“Vagina Identity” is the title of alumna Kirby Thomas’s article criticizing Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” in a March 2012 edition of “The Counterweight,” the University’s Conservative Club’s publication. Thomas sets out to “expose the failures of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” chastising the performance for defining women by their genitalia, promoting “hook-up” culture, and being written with “the primary intent to shock,” claiming that “simple standards of decency” are breached upon the mere utterance of the word “vagina.”
One part of Thomas’s argument that rings true is her concern that defining women by their bodies or their parts, namely a sexual organ, is “profoundly anti-feminist.” She’s right: to deny a woman (or anyone) personhood by dehumanizing her, reducing her to a mere object, is morally reprehensible and indeed profoundly anti-feminist. But anyone who attends “The Vagina Monologues” and pays any semblance of attention knows that the intent of the show is not to claim that a woman’s essence can be boiled down to her genitalia. It is far more abstract.
The purpose of the show is to bring to light how utterly fearful our patriarchal–yes, I said it–society is of women’s sexual pleasure and reproductive functions. TV commercials tell us we have to buy scented sanitary pads and douches to “clean” our vaginas, as if they were always inherently dirty (actually, the body does a great job of naturally regulating the pH of the vagina very well, thank you very much). Magazines aimed at women and porn aimed at men tell us that we have to shave our naturally growing pubic hair in order to have a pretty vagina. Female orgasms render “R” film ratings while male orgasms require a mere “PG-13” rating.
There is so much shame and stigma surrounding what vaginas look and smell like and how they are allowed to be talked about (in everyday slang, only ever referred to derogatorily when calling someone a “pussy”), it’s no wonder that getting up on stage and proclaiming the beauty and greatness of one’s vagina feels like a long-overdue catharsis. I believe the Monologues do a great service by breaking down these walls of discomfort and assuring people that it is okay to talk candidly, even fondly, about one’s vagina.
Thomas says that “stressing that the vagina embodies gender identity” is problematic, and again she is correct, but her criticism towards the Monologues is misdirected. Indeed, gender identity is defined by what we present outwardly in the ways we dress, act, speak, and interact with others. In this way, gender has absolutely nothing to do with one’s genitals. Ask any gender non-conforming, gender-fluid, agender, bigender, genderqueer, or transgender individual how much his, her, or zir or zis “gender identity” is determined by what’s between his or her legs, and chances are that individual will respond, “not much.”
Thomas is right to reject the vagina as the be-all, end-all marker of womanhood, and this is a valid critique of the Monologues that I will concede to. Still, for those of us who do possess a vagina and/or the other reproductive parts associated with it, we are so often shamed and regarded as “less-than” simply for having one, that a theatrical production dedicated to proclaiming exactly how great vaginas are is a welcomed confidence booster that, frankly, should be more common.
If nothing else, girls and women will leave the performance feeling more pride in the beauty and wonders of their vaginas, and boys and men will leave having a newfound respect for the vessels that produce immense pleasure and make way for human life.