One of the most socially significant aspects of today’s living in the West is the fact that, as time goes on, more and more people begin to refer to the discourse of feminism as innately erroneous – something that can be illustrated, in regards to the ongoing intellectual marginalization of feminism. What is particularly notable, in this respect, is that many feminist authors do contribute to this process rather substantially. The figure of Eve Ensler exemplifies the validity of this idea perfectly well, because it is largely on the account of a public controversy, sparked by her play The vagina monologues, that the notion of feminism is now being commonly discussed in conjunction with the notion of a mental deviation. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length.
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The play The vagina monologues consists of a number of thematically related monologues, in which American women of different ages/ethno-cultural backgrounds expound on the sexuality-related issues, while primarily focusing on the graphically explicit subject matters, such as what makes the scent of female genitals ‘special’, for example. Among the play’s most controversial monologues, can be named: I was twelve, my mother slapped me (about women’s endowment with ‘guilty consciousness’, because of their monthly periods), Reclaiming cunt (about how it is important for women to feel good about their genitals) and The woman who loved to make vaginas happy (about lesbian anxieties in women).
While coming up with their monologues, the featured characters strive to present themselves as the victims of institutionalized sexism. The manner, in which these women discuss men, implies that the latter happened to be ‘innately wicked’, which, according to Ensler explains why many women end up being victimized by their boyfriends/husbands. This, of course, positions The vagina monologues as a feminist work of literature, meant to serve the cause of women’s liberation from patriarchal oppression. In its turn, this cause is being reflective of the idea that there is no difference between men and women – at least in the sense of how their mentalities operate.
Nevertheless, a closer analysis of the themes and motifs, explored by Ensler in The vagina monologues, will reveal something rather paradoxical – despite being strongly feminist (in the formal sense of this word), this play helps to undermine the legitimacy of the idea that the difference between the representative of both sexes is merely physiological. The reason for this is that, in full accordance with how male-chauvinists believe it to be the case, The vagina monologues portrays the sense of a woman’s self-identity, as something that cannot be discussed outside of what happened to be her sexual anxieties. For example, many of this play’s women-speakers make a deliberate point in referring to their genitals, as the actual source of their individuality: “My vagina amazed me… I was speechless. I had awakened to… ‘vaginal wonder.’ I just wanted to lay there on my mat, my legs spread, examining my vagina forever. My clitoris was not something I could lose. It was me, the essence of me. It was both the doorbell to my house and the house itself” (Ensler, 2000, pp. 16-17).
Apparently, it never occurred to Ensler that by promoting the idea that the notion of ‘womanhood’ is synonymous with the notion of ‘female sexuality, she in fact did cause much harm to the theoretical foundation of feminism. The reason for this is quite apparent – as it was mentioned earlier, The vagina monologues correlate rather well with the patriarchal outlook on women, as being ‘inferior’ to men. After all, it is specifically the fact that female genitals are ‘internal’, which male-chauvinists refer to as the best indication that women are simply not capable of thinking ‘asexual’, by definition. According to this (and evidently Ensler’s) point of view, a woman’s body is nothing but one big sexual organ. Male genitals, on the other hand, are ‘external’, which explains why men think of their sexuality as something incidental, as something that comes and goes.
After having had sex, men return to their ‘normal’ (asexual) selves, which in turn create the objective preconditions for them to consider indulging in a variety of ‘non-biological’ pursuits – something that enables the continuation of the ongoing social, technological and cultural progress. As the above-stated implies, women are simply not capable of acting in such a manner- due to the ‘internal’ nature of their genitals, they are doomed to exist in the state of a never-ending sexual tension.
Thus, regardless of whether it happened intentionally or unintentionally, on her part, but in The vagina monologues Ensler did provide chauvinistically minded men with yet additional proof that their patriarchal attitude towards women is indeed valid. What it means is that, even though Ensler’s play continues to be praised by this country’s ‘progressive’ (read decadent) citizens, as such that contributed towards helping women to deal with patriarchal oppression, this is far from having been the actual case. If anything, The vagina monologues help to popularize even further the sexist stereotype of women, as essentially ‘emotive’ beings, who tend to address life-challenges irrationally. It is understood, of course, that this hardly adds to the play’s literary/discursive value.
The above-mentioned, however, does not constitute the play’s only downside – Ensler’s ‘masterpiece’ appears to be made out of them. For example, throughout the play, many of its characters expound at length on those sexuality-related issues that can hardly be considered socially acute, such as the one concerned with the practice of genital mutilation in Africa. It goes without saying, of course, that had African women ceased being subjected to this practice, their American counterparts would have felt relieved. However, they would have felt even better if the self-proclaimed ‘spokesmen for the feminist cause’ (such as Ensler) began paying attention to the women’s issues of relevance, such as the ones concerned with the challenges of deciding in favor of abortion, or what are the side effects of taking birth-control pills.
The author’s reluctance to talk much, in this respect, appears to be reflective of her misandric attitudes towards men. After all, it is specifically under the condition that the representatives of both sexes would be willing to collaborate, while addressing these challenges, that there may be a rationale to feel positive about what would be the undertaking’s eventual outcome. Yet, as it was pointed out earlier, in The vagina monologues most males are being presented as ‘natural born’ evildoers. What it means is that, contrary to what the author would like us to believe, her novel does not contain many practically valuable clues, as to how women should proceed with trying to attain self-actualization.
The play’s third main weakness has to do with the fact that, while providing the audience with the graphic accounts of what it feels like being a sexually oppressed woman, Ensler deliberately strived to avoid paying much attention to the social implications of this type of experience. For example, it is being often mentioned in the play that many women suffer from not having the looks of a Hollywood star. However, the author did not bother to bring people’s attention to the fact that this specific anxiety in women is being induced by the transnational corporations that specialize in producing cosmetics/feminine hygiene products. Such Ensler’s position is explainable – after having attained fame as a controversial female-writer, she ended up signing the so-called ‘spokesmanship’ contracts with many of these corporations, such as Johnson and Johnson, for example.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in defense of the idea that Ensler’s The vagina monologue is counter-beneficial to the cause of women’s social empowerment/liberation, fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis. We can speculate that in the future this particular play will be regarded as yet additional proof that it was specifically throughout the course of the 20th century’s nineties, that American society ended up being irreversibly set on the course of intellectual regress.
Therefore, it will only be appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that, contrary to what many critics believe, The vagina monologues can hardly be discussed in terms of a fully legitimate work of dramaturgy/literature. Instead, it should be seen as the proof of the author’s acute sense of commercial industriousness. After all, Ensler did succeed in turning something that can be categorized as ‘obscenities’ into the valid tool for generating a commercial profit – something that goes well with the fact that in America, the virtue of intellectual advancement has never been considered very popular.
Ensler, E. (2000). The vagina monologues. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc. Web.