There’s nothing new about the stigma surrounding vaginas — no young girl remembers a childhood of open conversations about sex, masturbation, gender identity or rape. If we learned anything in health class in sixth grade, it was the cisnormative anatomy of the genital organs that we were drilled in. But pleasure or pain? Hush, don’t talk about it.
That is why “The Vagina Monologues” is so brilliant. Originally written by Eve Ensler, the play combines the diverse narratives of hundreds of women and tears apart the forbidden dialogue surrounding sex, sexuality, sexual violence and sexual taboo.
This year’s theme at UC Berkeley is “Cultivating Solidarity: Bringing Marginalized Voices to Light,” which means that the collection of performances is tailored to an intersectional voice, shedding particular light on the stories of race, disability and trans folk.
One performance tells the story of hair, the scorn and rejection of an unshaved vagina and the infidelity of a bald, crotch-obsessed husband. “You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair,” she plainly declares. Another performer takes on the comedic role of a 72-year-old woman in New York who had never seen her vagina, recalling her embarrassing problem with flooding — down there.
In breaking down the shame and mystery that often surrounds women’s bodies, “The Vagina Monologues” busts myths and speaks truth in an array of ways, including the reclamation of gendered words. “Pussy,” “twat” and “cunt” become sources of empowerment, rather than pejoratives.
The show crosses cultural and national lines, exploring difficult themes such as genital mutilation, war and sexual assault and reiterating throughout that there is no one tale that embodies the experiences of all women. Each woman has a story unique to them, and each woman has a right to tell that story.
From the profound perspectives on disability in the original piece “Burn Survivor” to the satirical enactments of different orgasm moans in a later performance, the show has the power to make guests utterly engrossed as well as to make them uncontrollably laugh.
The show gives a voice to the marginalized vagina, especially when the audience is asked, “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?” But the show is not just about vaginas.
Many critics of Ensler’s original “Vagina Monologues” point out that there is a danger to essentializing the experience of womanhood to genitalia. After all, not all women have vaginas.
UC Berkeley’s V-Day production cast took it upon itself to tailor much of the original script.
“Eve Ensler’s original play leaves out many racial and gender identities,” according to a statement from the production team. “She is a white womxn writing from a white womxn’s perspective. We invite our audience to think critically about the voices we are and are not representing.”
The show includes an original monologue that addresses this issue in a way that Ensler failed to. Three women perform a piece from the perspective of transgender individuals, titled, “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy … Or So They Tried.” Their cries for visibility are powerful. Their performance sets a welcoming space for gender nonconforming people and gives value to frequently erased voices.
With each monologue, the atmosphere in the room becomes more and more one of overwhelming solidarity and acceptance. Beyond just sharing, “The Vagina Monologues” engages, involves and questions.
With its main objective of raising awareness for V-Day, “The Vagina Monologues” takes a leading role in the movement to end violence against women and girls every Feb. 14, a holiday usually reserved for romantic endeavors. Nearly all the proceeds raised by V-Day at UC Berkeley will be donated to nonprofits that take action to end gender-involved violence, so it will be quite worth a visit to the playhouse. So rather than dinner and a movie this Saturday, maybe you’ll enjoy your evening more by sitting in a room full of women talking about cunts.
Contact Valerie Khau at [email protected].