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The Vagina Monologues is an Award-winning episodic play written by Eve Ensler. It started out with Eve Ensler performing herself by 1996 and a published book by 1998. It ran at the off-Broadway Westside Theatre after limited performances at HERE Arts Center in 1996. After Ensler left the production, it was recast with three celebrity monologists and since then, has been staged internationally with a television version featuring Ensler produced by cable TV channel HBO. The book and play that evolved featured vaginal facts, stories told from the perspective of women from friends of Ensler to referred women of diverse racial, regional, sexual, age backgrounds, experiences, and interpretations.
Various experiences and Ensler’s own opinions, views, and experiences about the vagina are encompassed in the playbook. Each monologue has a relation to the vagina: the act of sex, love, menstruation, mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, rape or abuse, names for the vagina, or as a regular part of the female body. It seemed to most observers of a form of female empowerment and an embodiment of individuality.
It included among others the “I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me” which is a chorus about the experiences of young women’s first menstrual period; “My Angry Vagina” is a woman’s humorous complaints about the injustices done against the vagina, such as the use of OB/Gyn’s tools, tampons or douches; “My Vagina Was My Village”, a compilation of testimonies of Bosnian women victims in rape camps; “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could”, which was one of the more controversial that recalled memories of sexual experiences in childhood and soon experienced positive sexual healing in her adolescent year at 13 with an older woman.
Later versions changed her age to 16 after numerous controversies and criticisms; “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy”, where a dominatrix for women discusses the details of her career as well as her giving women pleasure; “Because He Liked to Look At It”, a woman previously believed her pubic area was ugly was embarrassed about it. She had a change of mind after a sexual experience with a man who spent hours looking at it, probably with admiration; “I Was There In The Room”, describes the birth of Ensler’s granddaughter.
This paper will focus on one portion of the book where one view on intersexed children had its meaning and impact of vaginal facts through consideration of Ensler’s discussion of the woman in Oklahoma who was born without a vagina but did not realize it until she was fourteen.
She was playing with her girlfriend. They compared their genitals and she realized hers were different, something was wrong. She went to the gynecologist with her father, the parent she was close to, and the doctor discovered that in fact, she did not have a vagina or a uterus. Her father was heartbroken, trying to repress his tears and sadness so his daughter would not feel bad. On the way home from the doctor, in a noble attempt to comfort her, he said, “Don’t worry, darlin’. This is all gonna be just fine. As a matter of fact, it’s gonna be great. We’re gonna get you the best homemade pussy in America. And when you meet your husband, he’s gonna know we had it made especially for him. (1998, pp 83-84)
The change in the woman’s organ may be considered a form of mutilation but since it was done for the husband-to-be and in a western context, it was not seen so by Ensler. Instead, she narrated, “And they did get her a new pussy, and she was relaxed and happy and when she brought her father back two nights later, the love between them melted me,” (p 84). While this may at some point be a relaxing view, so that Hall (2005) commented, “to put it mildly, say enough. In the context of a book and performance that attempt to make visible the oppressive forces that have estranged women from their bodies, the omission of any further comment on the woman’s story is glaring,” (p 104).
In addition, the Oklahoma woman’s story is about disability and the need to “fix” a disability to please a future husband, with the father’s deep and genuine concern, probably with the view that a more leasing future awaits the married child with “normal” sexuality. This underlies a patriarchal society that disregards the woman’s condition and feelings but putting into priority a man’s reaction to the intersexed woman.
In another view, the father may at one point be after the welfare of his daughter as “fixing’ her missing vagina entails empowerment, the ability of the girl-daughter to provide pleasure to her future husband, thus, allowing her daughter an upper hand on the future relationship. This may not be a very promising premise but cannot be ignored altogether.
Another portion of the Vagina Monologues is “Hair” (Ensler, 1998, pp 9-11) which a married, monogamist woman shared. She shared, “My first and only husband hated hair. He said it was cluttered and dirty.” She narrated that her husband made her shave her vagina and he was excited about it. While the narration had a shortcut of which the husband had an affair after the wife refused to shave her vagina, there may be implied reasons but at the end of the narration, the wife had her vagina shaved, yet, her “husband never stopped screwing around.”
Women have a varying degree of relations when it comes to their genitalia as much as a male would. It is, however, a more pronounced fact that men openly discuss their sexual adventures so much like conquests. With the above discussion on vagina based on Ensler’s monologues, it can be said that times are changing and that the vagina, the clitoris, or whichever part of the woman’s organ is called, has evolved as an integral part of the woman that helps shape, provide experience, even some form of degenerative role but definitely as a tool for heightening a woman’s role or power in a more sexually opening world.
Ensler, Eve (1998). The Vagina Monologues. Random House.
Frueh, Joanna (2003). “Vaginal Aesthetics.” Hypatia, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall/ pp. 137-158.
Hall, Kim Q (2005). “Queerness, Disability, and The Vagina Monologues.” Hypatia, 20 (1), pp. 99-119.