discuss their bodies. Bringing this monologue to performance has allowed
these hidden subjects to come to light and for women to speak about gender
identity as women.

Women should not be presented as stereotypes;
the monologues can be performed by changing the physical portrayal of the
characters. The idea of having women dressed in different clothes and colours
is 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 note
cards.  The importance of The Vagina Monologues is what is said,
not how it is performed… We don’t need sets, costumes and special lighting to
make the point…the dialogue does it all.” (Berko, 2002 Online) Simply,
women on stage without costume just reading their lines and their bodies is all
you need. Having a vagina is not the only thing that define the women in this
play. The characters are represented individually and then as women. In
contrast to this, in the play “The Vulva
Club” the woman is never a woman of colour. Upon reading the play, one
would assume the monologues should be read by a white woman. To break against
these stereotypes, casting a woman of a different ethnical background could
break this.

There are many ways to describe
the identity of a woman, Ensler uses the vagina as only one aspect. Even discussing
sexuality on stage, especially women talking about sexuality and their
experiences is very post-modernist. In Ensler’s monologue “The Flood” the
character 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 refers
to her sexuality, which helps to understand that generation of women and that
sex was a dark subject in those times. Women did not talk openly about their private
areas; most women were ashamed even if the word was mentioned. This monologue
creates a sense of how this subject has changed over time, the main seventy-two-year-old
woman finally able to reveal her guilty secret. The emphasis of these
monologues 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 connect
to people in different ways.

 

The play collates the vagina with womanhood as the main theme. Ensler
sees the vagina as a liberator. Creating a foundation for sharing embodied experiences
is vital in performance as it shows the importance of life experiences that
audience members can relate to. Ensler attempts to make the female body a
reality, not which women should be ashamed of. In performance, the writing has
caused some audience members to walk out, perhaps because some do not
understand that the words express physical and sensual sensations. Ensler
writes, “well, the people who seem
to be opposed to the play, in my experience, are usually people who haven’t
been to it. So, part of what we have been working on is inviting people to come
before they have objections.” (Roark, 2016 ONLINE). A few of the monologues
such as “Because He Liked to Look at It”
and “The Vagina Workshop” focus on
the topic of body positivity. In a culture that sends messages out to women to
not be too confident or sexy, these monologues advocate women embracing
themselves as individuals.

Ultimately, Ensler wrote this to challenge the audience allowing them to
think about female sexuality. This method relates to
the French dramatist, Anton Artaud, as he likened theatre to the plague
believing that it could impact anyone of a certain class, race, or background. Artaud explored in its fullest the body as “site
of all human transformation, liberation and independence”; (Barber, 1999, 72). Watching
a 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 that
people couldn’t talk about in public let alone perform. In theatre, the
audience 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 of
feeling and thinking even without audience contribution. Thus, creating true
theatre. Actors performing one of The
Vagina Monologues may be discussing one organ but are feeling with every
part of their body. Ensler’s writing creates such raw feeling on its own but
performers must fully commit openly with their bodies. Artaud believed that words could only do so much. For
Artaud 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, the
play had undoubtedly a lot of criticism, but it allowed women to start improving
society’s image of the women’s body and self-esteem.

 

 

In conclusion,
although there is still a much larger problem in many countries with women
being abused, the use of bodies in performance has been one stepping stone in
helping this. Ensler wrote this to help women speak openly about all these
subjects. This play demands to be recognised and heard. Ensler showed the
importance of the female body in an intimate way through challenging the
audience with these monologues.