Aniruddha Babar, Ph. D, Tetso College, Dimapur
Yesterday, late at night I was flipping through the pages of a piece of revolutionary writing. It was a play that revolves around just one word – THE VAGINA. A piece of writing about VAGINA is enough to raise eyebrows of people. Word VAGINA is more than enough to make people uncomfortable. Body of a woman has been stigmatized by male dominated civilizations since time immemorial by branding it either as a pleasure house or a sacred temple of a deity, therefore, in this context play written by Eve Ensler titled “VAGINA MONOLOGUES” (a set of monologues which is a result of her empirical research and extensive interviews she conducted of women from different strata of societies in different parts of the world) need to be considered as the jewel in the crown, capturing everything that the ‘vagina’ movement is designed to empower: embracement, destigmatisation, support, and awareness. The play itself explored themes of rape, female genital mutilation, body image, masturbation, birth, orgasms, self-realisation and acceptance, and the hardship that is associated with simply being a woman in the modern world. The Vagina Monologues is made up of various personal monologues read by a diverse group of women. Originally, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring 3 actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, strength, identity and the ultimate embodiment of individuality. It took almost a decade for the world to accept the writing of Eve Ensler that voiced out the secret emotions, suppressed pain and gender-politics of generations.
The content of the monologues are explosive which takes the reader/audience closer to the reality. For e.g. One short monologue simply titled “Reclaiming C*nt”. A piece narrated by a woman who illustrates that the word “cunt” itself is an empowering word when reclaimed, despite its history of disconcerting, distorted and negative connotations as influenced by masculine narratives. Another one of the monologues explored the notion of self-realisation and discovering identity: “Because He Liked to Look At It” followed the story of Bob, an uninteresting, uninspiring individual who meant nothing until it came to sex in the bedroom and accepting the female genitalia. It represented the empowerment that having a vagina gives a woman, and how Bob saw qualities and beauty in studying it which changed her mind because of a sexual experience with a man who liked to spend hours looking at it. This takes us to the understanding that the body of a woman is not a simply a vehicle to be driven. Woman can never be a ‘means to end’ for a man. Woman cannot simply be a road to the pleasure. Many a times men are selfish in their behaviour in bedroom which creates vacuum in their relationship with women. Judgmental attitude towards bodies can never be instrumental to the nourishment of Love. “My Vagina Was My Village”, another monologue compiled from the testimonies of Bosnian women subjected to rape camps. Eve Ensler handled this topic with utmost sensitivity and a sense of responsibility giving graphic description of the sexual atrocities that Bosnian women were subjected to. The history of rape can be traced back from the dawn of human civilization. A woman has traditionally been considered as the custodian of honour (IZZAT) and virtues of man’s society and therefore, any attack on woman has been taken as an attack on man’s society and his honour, this takes us to the understanding that the Man’s narratives about Man’s honour begins and ends with woman whereas the role and voice of a woman in this ‘sexist’ narrative is non-existent. The Vagina Monologues as mentioned before is a collection of Monologues couple of which has been referred above, however, each and every monologue is an ultra-powerful dialogue that has potential to open the eyes of people who are in deep slumber thinking that there is nothing really wrong with the world of ‘Adam and Eve’.
The vagina discourse initiated in Vagina Monologues, Ensler addresses the most uncomfortable issue. She purposefully chose the more hideous word to make people uncomfortable (and eventually ~ hopefully ~ comfortable with the subject matter). It may be a very fast-track read however; it’s certainly not an easy read. There’s discussion of self-loathing, of embarrassment and shame, of sexual assault and violence against women, of statutory rape and shame. It might also not be easy for readers if they can’t read the word ‘vagina’ without getting uncomfortable, or if they don’t like the word ‘cunt’, or if they wish that women wouldn’t talk about ‘down there’ in public or if they feel that such type of ‘literary expressions’ invite the wrath of God. It’s about that discomfort. It is about voicing up about something which has been kept as TABOO in the society of us ~ The hypocrites.
The Vagina Monologues began ambitiously, as the author, Eve Ensler set herself on a complex journey to interview hundreds of women from all around the globe about their vaginas ~ something which many of us may find absurd which most of us don’t spend much time talking or thinking about! However, the impact of Ensler’s work has been historical. “The Vagina Monologues” turned into V-Day, one of the most important worldwide events, consistently raising awareness and money to work to end violence against women. The Vagina Monologues might be “feminist” in the way it transgresses the patriarchal norms around discussing women’s genitalia. However, its lack of intersectionality which means that it will always only offer a partial, incomplete vision of how women relate to their genitalia. Ensler acknowledges this herself in her introduction. However, whatever little has been done to voice this complex discourse is commendable.
History of social evolution teaches us that; in the primitive societies, women had immense power. In a society where a bolt of lightning was considered magic, the ability to give birth (still magic today) was regarded with astonishment, and subsequently, women had something unique and magical that gave them power. We know that the most ancient religions were about the Mother Goddess. Considering the historical status of women there is an enough scope to believe that patriarchy was a reaction to this power. An envy of the power of giving life. And with patriarchy women lose so much. It’s time for MEN and WOMEN together to acknowledge the roots of women. After all, we were all born through a vagina. Last, but not the least, if you’ve got a vagina, talk about it, love it, and never be ashamed of it. And if you don’t have one, just remember – RESPECT.