by Molly Moylan Brown
Thrust a female private part into the title of a theater piece and you’ve started a resistance. You incite perplexity and trepidation, an acute sense of taboo—resistance. It begins with language, the words we say and the words we avoid. Vagina. Why does that word assault us when we hear or see it spelled out in public? What squeamishness or prudishness, what anger or offense does it provoke in us? How does it compel and repel us at the same time? The resistance is innate, personal.
A production called The Vagina Monologues sounds, at best, pornographic. Maybe it’s best to simply sidestep such a production, pretend you didn’t see the notice, banish it from your memory. What if, however, you dared to scrutinize your gut reaction to the title, to consider whether what you assume is an innate response is actually learned and contextual? Such daring could free us to grapple head-on with the power of words to make us feel ashamed, disempowered, afraid, and even angry. What did you call that part of your body growing up? Did it have a name? What do others around you call it? What associations and dissociation do you have with that part of your body? What internal dialogue, what stories perpetuate your relationship with your sexuality, your ‘self’? What wisdom could be found in staring this down, in courageously crossing the threshold that separates doubt from enrichment?
Eve Ensler, the playwright who created The Vagina Monologues, has employed the art of storytelling, used the power of language to penetrate, shift, and assume control of the narrative, to help us confront violence toward women, to elevate our awareness and give us the conscience of an activist, to move us to take action in our communities. She does this with pathos and humor to excite a range of emotions from devastation to celebration. By centering the work on the word vagina, she helps us to pull it out of the darkness and into the light so that we might confront our silence and taboo around the subject.
What potential power and inspiration is freed in the process? Relevant and stirring after nearly two decades, The Vagina Monologues contains a variety of stories of birth, sex, love, abuse, intimacy, and change, packed into a 90-minute performance that moves cast and audience into a shared communal experience.
The persistent brutality against women is rampant around the world; it produces incalculable misery through the subjugation of, and violence toward, women and girls—those who manifest the generative miracle— and it needs all the enlightened resistance we can muster. How and why does it persist and why isn’t a “cure” for such a vast and intractable systemic disease uppermost on every state and individual agenda? What will a world free of such brutality look and feel like? Aren’t we obliged to work toward the creation of that world, where brutality against women and girls is aberrant rather than systemic?
The Vagina Monologues is a remarkable and transformative work in its ability to touch, move, and inspire, to awaken in performers and audience alike a deep consciousness about the essence of womanhood and, in doing so, contribute to the healing and enrichment of our humanity. And joining together to perform, to witness, and to participate in this production is one way to strengthen a robust community as it prepares to confront and dismantle this systematic undermining, undoing, and desecrating of women, what Ensler calls “femi-cide.” If we don’t empower and support women and girls, is there any measure of humanity we can honestly claim—and what prospect for growth, what hope, does our species deserve?
In honor of its 20th Anniversary and in celebration of the 5th anniversary of One Billion Rising, The American Women’s Club of Berlin e.V. is slated to produce, and I am looking forward to directing, The Vagina Monologues in February 2018.