Monologues offer unlikely voice

I thought The Vagina Monologues’ only worth would be its shock value, and I carried this thought with me to the USF recital hall Friday night. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I had to go.

My suspicion about its shock value was reaffirmed when I saw a table covered with vagina-looking products being sold in front of the theatre. Numerous women – I realized later they were in the play – wore some combination of black tights with a red hat, scarf or boa. I sneaked into the back row before the sold-out crowd filled the theater. The last available seat in the theater, which, of course, was next to me, was finally taken by a middle-aged woman moments before the play began.

I asked her how she had heard about the play.

“One of my former students is acting tonight,” she said. I didn’t catch her name, but she told me she taught drama at an Orlando high school.

The performance began. The narrator cited unsettling statistics regarding the number of sexually- abused women in the United States. Following the startling numbers, three women appeared on stage and claimed to be “worried about vaginas.”

While they were saying something about the Bermuda Triangle and how “no one comes back,” the sides of my mouth crept upward. My thoughts were best articulated by the schoolteacher next to me who said, “Oh, this is going to be interesting.”

As soon as the first act ended, when the lights dimmed and the audience roared, the schoolteacher got up and left. But, before she did, she gave me one last gem: “I think I’m at the wrong play,” she said.

From that point on, I knew I was at the right one. The writing was incredible, and the acting was passionate. I later learned that almost all of the 22 women who performed had never been on stage before that weekend. All of the actresses I interviewed told me their fears were set aside because they could really relate to the material, and it showed.

Some of the acts, about 20 in all, consisted of three or four actresses reading the responses from over 200 women interviewed for the play. Those responses that evoked the loudest cheers were from the questions, “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” and “What would it wear?”

However, most of the play was just as the title suggested. One woman would perform a monologue about the humorous or serious (or both) sides of being a woman. The author, Eve Ensler, makes rarely heard statements about a woman’s sexuality. There are moments of both pride and embarrassment. The show explains how this insecurity or confidence can be determined by either the silence or expression about one’s womanhood.

Major statements were made in the following acts, “Because he liked to look at it,” “I was 12. My mother slapped me,” and “My angry vagina.”

The first example was an insightful look into the psyche of a woman ashamed by her vagina. Mostly, she hated how it looked. Only after an intimate encounter with a man who worshipped her vagina did she finally feel comfortable with herself and her womanhood.

“I was 12. My mother slapped me” shows how the mothers of the interviewed women reacted poorly and sometimes violently to their daughters menstruation. This reaction serves only as further shame for a girl who is already confused about her own body.

Then there was “My angry vagina.” It was performed so genuinely by Elisabeth Thompson, I felt a little angry myself, although I’m not sure why. Her contempt stemmed from tampons, bikinis, feminine hygiene products and, most specifically, pap smears. She offered clever remarks and ideas for the improvement of the exam, but the underlying message was about women living in a patriarchal society, forced to conform to the preferences of men.

Other acts mixed throughout the play informed the audience of “vagina happy facts and not-so-happy facts.” The clitoris was the focus. The happier version gloats that it is the only organ designed purely for pleasure and that the clitoral nerves double those of the penis. This lends to the quote, “Who needs a handgun when you have a semi-automatic?”

Conversely, the not-so-happy side spoke of the organ’s circumcision. This fairly common practice is also called female genital mutilation. The play quotes a New York Times report that between 80-100 million girls have been subjected to this non-medical procedure. Effects from this operation include tetanus, hemorrhaging, chronic uterine infection and early death.The brilliant mix of tragedy and comedy greatly benefits the campaign to stop violence against women. It provided a platform for women to tell their side of the story. Although the play’s name is shocking, the value is in its voice.

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