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Lesbian-Feminst Critique of the Vagina Monologues 2010

Lesbian-Feminst Critique of the Vagina Monologues 2010

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Playwright Carolyn Gage offers a lesbian-feminist critique of Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues
Playwright Carolyn Gage offers a lesbian-feminist critique of Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues

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Published by: carolyn6302 on Feb 13, 2010
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01/18/2013

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Copyright 2002, 2009 Carolyn GageOriginally published in
Rain and Thunder: A Radical Feminist Journal of Discussion and Activism
, Summer, Northampton, MA, 2002.
A Lesbian Looks at
The Vagina Monologues
Many lesbians have been deeply offended by
The Vagina Monologues’ 
representation of lesbians, and I am one of them . . .There is a vignette about an adult lesbian perpetrator who “initiates” a childinto lesbian sex. Even more confusing, the monologue is delivered by thevictim, who tells us she is a survivor of incest by male perpetrators, but thather experience of this seductive lesbian perpetration was empowering. Thisis
really 
offensive to those of us who are students of lesbian history, andwho remember that it was lesbian energy, lesbian initiative that fueled themovement against violence against women. We remember the lesbianswho founded the rape crisis lines, who set up the first battered women’sshelters, who broke and continue to break the silence about incest andchild sexual abuse. We remember the lesbians in more recent decadeswho stood up courageously to our “liberal” gay brothers, demanding thatthey take a position on pedophilia and insisting our queer coalitions had noplace for the notorious North American Man-Boy Love [sic] Association. Weremember how often it was us who were excluded. That Ensler felt it wasappropriate to select a story that is so atypical of lesbian behavior, sopotentially damaging to survivors and our credibility, and so insensitive tothe stereotypes that fuel homophobia is inexcusable.I understand that Ensler changed the age of the child from the originalfourteen to sixteen, but that’s still statutory rape. Also, the term used for thevulva indicates that the child and perpetrator are African American. Iwonder if she would be so enthusiastic about a white middle-class incestsurvivor being perpetrated on by a white middle-class adult?Playwright Eve Ensler also has a vignette that valorizes lesbian prostitutionand sado-masochism. This is especially offensive, because she is notlesbian and does not know first-hand how much the issue of sado-masochism/bondage-and-discipline have torn apart our community. This isa complicated conversation that requires deep and respectful listening on
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both sides, as well as trauma literacy. Ensler’s monologue offers a one-sided presentation, humorously focused on the delights of making women“moan.” The playwright does not make any mention at all of the actual“services” the dominitrix renders: the violent and misogynist epithets, theslapping, biting, whipping, hitting, burning, cutting, the scenarios involvingracism, anti-Semitism, violence against women, incest . . . the fisting, thebondage, etc. etc. That would be to introduce the complexity at theexpense of audience titillation.Ensler used to have one lesbian vignette in which the character actuallytalked about a woman just loving another woman’s genitals. This wastacked on at the end, and Ensler added a preface in her own voice asplaywright, stating that a lesbian friend had insisted she add it andapologizing if it offended anyone! No such preface was needed for her characterizing of lesbian perpetration, prostitution, and sado-masochism. Iunderstand that this vignette about healthy lesbian love has now beenremoved entirely from recent productions.Many of us were offended by Ensler’s constant inaccurate use of the word“vagina” when she meant “vulva,” an ignorant and misleading misnomer that smacks of heterosexism. The vagina is of primary importance toheterosexual men in their sex act, which involves penetration. Hard tobelieve that a woman in the 1990’s could still have been confusing vulvaswith vaginas. The focus on the vagina, with its relative lack of nerveendings, as a passage for penises and babies, erases the clitoris as theprimary sex organ for women. The myth of the vaginal orgasm has been aresult of defining women’s genitalia based on what pleases men, and thismyth, which has caused so many women to deny our own needs and viewourselves as sexually inadequate, has been tough enough to counter, evenwith three decades of feminist research. The last thing women need is aso-called feminist play reinstating the vagina as the primary organ definingour sexuality.Lesbians note that the title of the play,
The Vagina Monologues
, isemblematic of the kind of mind-body split that has caused Ensler toconfuse the vulva with the vagina. The title suggests a disembodied vaginatalking, and the publicity campaigns make the most of this, depicting amicrophone on an empty stage underneath the words “vagina” and“monologue”—as if a giant vagina is going to step out on the stage and
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start talking. Some producers have made a pornographic play on the word“vagina,” by using the slogan “Spread the word” under the title.Finally, many lesbians were offended by the vignette where a man whocoerces a woman sexually is depicted as healing her. He pressures thewoman to allow him to stare at her vulva for ten minutes with the lights on,even though she is very articulate about her discomfort with this request.He persists in pressuring her, and she gives in. The playwright would haveus believe the man loves her body more than she does, and this is whatheals her. What a frightening role model for women—suggesting that weshould not trust our own boundaries or honor our comfort levels in sex! If we do, we might be missing an opportunity for healing ourselves of our uptightness (frigidity?). In fact, many women in situations where sexualpressure is involved, have learned to dissociate from their own discomfort,pain, or humiliation and identify with pleasing their partners. This is nothealing, but syndrome. Ensler’s monologue sends a very wrong message:“No shouldn’t mean no.”This vignette not only disrespects a woman’s knowledge of her needs andher right to her process, but it also valorizes a male behavior that objectifiesand fetishizes the vulva. As one lesbian audience member noted, “I’ll bethe does love vulvas… probably keeps jars of them at home.”The intersex monologue, which I understand has been removed fromrecent versions of the play, raised international protests in its defense of female genital mutilation, which, in the monologue is unapologetically,explicitly for the purpose of making the girl acceptable to a male partner atsome future time.The heterosexism, the male protectionism, the pervasive euphemizing of pornographic and perpetrating acts, and the attack on intersex people—allof these are present in
The Vagina Monologues
. Lesbians have beencelebrating the vulva, and especially the clit, for three decades. Lesbianhomes are filled with Tee Corinne’s photos, with Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers,with Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich’s poems about vulvas, celebrating andreclaiming our bodies and our sexuality.
The Vagina Monologues
is a poor imitation, a heterosexist appropriation, of lesbian culture as it relates towomen’s genitals. Ensler’s intentional distortion and misrepresentation of lesbian relationships is inexcusably commercial, pandering to a
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