Those of a delicate disposition are urged to look away now… Have they gone? Right then.
There is little doubt that the thrill of the transgressive has played no small part in the success of The Vagina Monologues. Written by Eve Ensler (b.1953), it’s an unashamedly feminist performance piece based on a series of formal and informal interviews conducted by Ensler in 1996, although it has been revised several times since.
The Vagina Monologues are exactly what they say on the tin: a series of monologues delivered by a group of women typically seated in a semi-circle on the stage facing the audience, and stepping to centre-stage when it is their turn to speak. The Monologues are centred largely around a range of sexual experiences, both good and bad – Ensler herself is a survivor of sexual violence including childhood sexual abuse. Challenging issues are raised, including rape, sex work, and Female Genital Mutilation. Each year a new monologue is added, usually highlighting a current issue.
Because the play takes the form of a series of monologues, any individual monologue can be omitted without disrupting the overall structure of the performance. This means that different performances contain different monologues, and that different performances are different lengths. The performance that I watched was relatively short, at just over an hour. Beyond that I won’t get too descriptive here, because if you’re curious you can follow the link or search up any of the other versions on YouTube (there are plenty), and if you’re not then you’d probably rather I stopped typing. Although I did warn you.
Several criticisms have been made of the Monologues. Discounting those which centre around vulgarity/sexual content, the most significant boil down to the Monologues being more representative of Second-Wave than Intersectional/Third Wave feminism, and thus increasingly outdated. On my part, my primary criticisms would have to be the use of the word ‘vagina’ as a blanket term for all female genitalia, when in truth the vagina forms only one part of our complex reproductive anatomy; and the strong focus on sexual intercourse. At risk of stating the obvious, sex doesn’t have to be vaginal, and the vagina also performs several other functions. A birth monologue was added a few years ago, but it doesn’t have to stand alone. I’d also love to see more attention and ideally less negativity paid to menstruation. It’s a fact of life, it happens, and yes, a lot of us use tampons because dry and slightly uncomfortable to insert they may be but they’re also undeniably effective.
This notwithstanding, the Monologues are a thought-provoking view, hilarious and heart-wrenching by turn. They’re worth checking out if only so that you can say that you did.
Have you seen The Vagina Monologues? What did you think?