Revisiting the “Vagina Monologues”

Revisiting the Vagina Monologues

MiMi Yeh

Once again, we welcome February 14 not only as a day of love but also as an awakening of the consciousness concerning the power of the vagina. This was the fourth annual performance of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” at UMass Boston, whose all-female cast gathered to raise over $3,000 to benefit Rosie’s Place. “V-Day” festivities included three new monologues, the usual silent auction, and a “Vagina Carnival” where participants were invited to toss either sperm or a tampon into a vagina. If you got it in, you were “lei-ed.” Attendees also got to decorate their own vagina cupcakes. The silent auction offered bidders a chance to snatch up assorted items ranging from sex toys to books to jewelry to CDs, including my favorite, the saucy purple feather boa.

For those unfamiliar with this female phenomenon, “The Vagina Monologues” is a series of interviews conducted with women of all ages, from six-year-olds to senior citizens, asking them about their feelings, perceptions, and memories connected to the word “vagina.” The trend spread across the world and there are now “vagina-friendly” cities. In Beijing however, the “Monologues” were recently banned from being shown.

The V-Day College Campaign, the organization responsible for promoting the “Vagina Monologues” on college campuses, changed their routine slightly this year. Universities that choose to participate are not charged for the rights, unlike most theatrical productions. In return, they follow strict guidelines that state what order the material must be performed in and prohibit the addition or subtraction of any of the dramatic components. Some new pieces were added such as “Crooked Braid” and “The Memory of Her Face,” giving it a darker, more serious tone.

This year, the performers ranged from three-year veteran vagina warriors to the newly initiated, as well as UMB undergraduate student Susan Smith, a two-time offender. How does she manage not to overdose on female empowerment? It helps that Ensler updated the “Monologues” not too long ago. “It was really nice doing a new piece. Having a larger cast was better and they all brought something really unique and most of them hadn’t done this before. It was fun doing it.” When asked if they had continued on in the “cookie tradition” (cast members who got lucky passed out cookies to their fellow actresses), she replied, “Of course.”

“Crooked Braid” told of the plight of Native American women and their struggles as a marginalized people. Susan Smith, Elissa Jordan, and Sara Boudreau played the parts of three women who suffered domestic violence. One woman described the sensation of being slapped across the face as “not a blast that knocks your eyes blue-that came later.” Another required five brain surgeries and needed physical therapy to relearn how to cook breakfast. What they all had in common was that their spouses apologized and swore that they would never do it again. It ended with the trio declaring, “They took our land, they took our men. We want them back.”

“The Memory of Her Face” discussed disfigurement. It comes from the perspectives of an Iraqi scarred from bombing, an abducted illegal immigrant, and a victim of domestic violence whose husband poured acid on her face. All three suffer survivor guilt and the constant reminder of that one moment each time they look into the mirror.

However, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” remains my favorite. It describes one woman’s transition from corporate tax attorney to prop-wielding dominatrix. Debbie Malone was the kinky conductor leading the erotic orchestra with a French tickler as each member of the entire cast gathered to demonstrate the varieties of moans; the Irish Catholic moan, “Oh forgive me;” the Grace Slick moan, “Oh fuck yeah;” and the African American moan, “Oh, oh shit.”

Each monologue was preceded by music, sometimes overlapping as to detract and distract from the otherwise thoroughly enjoyable performance. In between monologues, the audience was repeatedly reminded of a Vagina Happy Fact: the clitoris, built entirely for pleasure, contains a mind-boggling 8,000 nerves, twice the number found in the penis. The show closed with the “Vagina Warrior Statement” honoring male and female activists around the world, especially those who took the time to escort Ensler, enabling her to create her monologues. At that time, UMB took a moment to pause and honor Theatre Department Technical Director Laura Schrader and alumna Helena Prezio for their support of the program. It was an appropriate ending to a brilliant evening.