I’ve always suspected that the Vagina Monologues would piss me off. But when a local women’s centre put on the Monologues as a fundraiser, I decided I should go and see if my suspicions were justified.
Sure enough, supporting a good cause turned out to be pretty much the only enjoyable aspect of my theatre experience.
Though the performers were gutsy and funny, I couldn’t stand the presentation of first-wave feminist analysis as if it were a discovery made by Eve Ensler. “Guess what, everyone, women are taught to hate their bodies!” No shit.
And then there was the bizarre juxtaposition of monologues celebrating sexual pleasure with monologues about extreme violence against women. This disturbed me both because of the implication that we cannot discuss women’s sexuality in a purely celebratory way and also because of the focus on violence against women in Afghanistan and Mexico as opposed to in our own backyard.
But the thing that got me most annoyed was the flagrant misuse of the term vagina. Here, in this production that supposedly empowers women, vagina is used to refer to the entire female genitalia. This misuse leads to ridiculous lines like “He made me shave my vagina,” and a monologue about this guy named Bob who stares rapturously at a woman’s vagina for hours. Apparently Bob has X-ray vision.
It would seem that Ensler doesn’t know basic anatomy, and that she has no concept of how the misuse of vagina reduces women’s sexual anatomy to a hole for penetration and reproduction, just like… oh yeah, sexism and misogyny.
Unfortunately, Ensler’s mistake gets propagated by whoever puts on the Monologues, and feminists end up doing weird things at intermission like selling “vaginas on sticks”-which could be a fun sex party activity but is definitely not the correct label for chocolate vulva lollipops.
My mother, first edition of Our Bodies Ourselves firmly in hand, taught me to use the word vulva from a very young age. Vulva refers to the external genitalia-the labia, the clitoris, the vaginal introitus, and to things like the fourchette, fossa and frenulum, which I confess I didn’t even know about before researching this column. So you’d think Ensler might have used that v-word instead.
I’m all for embracing slang alternatives to vulva-cunt, pussy, quim-these are sexy words in the mouth of a strong woman. But misusing anatomical terms like vagina is just wrong.
So to my fellow dykes-empower yourselves by checking out a website like www.the-clitoris.com full of new vocabulary words, diagrams and explicit photos of hundreds of vulvas of all shapes and sizes. Or by spending some quality time with your own or someone else’s vulva. But give the Monologues a pass.