It sounds so presumptuous to say my “review”. But I saw the UNLV production of The Vagina Monologues Friday night, and I have been thinking about it. Which I suppose was the point. So these are my thoughts.
I have given the vagina quite a bit of thought over the years, for a variety of reasons. One is that I have always had a problem calling the entire region “the vagina”. The vagina is the birth canal, and is only a part of the sex organs of the female body. So how did we get stuck on the vagina?
When our oldest daughter started learning words and naming the parts of the body, my husband and I had a series of discussions of what to call “it”. He figured we would just call it a vagina, like everyone else. But it bothered me, so I started looking into other options. Then a friend of mine pointed out that the word vagina actually means “sheath for a sword”. I’m sorry, but I am NOT just a receptacle for a man’s penis. That cinched the deal – vagina was out.
So if not vagina, then what? I couldn’t stomach the thought of a cutesy name either; I needed to find a factual word, so I wouldn’t inadvertently give her the impression that it didn’t have a real name, or it was somehow too (what exactly? – mysterious, dark?) to be named or talked about.
Then I found the Sanskrit word, yoni.
The word yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is the Sanskrit word for “divine passage”, “place of birth”, “womb” in the sense of ‘source of life’ rather than a human organ, or “sacred temple” (cf. lila). The yoni is also considered to be symbolic of Shakti or other goddesses of a similar nature. – Wikipedia
Words have power. Words, coupled with energy and intent, can have a profound affect. Think of the power of prayer. The lighting of a candle, with a few whispered words. There is a line I copied out of a book by a Buddhist monk: Every thought will manifest at some point, in some way, in this lifetime or next.
So with words being powerful tools – or powerful weapons – how do we choose to use them on our daughters? My daughters and I do have vaginas, but the word we use to describe our female-ness is yoni. I do not want them to think of their bodies, their most private intimate parts, as simply being “sheaths for a sword”. Divine passage; place of birth; womb; source of life; sacred temple. That is what they are. That is what WE are.
I want my daughters to have respect for themselves, for their bodies, for their worth as women in this world. I want them to embrace that, to honor that, and draw their own power from it. A woman who knows her worth and respects herself will not dishonor her body, which degrades her spirit; when her spirit is weakened, it is so much more difficult for her to become who she is meant to be. So as their mother, it is my duty to protect their spirit, their image of themselves. And we start with our words.
The show was put on to raise funds for V-Day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. And the show itself clearly had the intention to vividly depict that violence. Enlightenment on these issues is a noble goal, and one I wholeheartedly support. We do need to open our eyes and really, truly see how women are being treated all around the world, and next door. But many of the selected Monologues were violent, and some exceptionally so. The one depiction of a brutal rape and torture was incredibly detailed.
I am a sensitive person, and like to have some sort of warning that things are going to get intense so I can brace myself. Watching a movie, I have clues that it’s coming – the music, the lighting – I can prepare for the impact. If the visuals get to be too much, I can block it with my fingers or shut my eyes. I can even plug my ears to mute the sound effects. But I couldn’t block any of the raw emotion that was evoked from that Monologue. As it grew more and more intense, I shut my eyes – instinctively, since it was “just” a woman with a microphone (words, women, power) on the stage. The visual running in my head just grew more vivid. And as the brutality intensified, I had no mechanism by which to soften the blow or lessen the effect. I was there. I saw everything. And it was a nightmare.
The other Monologue that has been most on my mind was (obviously) the birth one. Birthing is woman’s ultimate power, the magic of the vagina, the birth canal, the womb, the yoni. I was expecting reverence, and awe. I could sense the awe, but the reverence was certainly lacking. My births were both incredibly empowering, beautiful, powerful, raw experiences. It was an intense becoming moment for me each time. I had emotions and physical sensations that I have not felt before or since. I loved giving birth. I loved both the physical act of birth, and the fact that I, MY body, had the ability to bring a whole new human being into this world. Such power, such wonder – it changed my entire life. And this Monologue reduced it to blood, screams, shit, forceps and stitches.
It was brutality, again. Violation and desecration. Birth, the yoni’s most powerful and mystical function, rendering the birthing vagina into much the same condition as the horribly raped and violated vagina. It is really a shame that that is the depiction of vaginal birth that was chosen. There was an opportunity here to present birth in such a positive fashion, celebrating women in their power, women becoming mothers, the rite of passage, an ancient ritual.
The truth can be told, it must be told. But there is a way to present these topics in a powerful, empowering manner. And this show went for the shock value instead. It left me feeling a little bit violated.