By Jasmine Kozak Gilroy
This year from February 12-14 a group of students from the Evergreen State College will be performing a hybrid version of the Vagina Monologues, a combination of the original monologues and student written pieces, to benefit the Women’s Resource Center. Next year, instead of the Vagina Monologues, the school will put on The Vagina Chronicles, which will be entirely student written pieces.
The Vagina Monologues was first produced off Broadway in 1996. Every year Eve Ensler decides which past monologues will be performed during “V- Season” (the month of February) and writes a new addition to revamp and modernize the play. Over the past two decades it has been performed thousands of times in dozens of countries at “V-Day” benefits, performances of the play that support local organizations focusing women’s health issues.
The Vagina Monologues has in the past been criticized both for its reinforcement of cisgendered womanhood and its bizarre, white washed, take on feminism. I spoke to two members of this years cast, Mia Candocia and Lou Jorgens about their involvement with the show. When I first spoke to them, Lou was quick to acknowledge, “We both know it is crazy problematic.”
They explained that the cast used selective editing and the student written “chronicles” to patch holes and hopefully avoid some of the more outdated or offensive aspects of the play. Mia was very clear about the depth at which the cast has examined the show, saying, “if somebody has a question about something— about what was left in or taken out, about the context it is probably something we have already addressed and talked about.”
Since The Vagina Monologues came out Eve Ensler has traveled the world to interview women involved in global travesties against women’s and human rights—most famously, she wrote a monologue based on the experiences of the Japanese comfort women: young, mostly South Korean girls who were forced to work in military brothels during World War II. Recently she has even addressed the issue of the plays problematic advocation for biological womanhood, stating that “I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina” (despite some lines in older monologues that Lou tells me allude otherwise), and writing a monologue based on the experiences of transgender women for a production of the Vagina Monologues with an all trans cast.
In spite of the progress Ensler has made in growing the universality of her most famous work, her tight grasp on which monologues can be performed each year, how and when they will be performed, and how they are to be marketed, seems to blur the line between a person in a position of privilege creating a platform for marginalized stories and an enterprise built on other people’s words. Addressing my mixed feelings regarding the monopoly the play seems to have over feminist theatre despite it addressing the stories of only a small amount of women and the role that privilege may play in that, Lou said, “We do this play because it was written as a white woman. At the end of the day we can’t really get around that, although we’ve worked hard to minimize that single narrative.”
While discussing the issue of allyship and privilege, Lou and Mia brought up a quote from one of the student written monologues, “I’m sick of taking what I can get, and you are not my ally if you think a song written by a straight white man was good enough.”—addressing the heralding of Macklemore as a LGBTQ hero despite him being a cisgendered, straight musician with little to lose for his support of marriage equality.
To me, the most bizarre part about the play is that is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable, but the consistency with which it appears on college campuses make it seem like it’s a play that we are actually quite comfortable with—a work of art that, perhaps, has lost its edge with time. Feminism isn’t dead. It’s not sleeping, or dormant. There are plenty of things to talk about and be angered by. The Vagina Monologues is only one play— there is no way it could encompass the joy, passion, and suffering of billions of women. It seems almost ridiculous to fault Eve Ensler for not accurately telling the story of thousands of women because she is, of course, just one woman herself. And yet, year after year, we tell the same stories, directed and written by the same woman. The continued insistence to perform a play that is two decades old, that only touches on a few of the many structural and social issues that women across class, race, and global borders face frustrates me.
But, despite that frustration, I will be at the show this weekend. In part, to support my friends. In part, in appreciation for the Women’s Resource Center, and in part because Mia made what I think is a very good point about the play, that the monologues, “Tell a story, and they tell true stories about what people think or thought, and many still think are true. So problematic or not I think it is about following a narrative. A narrative about vaginas.”
The performances will take place at the Recital Hall in the COMM Building of the Evergreen State College on Friday, February 12 at 7 p.m.; Saturday February 13 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday February 14 at 3 p.m. Admission is five dollars or a box of menstrual products, all of which goes to the Women’s Resource Center on campus.