By Brenna Everdale
The Vagina Monologues is performed each year to raise money for women’s shelters, and I am happy to say it will be performed here at KU once again in Schaeffer Auditorium on Feb. 19. This year, Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, has decided to cancel the play, which is written from the perspective of females, and is centered on problems such as violence, rape, abuse and body image. Some transgender students and their allies claim that the play’s focus on the vagina is transphobic because they do not feel included, as transgender people who identify as women may have penises.
The fact that these students feel excluded is unfortunate, but when women are unable to talk about their bodies, their sexualities and the unique challenges they face as a result of their biological sex, that is a problem. I would be devastated if KU ever cancelled The Vagina Monologues, and I am proud to attend a school that hasn’t decided that the existence of female-bodied people is offensive. It should also be considered that as early as 2004, Eve Ensler, the writer of the play, did update it to include a monologue about a transgender woman’s experiences. Therefore, these accusations of exclusivity are solely based on the fact that women are talking about their vaginas. There is not any hostility toward transgender people or lack of representation within the play.
Additionally, some criticisms of the play claim that it portrays lesbian relationships in a negative light by painting a lesbian statutory rape as a positive experience for the victim. This seems at odds with the intent of the play, which is to raise awareness about issues such as domestic violence and rape. However, while anyone can be a rapist and rape is never justifiable, part of the value of the play is that it is based on the stories told by real victims. Some of these stories might make us uncomfortable or send negative messages, but I don’t believe the answer to this problem is to erase these victims and their stories from the conversation. If watched through a critical lens, these stories can actually enhance our understanding of the nuances involved in a rape victim’s psychology, and destroy the idea that women need to be ‘perfect victims’ whose lives are completely destroyed by their rapes.
Finally, the play has been criticized for the fact that it deals with race ‘questionably’. While it is true that the play was written by a white woman, and many of the women in the monologues are white, we have to remember the cultural context of the play. In the media at large, racial minorities are almost always underrepresented or misrepresented in some way. This is obviously a problem, but why are we so critical only when considering a play focused around ending violence towards women? These criticisms are revealed to be especially odd when considering the fact that the play is shown as part of the V-Day campaign, which seeks to end violence against women and girls globally. For example, the profits gained from showings of the play are often used to fund safe houses in Africa, where black girls, who are often targets of female genital mutilation, can seek shelter. The play itself also addresses unique problems faced by non-white women. For example, in my favorite monologue, a Native American woman talks about the prevalence of domestic violence on reservations.
While the play is certainly not perfect, it is clear that the benefits of allowing it to continue outweigh the problems. I fully support the continuation of the play at KU.