Conversational rhythm is often irreparably damaged if the word ‘vagina
’ is spoken. I was recently in a health food
store discussing the many uses of Dr. Bronners liquid soap
when the sales women told me to watch out for the peppermint “because it could burn your, ya know…” She made a wincing face and motioned with her hands that she referred to a region below the counter that was not connected to her, necessarily. The awkward pause that followed indicated that this was kind of strange to discuss even though she brought it up. She had invoked the-part-with-no-good-name
, and though it was innocent and normal, slipping ‘vagina’ into any conversation nearly always feels a little weird. How are we ever supposed to feel comfortable with our vaginas if we can not even discuss them with out some form of apology? It was with this in mind I attended the March 27, 2001 showing of The Vagina Monologues
The event opened with, “Hello Vaginas!” Snicker. “Penises too!” We were given a brief explanation about the monologues. Author Eve Ensler interviewed women of all ages, asking them to discuss their genital observations. They mentioned that women often felt weird talking about it at first, that no one ever asks. But once they got started they couldn’t stop, a lot of women have angry vaginas.
The interviews were then transformed into monologues. The performers change frequently, it is a long and impressive list of actressess. I saw it performed by three undeniably talented women, Starla Benford, Sally Fingerett (tee hee) and Sherri Parker Lee.
There were some men in the audience, perhaps ten percent. Not enough. Most looked like professors, many of them with older women. There was one young guy, perhaps early twenties, wearing a shiny pimp shirt and a black top hat. He had four women flanking him, two on each side. He was a man likely to know a thing or two about vaginas. I shared my armrest with a guy, who appeared to be there with his boyfriend. It felt a little funny to sit next to a man for this show, given the ratio, though I was very interested to see his reactions, figuring no one has less access to the mysterious vagina than a gay man. He sighed in some parts, seemed miffed that penises had less nerve endings that the one tiny pleasure-specific clit that a woman gets. Let out a major guffaw (along with me) that some women said her vagina smelled like cheese. He seemed to cry when an old woman talked of the unexpected and embarrassing flood of excited fluids that ruined her boyfriends new upholstery, her dress, and her entire relationship to her own vagina, which she ever after referred to as “down theya” and regarded like the cellar, dark, dirty and seldom visited.
We heard about the boring Bob, with the beige way about him. We learn that really likes to look at vaginas. This act transforms the woman looked at, she sees her own beauty reflected in his face, measures the splendor of her sex by his breathing, is awakened by the fact that just looking at “it” can inspire and excite. His praise allows her a new look at her own vagina. She comes to see it as much more than a slit north of the anus, a bloody mess, or a thing to deodorize, minimize, trivialize, set in order, shave, trim, wash in the dark, while looking at the bathroom wall. Matter of fact. Ho hum, washing the armpits, doodeedo, here I go towards thighvaginakneecaps. Dum do dum, rinse. She discovers a sweet, affirming change of opinion regarding her vagina. He calls it “you”. I need to see “you” he tells her with the light on, then focuses, stares deep into the vagina, maybe looking for the way back home. What was he thinking during that time? Was it like looking at a painting? Her vagina was powerful, revered. Upon hearing this story my first inclination was to disbelieve, assume it embellished, or entirely made up. The idea of someone just looking is almost embarrassing. I would almost rather pretend it could not really happen, that no one would make themselves comfortable and camp out at the Y just to gaze. Perhaps it makes me giggle because it so honestly introduces a whole different idea of what a vagina is. That a vagina could be so interesting, so unique to each woman, so “herself”. That looking into it could inspire tears, influence breath rhythms, raise flesh, quicken the heartbeat, cause perspiration, salivation and a tingle as well as make the mind reel…implies an awesome power women are seldom taught to manage or embrace. Like a gift never fully appreciated.
One woman gave us a vocal tour of sounds women make during lovemaking. All the rhythmic many fingered moans that a woman can and should be coaxed to make boiled through space, turning in air and pelvis, a raw and carnal sound that bled into all things.
I heard about women who had been raped in Bosnia. Sat there stunned by the voice that brought me a story of a young girl who spoke of her vagina as though it was a meadow for naïve romps, a flower blooming in the sunshine. The monologue abruptly swings to the shocking and unspeakable horror of rape as a war weapon. The flower dissolved in the acid of blind hate, mutilated, made foul, pieces falling off in her hand. In my little numbered auditorium seat I choked on the black tar bubble of fear and pain. I sat on electric bolts, rolled and bent my program, tried not to make ANY SOUND, tried to stuff it back in. I could feel other women doing the same thing. I could hear their gulpy secretive sniffling, I could feel them holding back, like we were all brought to some unspeakable brink and if the monologue had gone on for one more second we may have flooded the auditorium with our tears. We could have cried for days for that one woman, the others like her and finally for our own selves. I wanted to hug them all, patch their wounds, show them my own, blow the lid off the big secret that we have this thing that is pursued and often stolen. Angry vaginas indeed. Sad vaginas. Vaginas that put down the silly pretense of belonging to someone else and come into themselves. Creating a circle of protection. Refusing to be shame shackled silent or forgiving. Some things ARE unforgivable.
Then there was the cunt monologue. The word was delivered back to us, altogether stripped of negative associations, a sound like thunder, a revving engine, an unstoppable force that left us panting, sated and then crashing into to the actress with thunderous applause. I actually screamed “cunt” in a crowded theater. I was one of the few, it was requested of us, though the overwhelming majority kept it in, even after the word was refurbished and delivered back to us restored of feminine power. ‘Cunt’ exploded out of my mouth before I could snatch it back, much to the amusement of the strange man sitting next to me. I let loose by accident, slipped out on my ladylike role of Mommy out for an evening of theater, and ran out into the night in big black steel-toed boots. I came at the word in a whole new way, head on.
I came away naming names, without cringe or quease, but with authority, like I just admitted to having one of those, with a sudden comfort level that has never existed for me before. VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA. I say it in triplicate, out loud, unblushing, reclaiming the sound that relates to moist folds, feminine glory, and secrets better left in the open. We are sexual beings. We are sick of rape and degradation, tired of pretending it does not happen often enough for ALL women to get really mad and put a stop to it. We are tired of being treated like cattle in the exam room, in the nipple scratching paper gown that looks like it could double as a giant napkin, or a thing to buff the car. Tired of being told to plug it up, avoid “embarrassing odors”, stock up on creams and medicines, trim it down to pubescent and non-threatening.
Suddenly I was in a room filled with women who were no longer pretending we don’t really need to talk about or like our vaginas. Through the much awaited words of these other women I was suddenly aware, I have one of those too. It is a place, a beginning, a gateway. It is a sacred temple, a shrine to myself. No one can see it without an invitation. In order to see it myself I have to bend in a funny way, contort, rig the right lighting, maintain this pretzel shape long enough to conduct an investigation. It has hair. It has moisture. It has a scent. It takes things in, it lets things out. It is pleasurable, intimate, very personal. It speaks. It purrs. Meow.
My friend and I left the theater, spilling out onto the walkway almost too stunned to make an assessment. We were behind a small group of people when an older woman ahead of us tripped and fell into a bush. We paused to make sure she was ok. The silly metaphor did not escape our notice. We headed to the bar to have a few beers and talk about the show, noticing with wide grins the ironic name of the bar, Dick’s Den. It had the overall effect of making me feel closer to my friend, sitting there in a bar, Muddy Waters on the jukebox, sipping beer and weaving tales. Talking about make-up and why we don’t wear any, relationships, married sex and vagina vagina vagina.
Now I want every person I know to go sit in the theater and watch three lovely barefoot women assume different dialects, lay open the hearts of everywoman and talk about vaginas and how having one affects our experience. Especially the ones who are uncomfortable, who don’t see the need for this, the women who are too nice to have a vagina. I think it should usurp the cryptic film strips we see in fifth grade, with the black and white diagrams and scientific jargon that is often hard for young girls to relate to their own experience. A lifetime of personal conflict might be avoided if only more mothers would give their daughters a friendly word for their vaginas. “Cootchie snorcher”, is a word I had never heard before The Vagina Monologues. It is funny and comfortable word with and entirely different tone than ‘vagina’. If more girls were at ease in their bodies, could discuss their parts with comfortable words and were taught from the beginning that giving away access will not make them an adult, perhaps we would not have so many stories of misuse.
Instead we teach, through uncomfortable silence, inference and sparsely doled out technical words that a girl has a thing that men want, that they will be chased and all they can do is run run run until they get caught and the thing is taken away. What else can we do if we think of our vaginas as a scientific specimen with no acceptable deviation, a smelly carp, a sinners portal to hell, some jagged toothed cavern filled with lost spelunkers, or a thing that could betray us with stains and impurities, liable to go out of control without a pap, always needing medical validation. Told there are professional vagina appraisers who will tell us how to manage our unfortunate gash. There has to be a better way. Vagina Monologues is a giant leap in the right direction.