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Vagina-phobic monologues

Don’t mention it. Efface it. Erase it. Deface it. Make it go away. Or at least pretend it doesn’t exist. Call it something else. Oh, and denounce everyone who’s ever tried to give it a voice. And if you ever find yourself having to talk about it, blame it for everything

I am, of course, talking about the vagina.

Some 20 years ago, Eve Ensler wrote “The Vagina Monologues.” Some years later, an international movement was born. “The Vagina Monologues” was produced and performed around the globe. It raised awareness and funds to end the persisting violence against women everywhere. It changed the lives of millions of people, mine included.

But then came the vagina’s enemies and hijacked the movement. With smug self-righteousness, they claimed victimhood. They blamed the vagina, the “Monologues,”  Ensler.

They shouted, “all genitalia matter.” And they diluted, derailed and distracted the movement. They denied the vagina a voice. They canceled the show. They erased the vagina. 

They said that the vagina has been inherently transphobic. Which in effect means: The vagina is guilty. Let’s not talk about the vagina. Let’s talk instead about the penis, and other genitalia. They seem to forget that many transwomen have vaginas. More, that vagina in the monologues is both real and a larger symbol for the sexually violated body, which is as often violated anally or orally.

This is why saying “vagina” out loud saves lives. Writing “vagina” on the blackboard saves lives. Printing “vagina” on flyers saves lives. Printing “vagina” on show tickets saves lives. Now, show tickets are printed with “Dear ______,” instead. How profound! 

That’s how the vagina was robbed of its only hour. The vagina sits vilified and silenced, while its enemies laugh. The vagina is not transphobic. But erasing it is. 

They said: “’The Vagina Monologues’ were historically exclusive towards women of color; the pieces were written by and filtered through the lens of a cis white woman.” As if it is a sin to write if you are a cis white woman. As if it is a sin for an artistic genius, a visionary activist and a world-class playwright to filter her own writings and to give life to the words of others who were to feature in the movement she started. With what ease the vagina’s enemies attack work and worth based on gender or sexuality!

Undoubtedly, they will tell me off too, with their usual self-righteousness and disbelief. “Our cast members, who were not white or cis, felt excluded,” they will say. How dare accuse them of transphobia and misogyny? “We will not work side by side a play that has actively erased members of our community,” they will say.

Ensler’s play does not “actively erase” any minority community, even if processes around it have not always been as inclusive as the play itself. Shouting “vaginas matter” does not exclude oppressions on other grounds. Accusing “The Vagina Monologues” of excluding those without vaginas is like accusing “Black Lives Matter” of denigrating non-black lives. Even a fight to only save cis white women — as their appellation and allegation goes — would not throw anyone else under the bus. Do their non-black cast members also feel excluded by the “Black Lives Matter”? How dare accuse them of racism! 

But let’s call the vagina’s enemies out. The vaginas in “The Vagina Monologues” have no race and display many forms of sexuality. As early as 2005, the play also features Elsner’s “They Beat the Girl out of My Boy.” If there has been one act of exclusion in “The Vagina Monologues,” it was the erasure of vagina from show tickets.

Not all political struggles need to fight on all fronts at all times to be valid. Yet, the fight for the rights and integrity of the vagina is the fight for gender equality; it is the fight for inclusion. It is against the same structures of power that oppress all minorities. The vagina feels betrayed to find them lining up as its enemies. 

Nothing is wrong with defending women who don’t have a vagina or defending members of the community who do not see their oppression represented in “The Vagina Monologues.” To the contrary, there are important issues here that need urgent address. Producing a new show to address them is commendable. What is infuriating is effacing the vagina to do it. Taking its voice, blaming its presence for anyone else’s absence. What’s infuriating is expecting the vagina to be answerable for the sufferings of the penis, and the sufferings of other genitalia, and silencing all the voices that imagine it not to be. And that’s what the vagina’s enemies are doing. 

“We aren’t hijacking V-Day’s mission, we are just moving towards a different one,” they say. Their show runs from March 14 – 15 at Roble Hall Theater. Go watch it.

— Amin Ebrahimi Afrouzi ’20, J.D.-Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Berkeley.

Contact Amin Ebrahimi Afrouzi at am1n ‘at’ berkeley.edu.

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