Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Vagina Monologues ~ Eve Ensler

I can't talk about The Vagina Monologues in any objective, detatched way, as I can with other works. I can't approach it from a scholarly or literary point of view. It's held such a pivotal place in my life, that academics--thinking about it critically or theoretically or analytically--just don't don't work. Other people have written about it from those perspectives though, and have probably said more insightful things, and said them better than I could have. I can only describe my experience with The Vagina Monologues in personal terms, as a woman, a recovering Catholic, a feminist, a lesbian.
I don't remember the first time I heard about The Vagina Monologues. I remember a year ago, reading about it in the newspaper, during Christmas break. I remember laughing so hard I felt faint, and being moved to tears. One of those turning points in your life, and you don't realize it till much later. I can't seem to come up with anything but cliches. "Eye-opening" just fits, that's what it felt like. There were only three women on stage but it seemed like hundreds; and of course it was hundreds. Hundreds of women crying and laughing, hundreds of women talking about love and sex, rape and brutality, periods, vaginas, life, birth, and death. Things I had so little knowledge or experience of.
Gloria Steinem talks about "the spirit of self-knowledge and freedom" in The Vagina Monologues in her excellent foreword to the V-Day edition. That's really what it's given me, self-knowledge. And a sense of community and solidarity. The woman who has directed my university's productions of TVM the last two years is an amazingly beautiful, passionate and committed woman. My advisor and Feminist Criticism professor performed "The Flood" this year; she's such a smart and engaging woman, I thoroughly enjoy learning from her.
Performing "The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could" has been a good experience for me. Empowering, really. I approached it like declaration, a theatrical coming-out. I tried to be straight-forward and direct, not melodramatic; I thnk it has more impact if you don't "act" so much as tell it like an ordinary person, because that's who she is, and that's who I am. I don't have much in common with this woman, other than the fact we're both lesbians, but somehow her story was a way for me tosay "Here I am! This is me!"
Our production of TVM this year was a benefit to help the women of Juarez, Mexico; over 300 women have been abducted and murdered there in the last ten years. We showed a documentary about the killings, Senorita Extraviada, which is hard to watch. Everybody should see it. I remember going home afterwards, alone, in the dark, reasonably certain I would see the next morning alive. The women and girls in Juarez and too many other places don't have that certainty; their bodies show up months later in the desert, sometimes without nipples or hands, sometimes burned, sometimes just as bleached bones. And it's still going on. I remember thinking, it's not enough. What can I do that could possibly help? Boycott the American companies that employ the Juarez women in their maquiladoras? Write a strongly worded letter for Amnesty International? My performance in The Vagina Monologues, the money and awareness we raised, is not nearly enough, not even close. But it's something, at least, and it's all I can accomplish at the moment. Better than nothing.
My parents don't really understand what TVM is. They couldn't come up to see me anyway; I just told them it was a fundraiser, in the end. "Why does it have to be called that?" my mom asked.


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