Vagina. There I said it. Yet it still resonates a feeling of ‘the unmentionable’ a decade after The Vagina Monologues was first published in Britain.
The Vagina Monologues is a collection of stories from women across American. The stories were collected by the “vagina lady”, Eve Ensler, in her bid to reclaim the word vagina and empower women’s bodies. Ensler’s interest in the vagina was sparked by a conversation with ‘an older woman’ about her vagina. Ensler was shocked by this woman’s frankness. Nevertheless, this random conversation resulted in her travelling around the States, gathering stories from 200 anonymous women regarding their thoughts about their vagina, relationships, sex and violence against women.
Each monologues relates to women’s thoughts about their vagina, be it through the personification of the vagina, or stories of sex, rape, love, menstruation, relationships, orgasms, and, birth. Each monologue represents a personal experience that is poignant in its simplicity; one that all women cannot help but relate to.
The Vagina Monologues highlights the suppression of women in society. Women who are subject to violence at the hands of their parents, husbands, and society, through genital mutilation, rape, and punishment for natural bodily processes like menstruation. Ensler over comes this suppression by using the vagina as a symbol for female empowerment. The Monologues show that through the narration of these stories the women gained some control over their lives by being proud and open about their bodies.
The Vagina Monologues grew from a publication into a performance and a day of celebration. On the 14th February in 1998 Ensler and feminist.com created V-Day, a global movement to raise awareness and money to help women and girls who suffer from domestic and sexual violence. The “V” in V-Day, according to Ensler, stands for Valentine, Vagina, and Victory. Ensler announces, in the introduction to the Vagina Monologues, that “The greatest miracle, of course, is V-Day: an energy, a movement, a catalyst, a day to end violence toward women-born out of The Vagina Monologues.”
The Vagina Monologues was first performed in New York with major celebrities like Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg and Winona Ryder performing the monologues. Over $100,000 was raised for the V-Day charity and Glenn Close made V-Day history when her performance provoked 2,500 people to chat “cunt”, reclaiming one of the many derogatory words used to describe the vagina.
Ensler’s Monologues triggered a global movement to reclaim the vagina. In 2008 alone over 3,700 V-Day events took place across the world, while Ensler’s manifesto, to reclaim the vagina, has recurred repeatedly in literature. Most notably in Charlotte Roche’s debut novel, Wetlands and the collection of erotic stories, In Bed With, edited and written by the famous writers Imogen Edwards-Jones, Jessica Adams, Ali Smith, Kathy Lette and Maggie Alderson.
The Monologues still has a long way to go to reclaim women’s bodies from abuse in the public and private sphere. Yet Ensler refuses to back down declaring that “In order for the human race to continue, women must be safe and empowered. It’s an obvious idea, but like a vagina, it needs great attention and love in order to be revealed.”