The Women's Center (WC), which has staged “The Vagina Monologues” for numerous years, will be discontinuing its production this February.
The monologues have been subject to ongoing critiques which challenge their portrayal of women of color and LGBTA violence. This production, which has previously been an annual Western tradition each February, will not be a part of the V-Week festivities this year.
“The Vagina Monologues” were written by Eve Ensler in 1996 after interviewing more than 200 women about their sexual experience. They include frank talk about womens' experience with sexual pleasure and sexual violence. The monologues are probably one of the most easily recognized facets of feminist activism, as they are now performed across the country and were featured as an HBO special.
This year's decision to omit the memoirs has been a long, challenging process, said Jessica Sele, Women's Center co-coordinator.
“We were both invested in the monologues,” said Jennifer Hanley, WC co-coordinator.
“But at the same time, were uncomfortable with them,” said Sele.
Last year the co-coordinators of the WC had a conversation with the cast about the inherent racism in the production, Sele said. But both co-coordinators said they questioned whether only having a discussion was enough, especially due to the fact that women were expressing that they felt disempowered by the monologues.
“I was in ‘The Vagina Monologues' last year; it was a powerful space for women to create community and get to know each other,” Sele said. “But I question a lot of the messages of it. A lot of people feel uncomfortable with it.”
One of the main criticisms of the Monologues is the structure, the monologues are written by one white woman, Eve Ensler, who filters others stories through her voice, Hanley said. This type of structure has been widely critiqued as a chronic problem of mainstream western feminism, in which middle and upper class white women create the standards of feminism, leaving out other women from other backgrounds and ethnicities, Hanley said.
“Eve Ensler with ‘The Vagina Monologues' is trying to make a global statement but is she necessarily in the place to do that, or are we in the place to do that,” Sele said.
The Monologues have also been critiqued as projecting victim-hood onto women of color.
“The monologues written specifically for women of color are victimizing, leaving the white women in the play to do the more empowering ones,” Sele said. While many of the other monologues focus on positive sexual experiences such as orgasms and discovering a love for ones body, the memoirs about other cultural groups generally focus on traumatic rape and abuse at the hands of men.
“It ends up that there is this narration of women of color being victims and being pushed in to those roles,” Hanley said.
The monologue “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could” is directed by Ensler to be performed by a woman of color. In the monologue, a woman describes her rape as a young girl. The monologue then goes on to describe her first positive sexual experience, which is with a much older woman, probably in her thirties. The main character is only thirteen at the time. In response to criticism Ensler changed the monologue so that the girl is now 16. However this did not dissuade critique, as the woman is still a minor.
“Its not acknowledged that that is rape,” Hanley said. “LGBTQ violence isn't recognized as violence.” This perpetuates the myth that there is no violence outside of heterosexual relationships and ignores the fact that the older woman was taking advantage of a much younger woman with a traumatic sexual history, the co-coordinators said.
The WC will be holding a Vagina Dialogues meeting to address any concerns or questions about their decision to omit “The Vagina Monologues,” Sele said. This will take place in early November and will also focus on describing V-day and the V-day campaign, Sele said.
“We don't want people to feel alienated if they do identify with the monologues and if they are upset that they are being taken away, that's understandable,” Sele said. “I identify with the monologues; I think they are an amazing space, but they are hurtful to a lot of women, and that should be enough.”
The Vagina Memoirs, which has been performed for numerous years at Western, will be filling the place of the monologues this year. The structure will also be a little different, as usually participants wrote and performed their own pieces. This year participants can perform in the memoirs even if they don't want to write their own piece, Sele said. The WC will also be collecting memoir submissions from women who want to remain anonymous, Sele said.
The WC casting calls are at 7 to 9 p.m., Nov. 29 and 30 in VU 464. No experience is necessary, Sele said. The audition will consist of introductions, a free-write, a reading of a small excerpt and a little group acting, Sele said.
“We can take all the wonderful things from the monologues, the community, the uncensorship, all those wonderful things and try and remedy some of the shortcomings,” Hanley said. “You don't have to pick it (a monologue) out of a catalogue another woman wrote, you can create your own work, and I think that is more powerful, when local women are creating their own stories, that's so amazing, and that's community, that's activism, that's strong.”