Opinion: How The Vagina Monologues changed my perspective on feminism
By Sarah Green, Contributor
When I first saw the word “vagina” printed on a hot pink book cover, I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of uncomfortable curiosity. Casually scanning my surroundings, I made sure no one could see me taking interest in such a book. I was convinced if someone were to notice me, a blaring alarm would go off, broadcasting to the world that I was intrigued by the “v-word.” Vagina. The word was printed in a bold, serif font and it seemed to stare back at me as I hesitantly picked up the book and turned it over in my hands. As I flipped through the first couple of pages, I was immediately captivated by the authentic tone. In that moment, I was introduced to The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler.
The Vagina Monologues first took form in the 1990s as an avant-garde play in New York. Ensler was inspired to write the play after interviewing more than 200 women about their experiences with womanhood. Each monologue is uniquely vulnerable, as a variety of topics are discussed including sexuality, abuse, genital mutilation, love and birth.
As the first of its kind, The Vagina Monologues proliferated and was performed in 50 different languages throughout 140 countries. The New York Times described it as, “Probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”
Now, more than 20 years later, the famous monologues take form as a book, graced with a hot pink cover. The Vagina Monologues is a refreshingly heart-wrenching read. Through her hundreds of interviews, Ensler created a safe space where women were able to freely express their stories. For the first time, women were given the opportunity to candidly speak about a part of their body that had previously been riddled with taboos.
In an excerpt from the book, Ensler writes, “At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before.”
In addition to pioneering The Vagina Monologues, Ensler founded V-Day, a global movement to end violence against girls and women. Since its birth in 1998, V-Day has raised more than $100 million to help free girls and women from situations of rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery.
In modern-day society, women are trapped in situations that are painted as “uncommon” and “irrelevant.” However, according to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.
Ensler writes, “Slowly, it dawned on me that nothing was more important than stopping violence toward women … When you rape, beat, maim, mutilate, burn, bury, and terrorize women, you destroy the essential life energy of the planet. You force what is meant to be open, trusting, nurturing, creative, and alive to be bent, infertile, and broken.”
If I can promise you one thing, it’s that this book is not just for radical feminists or women’s studies majors. Rather, it’s a book by women for women. It’s a masterpiece brimming with raw, messy and vulnerable stories that will shatter your heart and heal it at the same time.
After reading The Vagina Monologues, I was left with a sense of awe, pain and discovery. Most importantly, I was left with a fresh perspective on a beautiful form of feminism: conversation. By simply opening up the conversation about our bodies, specifically our vaginas, we are rewriting the narrative that has kept us confined for so long. Rather than experiencing suffocating feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment when approaching this dialogue, we are finding freedom in our powerful stories. We are no longer forced to tiptoe around our identity and sexuality; rather we are able to wholeheartedly pursue our desires.
As an avid feminist myself, The Vagina Monologues acted as a catalyst for a time of serious self-reflection. The book made me question why I saw “vagina” as a dirty word. It made me dissect the dozens of humorous euphemisms I would use instead of uttering the v-word. Vagina. Most importantly, it made me realize how empowering it is to re-write my own narrative on womanhood.