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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