Last Friday was my 10th Vagina Monologues experience since my time in grad school; every time I return to see it, perform in it or volunteer, I find different monologues that hit me as profoundly relevant. The first time I saw it, I had come from working with Bosnian refugees, and finally understood why one woman refused to speak to anyone and flinched any time someone approached her. Another time, I had just been assaulted in the street myself. I punched the guy in the face and chased him down the street, but I was shaken afterwards and shouted out my anger and fear with the crowd’s cheers on “My Vagina is Angry.”
Last Friday, I was in the crowd about 15 minutes before the show began, letting the waves of anticipation and anxiety surround me, and I tried sending a text to a friend of mine: “Hey, I’m at the VM. Want me to pick you up a chocolate…..” And the phone choked: “va_” was fine with it; it cheerfully came up with words like “value” and “various” readily; “vag_” got me “vaguely,” “vague, and “vagabond.” I typed “vagi_” and it assumed I must be making a mistake, giving me the same words as before along with “bag.” “Vagin_” got me “caging,” an apt term because that’s what the phone was doing to my attempts at communicating. I finally had to type out the entire word; even then, it wouldn’t save it until I had insisted 15 times that it type the word, and on the 16th time, I finally got a reluctant “vagina.” Now, it will also not let you type in “penis” until you hit it multiple times, but it will give you “penile” as an adjective readily enough, although “vaginal” won’t show up. For science, I also tried typing in every other organ in the body, and had no problem. This is frightening. If the limits of our world and its possibilities are the limits of our language (what we use to talk, dream, analyze, discuss, debate and search for answers) then one of the most popular mediums of communication, by resisting discussion of an essential part of a body, is reinforcing stereotypes that genitals are inherently obscene: dirty, wayward, embarrassing and useful only for denigrating an individual: “you’re a (dick, pussy, cunt and the like).” Even before the show, the very act of trying to talk about the show taught me something. So did “My Short Skirt,” a monologue that uses the tired “she wore this, so she must have been asking for it” argument and turns it into a powerful statement about women’s desires:
My short skirt, believe it or not
has nothing to do with you.
My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.
But mainly my short skirt
and everything under it
Mine. (“My Short Skirt”, l. 18-27; 60-64)
I cannot stress enough how important this section is, because it demands that we acknowledge points that seem to be continually forgotten:
- Women have desires.
- Women want things other than male approval.
- Even if we want male approval and male desire, that doesn’t mean we want every male’s approval and desire.
- Women are not required to act or look a certain way just because you may want that.
Think back to that infamous image of Beyoncé:
Here is an incredibly powerful and talented woman who is putting everything she’s got into her performance, and she gets savaged: “Kill it with Fire!,” “a horrible grimace,” “Jesus, what happened to her?” What happened to her is that she made the fundamental mistake of actually showing that she puts effort into her singing and dancing, that it’s hard fucking work, and maybe she isn’t really interested in looking hot all the time. Maybe music is important, even for women. After an intense performance, Dave Grohl looks like something the cat threw up, and nobody gives him shit about it, because he’s not required to be decorative first and talented afterwards. The Vagina Monologues has been running for 19 years now. The issues remain continually relevant.
And that’s perhaps the greatest problem of all.