February 06, 2006

A note on the Vagina Monologues

Letter to the editor in the Notre Dame student newspaper today; I'll spare you all the details, but suffice to say that the Monologues are at the centre of a nasty controversy here right now. My response follows.

Dear Editor,

In his letter published today, Brian MacMichael levels an important critique of the Vagina Monologues and the V-Day movement -- important not because it is valid, but because the way it is invalid goes directly to the purpose of the movement and the Monologues. Mr. MacMichael writes from a traditional straight male viewpoint, and correctly points out that, from this viewpoint, for a woman to be sexualized means she is objectified, her sexuality and thus her vagina reduced to the object of male desire. Hence, stuck in this point of view, he can only understand the Monologues as a purient, pornographic performance -- he clearly sees the actresses in the play as nothing but erotic dancers, there to titilate him and his brothers.

But I find it hard to believe that anyone remotely familiar with the play could take this interpretation seriously. This male-centred notion of sexuality is precisely what the play is meant to challenge: the Monologues portray women as autonomous sexual agents equal to men, and explicitly reject the traditional notion that women are nothing more than sexual objects for male use In one moving segment, the actresses chant a certain word that starts with 'c', slang for vagina, and used to this day to turn women's sexuality against them. But here it is not some lewd, provocative utterance; rather, as the introduction to the segment makes clear, the intention is to reclaim the word, and thereby reclaim sexuality as another aspect of women's agency. By chanting this word, the actresses are not putting their sexuality on display for the straight men in the audience; rather, they are exclaiming proudly that their sexuality is truly theirs, and an intrinsic part of who they are as people.

If men like Mr. MacMichael are so depraved that they cannot distinguish women speaking forthrightly about sex from an erotic performance, this can hardly be blamed on Eve Ensler or the actresses who perform the Monologues. If anyone is to be censured, it is clearly those who would use the rhetoric of sexual agency and equality as a rationalization for the suppression of genuine declarations of these principles.

Dan Hicks

You can do a search to find a local performance of the Monologues here.


Noumena said...

More in this vein

Anonymous said...

You obviously did not read what I had to say about the dignity of women.

- Brian MacMichael