Last night I went to see the Vagina Monologues. It is one of those shows that *everyone* has seen; it has entered the feminist canon and become a text through which social change can be engineered. But I didn’t like it.
I didn’t laugh once and I thought the monologue about rape was cliched and two-dimensional. It could have been the delivery; the current cast is Abi Roberts, Grace Kingslene and Laura Harvey, none of whom seemed to understand the function of a pause except for comic effect. It could have been the (lack of) scenery – the monologues were punctuated by flashing stars or pyro (which seemed oddly phallic at the time; literally a brief spurt of sparks to indicate orgasm) Judging from clips on youtube – and the branding of the website – I’m guessing this is a very standard set-up. It could have been the fact that none of the monologues, except for ‘cunt’, correlated with any of my experiences or feelings on the subject. In fact, I only single out ‘cunt’ because it’s a bit like a poem. It’s timeless because of it. It’s rooted in language, so the audience gets a vicarious experience of the vagina (did I just say that?) both what it’s like to have one, or to touch, feel, lick and generally indulge. In short it is the only monologue which isn’t horribly dated.
Of course, you can’t blame the text for that. I think it’s a lot to do with the assumed/intended audience and this weird, unspoken belief that vaginas will be repressed forever. It is aimed at women who have never touched themselves or expressed themselves; victims of abuse; married women; older women (I do not think it is aimed at lesbians.) It’s nostalgic in that, twelve years after its initial run, there has been no creative re-interpretation. The set is the same, the jokes are the same, the tone is the same. Even the statistics are the same! Let’s avoid knocking the gravity of the subject when it comes to Female Genital Mutilation or the averted eyes of newly released prisoners, but these things happen and only effectively rouse our collectivel concern when the actions surrounding them are relevant, feasible, active and new. If the Vagina Monologues can be performed by various actors in venues all over the world, and if it can be read – why is it always read? – in as many accents, with the stresses falling on different ideas, then why can’t it be expanded? Worked on? altered? updated? In other words, changed?
We have designer vaginas; vaginoplasty; phalloplasty, for that matter; dildos that rest in the top partner’s vagina; vaginal/clitoral piercings; there is still the porn industry and it’s use of the vagina; there are words other than ‘pink’ to describe it; the ‘internal pussy casting device’; there are blogs, there are youtube videos; there is the Suffolk murderer Steven Wright; there is still the issue of sex education in schools; there are purity balls; there’s hymenoplasty; there are little tampons which look like sweets; there are boxer shorts and ‘boy-pants’ and low hanging jeans which, on certain people, expose a tuft of hair; there was the possibility of a vagina running the white-house; Moreover, there are people out there who – shock horror – actually like their vaginas, aren’t insecure or freaked out about them and thus have performed all manner of experiments that go beyond achieving orgasm for the first time.
Academics do it. Poets do it. There are editions of texts that run in to the dozens, possibly the hundreds. Why can’t the Vagina Monologues adapt? It has become such a famous concept that it would be difficult to use the form (which I admire) to do something similar, without being accused of ripping the idea off. It’s interesting that the script was changed only to avoid further criticism – “if it was rape, it was good rape” re: statutory rape of thirteen year old and there were strongly worded warnings about reversion to the old script being tantamount to copyright infringement. Is it down to Eve Ensler et al? Is it down to disillusioned kids like me? I suspect it’s the latter. The older women in the audience were pissing themselves laughing – one woman couldn’t help herself and attracted strange looks even from the actors. But I think the bubble was burst among us younger ones.