“Let’s just start with the word ‘vagina.’ It sounds like an infection at best, maybe a medical instrument: ‘Hurry, Nurse, bring me the vagina.” How many of you laughed? How many of you squirmed just now? How many of you threw down the paper in disgust and are now picking it back up to see where the heck this was going? Or, just threw the paper away?
My friend and I saw “The Vagina Monologues” last night (from which the opening quote was taken) at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in SLO. Kelli Poward, director of the production, closed the evening with the question, “How can people think the Monologues are not still relevant?” after asking the audience how many of us had never seen the production before by raising our hands. I believe at least half of us raised them.
Obviously it is still relevant to quite a few of us in this day and age of Me Too and calling out of sexual inappropriateness, of women/trans/ anybody speaking up for their own physical and emotional rights.
“I didn’t set out to write a play about vaginas; I just got talking about them one day. It was 1994, and I was talking to a friend in New York about the menopause. We got on to the subject of her vagina, and what she said really surprised me. She said her vagina was dried-up and finished, dead and horrible. I realized I didn’t know what women really thought about their vaginas — or what I thought about my own, for that matter.
“I started asking friends. What they said was so surprising and disturbing, I started writing it down. One woman said she'd had such a bad sexual experience when she was a girl that she'd decided never to have sex again. I started to think there could be a play in this. So I spoke to hundreds of women of all ages and races, and wrote a series of fictional monologues inspired by the things I heard.” (Writer Eve Ensler, http://bit.ly/2EFFT7q)
And so, conversations about “what would your vagina say,” “what would your vagina wear?” and more intensely, what does one say when it is being raped by a gun in Bosnia or molested for seven days continually by her captors or by your father or someone else you trusted? How about one who has given birth? Genital mutilation, patriarchal religions that decode to govern the world.
There are many humorous moments in the production — naming all the “pet names” for the vagina, various moans and other exclamations of pleasure (by the way, did you know — “happy fact” — that the vagina has 8,000 nerves and is the only part of the body designed strictly for pleasure; more nerves than fingers or the tongue and certainly more than the penis!”)
St. Stephen’s Rev. Ian Dillinger addressed the crowd, saying it was the church’s family, not just him, that felt this was an appropriate use of the church. He the turned to the cast — this night, four transgender women and a non-binary individual – and apologized to them for historic actions of religious institutions for not recognizing and supporting people who did not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. His tears, of course, made me cry, too. He then read the “Man Prayer” by author/creator, Eve Ensler:
“May I be a man
Whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving
Who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength
Who creates space rather than dominates it
Who appreciates listening more than knowing
Who seeks kindness over control
Who cries when the grief is too much
Who refuses to slap, the gun, the choke, the insult, the punch
May I not be afraid to get lost
May I cherish touch more than performance and the experience more than getting there
May I move slowly, not abruptly
May I be brave enough to share my fear and shame and gather the other men to do the same
May I stop pretending and open the parts of me that have long been numb
May I cherish, respect and love my mother
May the resonance of that love translate into loving all women and living things”
I found a video of this read by men in many languages. I then scrolled through all the commentary below (my mom always said to read the Op Ed page to know what people are really thinking — this would be the equivalent) … yeah, this apparently threatens men to no end (http://bit.ly/1hXKEbt).
What do you think?
Thank you, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Kelli Poward for organizing and directing, and the performers for being so brave and open and to the large audiences who understand and attended.
By the way, the $10 entry tickets went to R.I.S.E. (Respect, Inspire, Support, Empower) of SLO, providing sexual assault/abuse and intimate partner violence programs. The relevance of this production has been called into question, even by the author.
“I have heard from college students who have only seen the show performed by college students say it is irrelevant,” Poward said. “I have talked to some people older and younger who won’t watch the show because they think it’s all about man bashing and won’t hear the actual stories.”
But, I trust that even millenials are aware of the culture in which we live. Find out more about RISE at RISEslo.org Its toll free hotline is 855-886 RISE (7473).