Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Monologue that Should be a Dialogue

The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler, is a popular conversation topic in February.It is a production that has sparked a larger movement: Vday.  Every year, February 14 is V-Day, a day marked to end violence against women, and thousands of productions take place across the world.  All proceeds benefit local sexual assault services and community organizations.

Eve Ensler has had her share of controversy and fame.  She is a well-known playwright who focuses on human rights and feminism on the global stage.  The Vagina Monologues, the biggest boom in her canon, catapulted her and V-day into the global spotlight as she coaxed hundreds of women to talk about their Vaginas and then turned it into a play based off of their testimony. As one can imagine, the play is not just about the anatomical gift of Vaginas, but about sexuality, relationships, violence, Self, and wonder.  The VMs also intermittingly spotlights an area of the world where Ensler eyes a particularly troubling trend of violence toward womyn.  Past spotlights have been on Juarez, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Ten years have past since the first VM production and thousands of performances and millions of donated dollars later, it still raises as many eyebrows and questions as it does money.

The Filipina Women's Network is producing a Filipina version of the Vagina Monologues in New York City in April.  The show is intended to channel attention to the Filipina community which suffers from domestic and sexual violence through marriages (according to the Philippine government census, 9 out of 10 women who are battered also experience marital rape), relationships, global sex trafficking, and the perpetuating  of the docile, sex toy image that is seemingly branded to the term 'filipina.' (More about challenging this image in future posts.)

While there is so much empowerment surrounding this particular movement, it's also interesting to note its criticisms and concerns.  Every year, this time of year, I think of the VMs and contemplate its power, imperfections, and purpose.  I have participated in the Vagina Monologues twice; once to perform, the second as a director.  However, with more time and more Vdays to observe, I am once again brought to that unavoidable question that every activist, every feminist, every anti-violence human being must ask: What must be done to transform a rape culture to end violence against women?  

I'm not just talking about Filipinas.  I'm talking about everyBODY.  I'm talking about the New York womyn, to transfolks in Cambodia, to little girls in Argentina, to the womyn of New Orleans.  I'm talking everyBODY.  What needs to happen?  My answer comes from one of the questions that Eve Ensler asked every women interviewed for the Vagina Monologues, "If your vagina could speak, what would it say?"

Mine would say, "Considering the fact that the overwhelming majority of rapes come from men assaulting womyn, considering that womyn can do everything to in the name of prevention, education, and defense, considering that despite all these efforts to not live in fear and our resolve to live in a mentality of freedom...considering all these things, still today, nothing will stop my sisters from being raped except the men who rape them and the culture that feeds them."

My largest criticism of the Vagina Monologues, in regard to its efforts to end violence against women, is it fails to ask the bleeding question of how MEN will stop the violence against womyn. (While I do want to acknowledge same sex violence and assault, the primary assaults are men violating womyn.)  Why is it ALWAYS the Vagina Monologues and not the Vagina and Penis Dialogues Against Violence?  

I remain convinced that this global culture does more than permit the rape of womyn, it blankets the cries of incest and sexual violence in every corner of every country with its own politics, corruption, and silence.  Cue: Eve Ensler and Vday come marching in the door to trumpet its resolve to END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN VIA VDAY!  Solidarity with womyn in other countries have led to media profiling international activists as saviors instead of recognizing local antidotes.  

The truth is that no one can walk through the doors of Juarez and transform its community except the womyn and men and children of Juarez.  No one will effectively teach any community from the outside of what needs to heal on the inside.  Every community needs resources, models, and hope, but as activists, we must, MUST, end the notion that solidarity across the globe for womyn alone will heal this epidemic.  (Prepare yourself for the following.) We need - gasp - men!  We need everyone if we are to truly rid ourselves of this disease that we routinely baste ourselves in when we forge alliances across oceans but stamp a V on our foreheads and then holler at the stars when only a handful of men join the movement.

Violence against women must (m)en/d. 

And so I ask, "What would your vagina or penis say if it could talk?"


  1. A powerful beautiful thoughtful post, Sudy. You got me pondering.

  2. Anonymous11:47 AM

    Holy Moses, Sudy. Way to get me choked up first thing in the morning!

    I am linking to this. My private parts are not prepared to make a statement yet, but I can't even tell you how much your redirect to both include and question men does for my heart. I am so tired of pretending that we can make ourselves safe when we are not the ones making ourselves unsafe. Thank you.


    i directed the vagina monologues my senior year in college, and the producers that year decided it was time to get men involved, but, to do so, had private all-male discussions led in fraternity houses that most women on campus NEVER felt safe in.

    that, clearly, didn't work. and i've spent the last few years figuring out what about it went wrong with the seemingly good idea to include men in the discussion. and reading your post let me finally realize that (aside from where the men's functions took place), it never WAS a discussion.

    and as i continue to mull over everything you wrote, i'm sure i'll come up with more. whew. thank you.

  4. hey Sudy,
    thank you for this post. Been thinking alot about this issue in terms of my own community, and the wider Muslim we need to do the work within our own communities in terms of support, healing and anti-violence organizing/educating. The struggle is to do all that work while also challenging racist stereoypes that depict our cultures/peoples as being inherently violent. That's why I feel strongly about the importance of us, the people of our communities, the women AND the men, to do this work within our own communities.

    I'm not opposed to solidarity work...but building solidarity requires a meaningful committment to anti-racism and continual dialoguing and self-reflecting....a committment that is often times very half-assed.

    again, thanks for this post.

  5. Anonymous2:27 PM

    Very very deep. And I agree with all the comments thus far too.

    I know this has been said a million times, that people can't go in with the savior-mentality and idea that they from the outside have the solution. Solutions are going to look different in different communities and they need to come from a profound respect for and understanding of that community. And understanding a community means understanding all of its members and including all of them.

  6. Anonymous2:01 AM

    Thanks for making this post, and asking this important question. I'm a male survivor of incest, and your post inspired me to write this- if my penis could speak

    I've found the Vagina Monologues to be an important space that allows me to get in touch with my own deep grief about the destruction wrought by sexual violence. I've also heard a lot of critiques of the Vagina Monologues, which I think are vital too. I agree with you about the centrality of the need to engage men in movements to end sexual violence.


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