Open a Dialogue on Women's Sexuality
Published: Monday, February 2, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 00:01
It's gradually becoming as much a part of Valentine's Day as chocolate and flowers: the annual "V-Day" performances of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" at Georgetown. To my dismay, however, productions in recent years have been marred by a concurrent annual outcry against the play.
Considering the production's emotionally charged subject matter and graphic language, I understand why it might attract controversy. The play unfolds in a series of monologues that address issues ranging from sexual assault, prostitution and the generational nature of abuse. One piece depicts a single Native American woman as she recounts her experience with assault; another concludes by recreating the various moans women make during sex. The word vagina is used upwards of 140 times in the script.
I understand why some men may feel intimidated or simply confused by the play, especially if they cannot identify with any of the monologues or cast members. I can also understand why many Catholic groups find vice in the play - like the Cardinal Newman Society, an advocacy group that called the production an "assault on young peoples' minds and morals" and ran an ad in some editions of USA Today urging campuses to censor the play or ban its production. I understand these forms of opposition, even though they frustrate me. But try as I might, I simply cannot understand the argument that the production is dangerous because it is "too feminist."
As one of the directors of this year's Georgetown production, I began making logistical arrangements for the performance during the fall of 2008. In the midst of my work, I received a letter from the Independent Women's Forum. It was addressed to a large group of people involved in "The Vagina Monologues" at university campuses around the country, but its vivid attacks felt personal. The conservative nonprofit group chastised my endeavors, informing me that my work with the play at worst reduced the full potential of a female to her sexuality, and at best encouraged my peers to be sexually promiscuous.
I was not amused - I was especially offended by the first accusation. Rather than valuing "The Vagina Monologues" as a presentation - indeed, a celebration - of women coming to terms with their bodies, this group and the host of like-minded individuals who have approached me with similar critiques take an overly defensive stance in the face of issues that are too often swept under the carpet.
These complaints stem from a very limited understanding of what the play intends to accomplish.
People don't speak publicly about women's sexuality very often. While society has no problem with allowing boys to process their sexuality - however immaturely - my girlfriends and I have never been afforded the same luxury. This tendency to pretend as if female sexuality doesn't exist, borne of the nuances of our social fabric, is detrimental to girls and women. Anything connected with our sexuality - even sexual abuse - is an intensely personal concern, nothing more.
Rejecting the message that women have internalized - that women's sexuality and femininity is not to be explored or spoken of - "The Vagina Monologues" instead celebrates these topics. This production affords women a public forum in which to process their collective experience in a mature way. So I am left with the question: Why has "The Vagina Monologues" - which isn't intended to be sexually arousing or demeaning - been protested by a vocal minority of females?
We are all entitled to our opinions, but these protestations sadden me. I am left wondering if these women understand the pain and confusion that many others carry because their sexuality is often denigrated, abused and defiled - or simply left untapped. Do they have any sense of the struggles that brought "The Vagina Monologues" into existence?
I fervently hope they never have an experience like those the production reveals, but I do wish these women would accept the very real problems that "The Vagina Monologues" aims to confront in the first place.
Bridget Nugent is a junior in the College. She can be reached at nugentthehoya.com. A Word for Jane Hoya appears every other Monday on www.thehoya.com.
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