Eighteen years ago, Eve Ensler shocked audiences with a play containing screams of “Vagina!” Today, Tufts students are shocked by the limited voices represented in these screams. This is “The Vagina Monologues” for many women who find their stories excluded despite the play’s radical reputation as a universal voice for women. A new student written play titled “Not Your Mother’s Monologues” aims to end this silencing by including the varying perspectives of all female identifying individuals.
Since its first appearance in 1996, Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues,” has become one of the most widely recognized theatrical turned political activist piece to sweep the globe. Performed in over 48 languages in 180 countries—including several performances on Tufts’ campus—the widely circulated play is characterized by a variety of monologues based on interviews with over 200 women. The monologues cover a wide range of emotions and issues, depicting lighter issues like feminine hygiene products, enjoyable sexual encounters, and the joys of childbirth to far more serious experiences of rape as a systematic tactic of war and female genital mutilation.
For obvious reasons, these are topics that make some people uncomfortable. Even the title itself leads to squirmish reactions and visible discomfort. Any introduction of the play to someone who isn’t familiar with the work is usually followed by some reiteration of “The WHAT monologues?!”, and a form of nervous giggling or uncomfortable blushing. This unabashed confrontation of the taboos has led many people to perceive the play as an iconic, progressive, and barrier-bashing piece that is revolutionary for voicing the narrative of the modern female experience.
While the play did spark a growing dialogue about women’s issues, “The Vagina Monologues” is a limited piece of art that only allows a very select subset of women to speak up; in no way does it speak for or to all women. Far from encompassing the experiences of women across the world, it doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the diverse experiences of women right here on the Tufts campus.
The most jarring example of these shortcomings is the title. Simply by titling the play “The Vagina Monologues,” the show implies an inextricable tie between vaginas and womanhood. Co-director for the 2014 show Becky Goldberg, a senior, states, “Not all women are vagina owners. Not all vagina owners are women. Not all women are white. Not all women are straight.” And yet, the monologues in Eve Ensler’s play are essentially the stories and experiences of this narrow subset of female identity: heterosexual, cis-gendered, white women. It is these voices that scream the loudest and drown out all the other potential narratives of other female-identifying individuals.
One monologue in “The Vagina Monologues” called “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could,” is commonly and inappropriately referenced as evidence of diversity in the show. “Coochie Snorcher” recounts the life altering sexual encounter of a queer woman of color and her significantly older partner. When Ensler herself visited campus last year, co-director Molly Schulman, a junior, and Goldberg brought up the problematic homogeneity of the play. Ensler, too, used “Coochie Snorcher” as a counter example of diversity in the show. This inclusion of “diversity,” however, is deeply problematic because, as Schulman explains, it resorts to the “tokenization of both queer women and women of color,” as if one piece would suffice for the experiences of black women, lesbian women, and lesbian black women. Only one perspective is provided in that monologue—only one voice is expected to represent hundreds of thousands of women—compared to the privilege given to the narratives of heteronormative, white women, which are portrayed in a multitude of nuanced monologues. The intricate nature of mapping an identity cannot be accomplished by the simple inclusion of one “token” monologue. It is even more foolish to think that this single monologue could come anywhere close to illuminating the varied experiences of all female-identifying individuals that exist beyond the confines of the stage.
“The Vagina Monologues” fails as a rallying call for all women. The concept of “Not Your Mother’s Monologues” is to address these shortcomings by re-writing the play exclusively with monologues submitted by female-identifying students right here at Tufts. According to Goldberg, the changes have been in the works for over a year; last year’s directors “knew full-well that what eventually needed to happen was a completely revamped, rewritten script.” This year’s piece calls all female identifying individuals on Tufts’ campus to speak up and speak out. The goal of this production is to widen the dialogue that has already begun and create a forum for all individuals who identify as female to share their thoughts, opinions, and voices.
It is essential to the success of “Not Your Mother’s Monologues” that the production doesn’t get bogged down by preconceived notions regarding the messages that the monologues will address. The purpose is to facilitate the creation of a space and a structure for the student body to fill with the narratives they want hear. No topic or experience is irrelevant; if women on campus have something to say, it needs to be heard.
You could write a monologue about race, religion, ethnicity, culture, or socioeconomic class. Write about mini skirts and black dresses with cutouts, platonic winks, and not so platonic handholding. Or talk about how many “no”s are required to mean “no,” and how your silence will never mean “yes.” Maybe you want to rant about how your relationship with food and the elliptical machine is going, or about the first kiss that made you question your sexuality. Write about a time you cried, whether from joy, fear, despair, or indifference. Recount walking home in the dark last week and how not then, not ever, were you “asking for it.” Share the story of your name and how you finally grew to love it. How many ways have you said “I love you,” and how many times have people mistranslated it? From your perspective, what is the experience of being an outsider, an insider, a bystander, or a babysitter actually like?
Modern feminism in the 21st century can only move forward if it celebrates and recognizes the intersectional identities of all women. The creation of a show that attests to these diverse identities and experiences is vital to establishing this more inclusive and accurate feminist narrative. The power to decide the composition of the final production belongs in the hands of students. It is up to the women of Tufts to ensure that everyone hears a voice in this production that they can relate to, because these are certainly Not Your Mother’s Monologues anymore.