The Vagina Monologues at first glance appears to be a racy subject, but in reality it is not.

The Vagina Monologues is an Obie-award-winning play by Eve Ensler. It is part of a national campaign to eradicate sexual violence against women, and it uses Valentine's Day as a day to celebrate women.

The Vagina Monologues was first performed by the writer as an off-Broadway play. The play is broken into differing monologues with unusual titles, such as "I was 12. My Mother Slapped Me.", "My Angry Vagina", and "Because He Liked To Look At It". Each monologue draws on interviews with women, and range from funny to painful to newfound wisdom. Each tells a story of compassion, humor, integrity and the strength of women. The stories include growing up, life during wartime, different ethnicities, different ages and different sexual orientations.

There is no background stage, only the performer giving the monologue. There is nothing to distract from the message from each tale. When the New York Times reviewed the play, they deemed it "funny and poignant". The play is currenty touring the United States in small theatres and colleges.

The Vagina Monologues was also printed up as a slim little book. Last year my friend Samantha urged me to read it. She was sick of me blushing every time she called her boyfriend a cunt. I didn't know what the book was about (she wouldn't tell me), but I knew that there was no way I'd ask a clerk to help me find it.

I looked in the fiction section at Barnes and Corporate Nobility. No Vagina Monologues. I looked at Borders in the human sexuality section. No Vagina Monologues.
I pouted.
Two weeks later I walked into Bookworld and serendipitously found the book in the magazine section, hidden between Cosmo and Maxim (appropriate!). I comandeered a stool and dug in.

This slim little volume changed my life. I laughed so hard I fell off the stool twice. I cried in the middle of Bookworld.
I was touched in a strange way that can't be put into words.

The printed version seemed to have a goal: Take back the V-word! I'd never been able to say The Word withput cringing. After all (insert mother's voice here), nice girls just don't say that! I began to see how ridiculous the words "cooch" and "fur pie" and "kitty kitty" sounded. In 45 minutes, I shed a lifetime of shame. When I finished the book, I stared at the picture of Ms. Ensler (cayenne-blazing-hot and old enough to be my mother!), then quietly placed the book between Seventeen and YM magazines so that the book could help someone in a more formative stage, and left the shopping mall. I skipped through the parking lot, hopped into my minivan, and screamed "VAAAAAGINAAAA!" Then I laughed until my face tingled. I felt beautiful.

It was so William Wallace. And I am so in love with The Vagina Monologues.

Eve Ensler’s Off Broadway play generated quite a bit of press in New York last year when it was revealed that it would feature actress Donna Hanover, estranged wife of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. At the time, Hanover still lived with Giuliani and their children at the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, but they had not been much of a couple for a long time. The mayor had announced that he was in a relationship with a woman named Judith Nathan, a pharmaceutical sales rep.

That the mayor’s wife, estranged or not, was in an off Broadway play was no big deal, but the titillating title of the work set the press abuzz. While the mayor was off at a New York Yankees playoff game last October, the press covered her debut at the Westside Theater, alongside actresses Robin Givens and Susie Essman.

In an interesting plot twist, the playwright, Eve Ensler, is a friend and public supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Giuliani’s opponent in the New York Senate race before he withdrew due to prostate cancer.

Oh, and of course, there is a web site:

9/5: The Albany Times Union has become the first newspaper in the US to refuse to run an ad for the play. The same newspaper also initally refused to run ads for the movie Pecker upon its release, but later relented.
Conversational rhythm is often irreparably damaged if the word ‘vagina’ is spoken. I was recently in a health food store discussing the many uses of Dr. Bronners liquid soap when the sales women told me to watch out for the peppermint “because it could burn your, ya know…” She made a wincing face and motioned with her hands that she referred to a region below the counter that was not connected to her, necessarily. The awkward pause that followed indicated that this was kind of strange to discuss even though she brought it up. She had invoked the-part-with-no-good-name, and though it was innocent and normal, slipping ‘vagina’ into any conversation nearly always feels a little weird. How are we ever supposed to feel comfortable with our vaginas if we can not even discuss them with out some form of apology? It was with this in mind I attended the March 27, 2001 showing of The Vagina Monologues in Columbus, Ohio.

The event opened with, “Hello Vaginas!” Snicker. “Penises too!” We were given a brief explanation about the monologues. Author Eve Ensler interviewed women of all ages, asking them to discuss their genital observations. They mentioned that women often felt weird talking about it at first, that no one ever asks. But once they got started they couldn’t stop, a lot of women have angry vaginas. The interviews were then transformed into monologues. The performers change frequently, it is a long and impressive list of actressess. I saw it performed by three undeniably talented women, Starla Benford, Sally Fingerett (tee hee) and Sherri Parker Lee.

There were some men in the audience, perhaps ten percent. Not enough. Most looked like professors, many of them with older women. There was one young guy, perhaps early twenties, wearing a shiny pimp shirt and a black top hat. He had four women flanking him, two on each side. He was a man likely to know a thing or two about vaginas. I shared my armrest with a guy, who appeared to be there with his boyfriend. It felt a little funny to sit next to a man for this show, given the ratio, though I was very interested to see his reactions, figuring no one has less access to the mysterious vagina than a gay man. He sighed in some parts, seemed miffed that penises had less nerve endings that the one tiny pleasure-specific clit that a woman gets. Let out a major guffaw (along with me) that some women said her vagina smelled like cheese. He seemed to cry when an old woman talked of the unexpected and embarrassing flood of excited fluids that ruined her boyfriends new upholstery, her dress, and her entire relationship to her own vagina, which she ever after referred to as “down theya” and regarded like the cellar, dark, dirty and seldom visited.

We heard about the boring Bob, with the beige way about him. We learn that really likes to look at vaginas. This act transforms the woman looked at, she sees her own beauty reflected in his face, measures the splendor of her sex by his breathing, is awakened by the fact that just looking at “it” can inspire and excite. His praise allows her a new look at her own vagina. She comes to see it as much more than a slit north of the anus, a bloody mess, or a thing to deodorize, minimize, trivialize, set in order, shave, trim, wash in the dark, while looking at the bathroom wall. Matter of fact. Ho hum, washing the armpits, doodeedo, here I go towards thighvaginakneecaps. Dum do dum, rinse. She discovers a sweet, affirming change of opinion regarding her vagina. He calls it “you”. I need to see “you” he tells her with the light on, then focuses, stares deep into the vagina, maybe looking for the way back home. What was he thinking during that time? Was it like looking at a painting? Her vagina was powerful, revered. Upon hearing this story my first inclination was to disbelieve, assume it embellished, or entirely made up. The idea of someone just looking is almost embarrassing. I would almost rather pretend it could not really happen, that no one would make themselves comfortable and camp out at the Y just to gaze. Perhaps it makes me giggle because it so honestly introduces a whole different idea of what a vagina is. That a vagina could be so interesting, so unique to each woman, so “herself”. That looking into it could inspire tears, influence breath rhythms, raise flesh, quicken the heartbeat, cause perspiration, salivation and a tingle as well as make the mind reel…implies an awesome power women are seldom taught to manage or embrace. Like a gift never fully appreciated.

One woman gave us a vocal tour of sounds women make during lovemaking. All the rhythmic many fingered moans that a woman can and should be coaxed to make boiled through space, turning in air and pelvis, a raw and carnal sound that bled into all things.

I heard about women who had been raped in Bosnia. Sat there stunned by the voice that brought me a story of a young girl who spoke of her vagina as though it was a meadow for naïve romps, a flower blooming in the sunshine. The monologue abruptly swings to the shocking and unspeakable horror of rape as a war weapon. The flower dissolved in the acid of blind hate, mutilated, made foul, pieces falling off in her hand. In my little numbered auditorium seat I choked on the black tar bubble of fear and pain. I sat on electric bolts, rolled and bent my program, tried not to make ANY SOUND, tried to stuff it back in. I could feel other women doing the same thing. I could hear their gulpy secretive sniffling, I could feel them holding back, like we were all brought to some unspeakable brink and if the monologue had gone on for one more second we may have flooded the auditorium with our tears. We could have cried for days for that one woman, the others like her and finally for our own selves. I wanted to hug them all, patch their wounds, show them my own, blow the lid off the big secret that we have this thing that is pursued and often stolen. Angry vaginas indeed. Sad vaginas. Vaginas that put down the silly pretense of belonging to someone else and come into themselves. Creating a circle of protection. Refusing to be shame shackled silent or forgiving. Some things ARE unforgivable.

Then there was the cunt monologue. The word was delivered back to us, altogether stripped of negative associations, a sound like thunder, a revving engine, an unstoppable force that left us panting, sated and then crashing into to the actress with thunderous applause. I actually screamed “cunt” in a crowded theater. I was one of the few, it was requested of us, though the overwhelming majority kept it in, even after the word was refurbished and delivered back to us restored of feminine power. ‘Cunt’ exploded out of my mouth before I could snatch it back, much to the amusement of the strange man sitting next to me. I let loose by accident, slipped out on my ladylike role of Mommy out for an evening of theater, and ran out into the night in big black steel-toed boots. I came at the word in a whole new way, head on.

I came away naming names, without cringe or quease, but with authority, like I just admitted to having one of those, with a sudden comfort level that has never existed for me before. VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA. I say it in triplicate, out loud, unblushing, reclaiming the sound that relates to moist folds, feminine glory, and secrets better left in the open. We are sexual beings. We are sick of rape and degradation, tired of pretending it does not happen often enough for ALL women to get really mad and put a stop to it. We are tired of being treated like cattle in the exam room, in the nipple scratching paper gown that looks like it could double as a giant napkin, or a thing to buff the car. Tired of being told to plug it up, avoid “embarrassing odors”, stock up on creams and medicines, trim it down to pubescent and non-threatening.

Suddenly I was in a room filled with women who were no longer pretending we don’t really need to talk about or like our vaginas. Through the much awaited words of these other women I was suddenly aware, I have one of those too. It is a place, a beginning, a gateway. It is a sacred temple, a shrine to myself. No one can see it without an invitation. In order to see it myself I have to bend in a funny way, contort, rig the right lighting, maintain this pretzel shape long enough to conduct an investigation. It has hair. It has moisture. It has a scent. It takes things in, it lets things out. It is pleasurable, intimate, very personal. It speaks. It purrs. Meow.

My friend and I left the theater, spilling out onto the walkway almost too stunned to make an assessment. We were behind a small group of people when an older woman ahead of us tripped and fell into a bush. We paused to make sure she was ok. The silly metaphor did not escape our notice. We headed to the bar to have a few beers and talk about the show, noticing with wide grins the ironic name of the bar, Dick’s Den. It had the overall effect of making me feel closer to my friend, sitting there in a bar, Muddy Waters on the jukebox, sipping beer and weaving tales. Talking about make-up and why we don’t wear any, relationships, married sex and vagina vagina vagina.

Now I want every person I know to go sit in the theater and watch three lovely barefoot women assume different dialects, lay open the hearts of everywoman and talk about vaginas and how having one affects our experience. Especially the ones who are uncomfortable, who don’t see the need for this, the women who are too nice to have a vagina. I think it should usurp the cryptic film strips we see in fifth grade, with the black and white diagrams and scientific jargon that is often hard for young girls to relate to their own experience. A lifetime of personal conflict might be avoided if only more mothers would give their daughters a friendly word for their vaginas. “Cootchie snorcher”, is a word I had never heard before The Vagina Monologues. It is funny and comfortable word with and entirely different tone than ‘vagina’. If more girls were at ease in their bodies, could discuss their parts with comfortable words and were taught from the beginning that giving away access will not make them an adult, perhaps we would not have so many stories of misuse. Instead we teach, through uncomfortable silence, inference and sparsely doled out technical words that a girl has a thing that men want, that they will be chased and all they can do is run run run until they get caught and the thing is taken away. What else can we do if we think of our vaginas as a scientific specimen with no acceptable deviation, a smelly carp, a sinners portal to hell, some jagged toothed cavern filled with lost spelunkers, or a thing that could betray us with stains and impurities, liable to go out of control without a pap, always needing medical validation. Told there are professional vagina appraisers who will tell us how to manage our unfortunate gash. There has to be a better way. Vagina Monologues is a giant leap in the right direction.

The Vagina Monologues made me too angry to speak. It wasn't just that it was trite. It wasn't that it sounded like a sexually explicit Oprah special. It wasn't the audience's nervous giggles and self conscious cheering.

What pissed me off were the unending references to fucking flowers.

I sat there in my seat, surrounded by Young Dykes in Need of Personal Affirmation and college girls in the grip of intellectual rebellion clutching their boyfriends, and I could have sworn they were all hooting at a Summer's Eve commercial. "My vagina would wear pearls"? What is this shit?

I am not angry with Eve Ensler. Well, not very angry. She, as the editor of this play, certainly had it within her power to try and change the way women see their vaginas, rather than getting them to shout the same tired cliches and leave with the same worn out notions of what their vaginas are or should be. Mostly I am angry with supposed feminists, with the women who are supposed to lead or accompany us on the hour and a half long journey into self discovery.

My god, you people! A vagina is an organ. The only thing that makes it different from lungs, or a kidney, or any other piece of human anatomy, is that its purpose is sexual. It is most certainly not a pretty flower. Nor should it be. It is not a little person who can be dressed up. Don't we routinely laugh at men who anthropomorphize their genitalia? Why on earth should we decide to do the same with ours?

I admit there were powerful pieces in the play, particularly the story of a Bosnian woman's rape, which was brutal to hear. But to juxtapose a monologue like that against the reinforcement of the idea that a vagina cannot simply be a vagina cheapens everything to do with the play.

As I was walking out of the theater several acts early, the actress on stage was talking about douching. I turned back to listen. "It's supposed to smell like pussy!" she exclaimed. And then she went on to talk about the diamonds it wanted to wear.

Last night I felt the little hairs on the back of my neck go all prickly as I watched my daughter and her high school friends stand and deliver their bits in a local V-Day1 production of the Vagina Monologues.  I had had some reservations about the ability of these young women to carry off some of the grave and moving material in the monologues, but they'd handled it with aplomb.  In fact they transcended it in some sense and that's what I really want to write about here.

The production was housed in the Woods Hole Community Center, a funky but soulful piece of Cape Cod history.  It's not a very prepossessing hall, more like a small shingled house set just past the drawbridge in the village.  It was a warm and wet evening, our recent waves of snowstorms having given way to rain late this afternoon. I approached the door at the same time as two women, all of us glad to escape the drizzle.  I held the door for them as I am wont to do, having been born at the tail end of the era of door openings and men's hats.  I was rewarded for my efforts with a snarl and a sniff from my bonnie companions, reminding me that this evening wasn't about men, or at least not in any positive way. Recognizing the danger inherent in my instinctually bourgeois patriarchal chivalry, I adopted the protective coloring of post-millennial blandness and mentally refreshed my limited command of newspeak, as it was sure to come in handy as the evening progressed.  

I was alone this evening, my domestic partner having evinced a suspicious malaise scant hours before the production.   It's not in the best interest of a stable and happy marriage to be too awfully precise in such matters, but my suspicion was that recovery from the recent science fair at the high school where she teaches overweighed her desire to see our daughter discoursing on her vagina to our friends and neighbors.  

As my two spiny companions and I entered the hall we were swept into a small gauntlet of welcome.  We were relieved of our money (all proceeds to benefit local women's shelters2), we were handed program folders and little red heart stickers were affixed to our wrists, indicating our new status as paying attendees.  The hall was full, with perhaps a hundred people milling among the folding chairs.  The sidewalls were adorned with tee shirts courtesy of The Clothesline Project3.  Each shirt held the handwritten story of a woman who had been abused or was a witness to family violence and used this venue to break their silence. The Clothesline Project began in 1990 and has spread across the U.S. and to several other countries.  The Cape Cod Clothesline alone has over 600 testimonial shirts. 

A quick glance at the crowd revealed that women outnumbered men in the crowd by perhaps ten to one.  This is a small community and I recognized many faces as I looked for a seat; mothers of the cast members, teachers from the school, the lady from the pet store.  As I neared the front of the hall, I heard my name called and turned to find two attractive women and an empty seat. My old sailing buddy Bev, and Sonya, one of the local oceanographers made a place for me between them. Before I'd even gotten settled in, Bev announced happily that she and Sonya were newly "in love."     Bev is a hale and hearty character who was raised among the seagoing community in Long Island.  Her family owns a clamming business and Bev can out drink and out fight most of the crew.  Sonya on the other hand is petite and delicate, as cerebral a presence as Bev is physical. They made a nice couple I had to admit, as I realized that I had literally come between them: detestable male interloper from deep space.  I tried to change seats so they could sit together again, but the play was starting and they, in a gesture of politesse, wouldn't hear of it.

The lights dimmed, thanks to my son who with his fellow drama-tech buddy Karl had been pressed into service for the production.  The producers of the show were adamant that the stage crew be male, presumably to demonstrate the event's inclusiveness. So these amiable young gents were pressed into service by the Amazons. They told me they'd heard the word vagina enough to last them a lifetime, but they were good sports about it all, content to be the obedient servants of these Vagina Warriors.  This is likely to be a useful and efficacious posture for them in the years to come.

The crowd drew silent as the lights came up on Bre-anne Brown, a high school senior who had taken up this cause almost a year ago and dedicated herself to making the production happen. Bre-anne opened with a short history of the Vagina Monologues written by Eve Ensler.

"I bet you're worried. I was worried. That's why I began this piece. I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don't think about them; I was worried about my own vagina. It needed a context of other vaginas - a community, a culture of vaginas. There so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them - like the Bermuda Triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there."

"So I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews which became vagina monologues. I talked with over two hundred women. I talked to older women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers, African American women, Native American women, Caucasian women, Jewish women. At first, women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn't stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one's ever asked them before."

The monologues themselves range widely from comedic to gut-wrenching and one can't help but be aware of the artful manipulation of emotions that is taking place as a larger, more subtle edifice rises.  Vaginas are funny and thoughtful and angry and strong.  They are often neglected, even by their owners, and even more frequently misunderstood, by both men and women.  But they are also resilient and forgiving and ever hopeful of a favorable turnaround in fortune. Vaginas are all about life, the messy primal biological mechanics of life itself. And like all life, they don't give up easily.

When the monologues ended, Bre-anne took the stage again, and with the house lights dimmed, asked that any of the women in the room who had been a victim of abuse to please stand up.  A half dozen shadows rose in the audience.  After a long and silent pause, She asked that anyone who had been a witness to abuse to please stand.  Another dozen or so people rose to their feet.  Without unconsciously intending to, I calculated that perhaps 20% of the people in this room, one person in five, had been touched by this plague of violence.  

At the end, when all the applause had died away and we were rustling with our coats, I asked Bev how this evening compared with the professional production of the Vagina Monologues she'd seen in New York.  "Better," she said, "way better." And she was right.  I think that there was a special magic in seeing these young women putting heart and soul into this small town production. That, in a fundamental way, they had transcended the material itself.  They had crossed over some critical threshold of knowledge and self-awareness and were, in fact, Warriors.  

These young women are a force to be reckoned with.  They aren't going to be victimized or abused, they aren't going to be alienated from their own bodies.  They are free of all that, inoculated against the ignorance and isolation that allows it to happen and deputized to help out if they saw it happening to others.

As a father, and as a man, that makes me feel very proud.


1 V-Day information:
2 Independence House: (800)-439-6507
3 The Clothesline Project (Cape Cod): (508)-896-1875

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