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The Vagina Monologues Paperback – December 26, 2007
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"I was worried about vaginas. I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don't think about them. . . . So I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues. I talked with over two hundred women. I talked to old women, young women, married women, single women, lesbians, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers, African American women, Hispanic women, Asian American women, Native American women, Caucasian women, Jewish women. At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn't stop them."
So begins Eve Ensler's hilarious, eye-opening tour into the last frontier, the forbidden zone at the heart of every woman. Adapted from the award-winning one-woman show that's rocked audiences around the world, this groundbreaking book gives voice to a chorus of lusty, outrageous, poignant, and thoroughly human stories, transforming the question mark hovering over the female anatomy into a permanent victory sign. With laughter and compassion, Ensler transports her audiences to a world we've never dared to know, guaranteeing that no one who reads The Vagina Monologues will ever look at a woman's body the same way again.
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I first saw these monologues performed in London, sometime in the late ‘90’s. I went with a British buddy, and both of us were fascinated by the reviews (and admittedly the topic). After a brief survey of the audience, which seemed to be primarily women, with a few male significant others in tow, I concluded that we were probably the only straight – or otherwise – men who had simply come to enjoy the performance. And that was a pity, since I concluded that I loved its “edginess” and “consciousness raising,” and was mainly surprised that it had not been done before. After all, isn’t this a rather obvious topic? And what sort of repression has been operative to make the v-word so difficult to say, not to mention the much more guttural slang words for same? A central theme of the monologue is to stop violence against women. Eve Ensler, who conceived of the monologues, and in the earlier versions, read the entire work, deserves an immense amount of credit for its production, then, as well as her continued efforts now.
So… coming up on two decades after watching the performance, as part of my current reading program of significant plays, I decided to read it this time. Again, I felt the anger and outrage with some of the following: “In the United States, the last recorded clitoridectomy for curing masturbation was performed in 1948 – on a five year-old girl.” (Source: The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets). And: “For the last ten years I have been actively involved with women who have no homes… ‘home’ is a very scary place, a place they have fled, and that the shelters where I meet them are the first places many of them ever find safety, protection, or comfort, in the community of other women.”
“The Little Coochi Snorcher that Could” ?? With the subtitle of “Southern Woman of Color.” Like some other reviewers, I have a LOT of objections to this piece. What was Ensler thinking… or not? It conveys the traumatic upbringing of a southern black girl. At the age of ten, she is raped by her father’s best friend, and the father, in turn, shoots, and paralyses the rapist. Additional traumatic events occur to her, but somehow it seems to be put right when she is 13, and seduced, with the help of alcohol, by a 24 year old woman. How can this possibly be justified, and portrayed in a positive light? Sex via power, and one of the most powerful modes is an enormous age discrepancy (and a bit, or more, of alcohol). There are some wise laws, and in New Mexico, it is NOT illegal for someone under the age of 16 to have a sexual relationship with someone, IF, that person is no more than three years older than the other person. And if that person is, it IS illegal. Ensler seems oblivious to this issue, but has modified the Monologues in some subsequent productions to have the child be 16, and delete the alcohol. A “good” rape, as it was originally depicted? I think not.
Furthermore, I would have loved more on, as Ensler wrote in one piece: “Discovering the key, unlocking the vagina’s mouth, unlocking this voice, this wild song.” A better more positive balance would have gotten more men into that theater.
And where does it stand today? About 30% of this Kindle version are letters and testimonials from women – in the main – and how the play changed their lives. They were now full supporters of “V-Day,” a sincere effort to utilize Valentine’s Day as an effort to also stop violence against women. A couple of letters were from individuals at the University of New Mexico. Today, “V-day”, as depicted on UNM’a website, has been “moved,” and is still awaiting an update. Alas.
Great idea, reasonably edgy execution, with some serious conceptual flaws. 3-stars.
The next 150 ish pages is really great and would be 5 starts right away because how mind opening they are and how powerful they are. The strength of the whole book is here.
After that we have about 50 ish pages of what people think about the book, V-days history, than another V-day history and it all gets boring and feels like it is more "filling" to make the book thinker but it is also boring and this part makes the book loosen stars.
I absolutely think there should be information about V-day and the movement but it is to much.
Of course there are many women and men as described in this book who lack sufficient knowledge about themselves or their wives.
Somehow, when I read the play, I am less captivated, and more aware of the flimsiness of the words. But the point of the thing is its performance. It is clear, from the afterword to the book, and from people I know who have been involved in productions, and from lots of people who have seen the show, that involvement with a production of this piece can change someone's life. And it really is an engaging piece: funny and moving.
When I first heard about the project (an attempt to address a culture where people rarely say the word "vagina", but there are thousands of words for "penis"), I thought it would be interesting and useful to people who aren't comfortable saying "vagina" out loud. Since I have no problem saying it, I thought it would have little relevance to me. When I saw the performance, I knew I had been wrong. But I don't know if I would have gotten that from the book alone.
I am giving this book five stars, because it works as it is intended to work: on stage. And I am glad I own it, because it is nice to dip into from time to time, when I want to recapture the effect of being in the audience. Plus, the afterword to the "V-Day" edition is extremely interesting and moving.
Women's rights are human rights! This is a MUST READ for EVERYONE.
Eve has interviewed so many women and many more rushed up to her after her but I was sorely disappointed that there were so few of them shared in the book.