Challenge yourself to see ‘The Vagina Monologues’

| Staff Columnist

Erin Humphrie | Student Life
If you’ve never seen “The Vagina Monologues,” go see them when they’re performed in Graham Chapel this weekend. If you’re planning on going: good. Keep reading if you want, but this column is mainly for those of you who haven’t yet made plans to go.

Why don’t you want to go? Maybe you’re worried about being made uncomfortable or about hearing the word “vagina” a hundred and twenty two times, or, perhaps, you just don’t have much interest.

I didn’t go my freshman year for many of the same reasons—mainly because of the big, gaping title. But I went my sophomore year to support several friends involved with the show. I might have, semi-facetiously, planned to keep a tally of each time the word “vagina” was used. I was expecting my friends to give good performances but not planning on experiencing anything revelatory.

If you don’t know what to expect, the show takes a little while to warm up to. But if you really watch, you might realize—as I did—that the show is much less about the titular subject matter than about women in general; individual monologues focus on things from female body image, to self-consciousness, to self-love, to companionship, to violence and discrimination. What’s special about “The Vagina Monologues” is that the show aims for creating a better understanding of women from a variety of perspectives, using the characters’ frank discussions about vaginas and sexuality only as a starting point.

The show is not perfect. Any viewing has its moments of discomfort and frustration. As a straight guy, there are times when the monologues feel almost overly critical of heterosexuality and of men. Even some feminist critics have pointed out their own problems with the show.

Yet to view “The Vagina Monologues” from an especially critical standpoint is unfair. It has the potential to reduce a play aiming for a kind of universality—a play that is, in some ways, more than a play—to something one-note and hypocritical. A show of its kind cannot hope to be exhaustive in its exploration of so grand a topic as womanhood. Yes, it would be nice to have something that expresses the entirety of womanhood, but “The Vagina Monologues” aren’t at fault for trying—in recent years they have included monologues from transgendered women, for one. But at this point, they are the best thing we have for getting these ideas out in a mainstream and useful way.

Regardless of their faults, they still have the potential to start conversations that are necessary to have in our time: conversations about female roles in society, conversations about sexuality and social mores, and conversations about violence against women.

In my own experience, I feel that “The Vagina Monologues” pushed me to be more respectful towards and aware of women in my life, especially in the ways that their experiences are wholly different than my own. That the monologues are made up of interviews with real women only serves to reinforce this. Hearing a monologue from an old woman’s perspective, one from that of a young lesbian, one from a woman with a British accent, and from numerous others convinced me not only that each woman’s vagina is different, but also that, in the show, the “vagina” in that past sentence operates as a stand-in for each character’s womanhood and femininity—each is entirely different than the other. In other words, don’t respect women for the fact that they have vaginas. Respect women because they are women.

If the above reasons can’t push you to spend an hour and a half tonight, Friday or Saturday in Graham Chapel, then consider going to support V-Day, the organization that puts on “The Vagina Monologues” every year and exists as a response to violence against women. Wash. U.’s V-Day, through ticket sales to “The Vagina Monologues” and merchandise, raised over $8,000 dollars—10% of which went to support women in Haiti and the other 90% of which went directly to local groups that provide support and aid to female victims of violence and sexual assault.

Go to “The Vagina Monologues.” Oh, the word makes you uncomfortable—well, I’ve used it nine times so far in this 700-word column, but, if you’ve made it this far, you’re clearly not that averse to it. So what’s so bad about hearing it a few more times?

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