Monday, January 7, 2008

Critique of "The Vagina Monologues"

So, I finally made the effort to read “The Vagina Monologues” in their entirety. I expected to not agree with them, but after reading the script and seeing several of the monologues on YouTube, I wonder if I am missing something. Is this really supposed to be funny? And how, exactly, to they combat violence against women? Either there is something I don’t get, or our culture is even more sick and twisted than I realized. My primary concerns with the Monologues are four:

1.It promotes the view that a woman cannot be comfortable with her body unless she is willing to flaunt and talk about her individual body parts and talk about intimate and private topics pertaining to her own sexuality.
2.It degrades and objectifies women insofar as it equates them with their sexual organ and their happiness with sexual pleasure. Further, it degrades sex itself by equating good sex with sex that physically pleases the female.
3.Rather than fighting the existence of rape and sexual assault, The Vagina Monologues demonizes all men while simultaneously glorifying rape of women by women.
4.The Monologues are overwhelmingly one-sided, that is, pro-sex. Even the women who have been raped revel in their practice of pre-marital sex.

1) Eve Ensler began asking women about their sexual organs because she believed that order for women to truly be liberated and empowered, they needed to be comfortable talking about their bodies and, specifically, the parts of their bodies that made them uncomfortable. Ensler says, “women's empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality.” Even if we concede this point to Ms. Ensler, why does a woman need to strut around on stage talking about her physical sexuality or, at least, listen to another woman do so to be comfortable with her sexuality? To me, the mark of a healthy sexuality is modesty. It is the girls who flaunt their bodies and their sexual conquests who are usually the most insecure and/or damaged. Do women need to talk about their vaginas? Yes, with their doctors. They do not need to describe their sexual organ in a graphic and obscene manner to large audiences.

2) The monologue by the lawyer-turned lesbian prostitute opens, “I love vaginas. I love women. And I don’t see them as separate.” Wow. Haven’t feminists been fighting for years and years for women to be respected for their intellect and personality? So, why is it wrong to believe that women’s only value lies in their physical beauty but OK to equate women with a single part of their body? Another character in the play says (to the girl he is having a one-night stand with), “I have to look…It’s who you are…I have to look.” He is, of course, talking about looking at her vagina. This line is not quite as distressing as the lesbian prostitute’s claim, but it nevertheless supports the same premise. Women essentially are their sexual organ. If my value had to be judged by a single one of my organs, I would rather choose my heart, or my brain.

Not only does the play equate women with their sexual organ, but it also equates female happiness with sexual pleasure. And sexual pleasure, apparently, should come before other needs and considerations. One woman says that her vagina would say, “use me,” and “stop thinking so much and have a good time.” The latter quote seems to be the hallmark of the modern pro-sex portion of the feminist movement. Stop thinking and just have sex. Right. Because women probably don’t need their brains anyhow.

The character who delivers the monologue called “The Angry Vagina” rants, "They hate, hate, hate, hate, hate to see a woman having pleasure. Particularly sexual pleasure. I say make a nice pair of white cotton underpants with a french tickler built in." She then describes how this would make women so much happier and their lives so much better because they would be released from the patriarchal and oppressive culture that invented thongs, tampons and speculums. (And about that, I'm sorry, but tampons and Gynecologists are not tools used to oppress women. What degrades women is the culture that makes a play like this OK, a culture that sees women and sex as inseparable, a culture that objectifies women, equates them with their sexual organ and calls it empowerment. That is degrading. Talking about something private and personal and making a joke out of it, that is degrading. Women will always be degraded until they are respected for truly being women and for fulfilling the roles that God by nature intended them to fulfill.) Anyhow, I really don’t think women can be liberated by masturbation. To suggest that they can is actually absurd. Women are not made truly happy by meaningless, disconnected sexual pleasure and it takes a heck of a lot more to make all humans, male and female, really happy than an orgasm.

The feminists have now one-upped the patriarchal society they sought to overthrow. Whereas women have traditionally been reduced to the status of inferior humans by equating their happiness with being a useful possession of their husband’s, The Vagina Monologues reduces women to the status of animals by equating their happiness with the satisfaction of their sexual urges.

When women who are trying to become liberated and empowered instead make themselves co-conspirators in their own degradation, there is some serious evil at work. The twisting of Ensler’s (admittedly good) intentions into something so sickening as this play is surely the work of the Devil himself.

3) One of The Monologues central claims to fame is the fact that it combats violence against women. The problem is, this is not so much a fact as a completely unfounded assertion. The play in fact suggests that heterosexual sex is inherently unhealthy by portraying all but one of the male characters as brutal rapists or otherwise unsavory characters (even the father who tries to save his daughter from rape is portrayed negatively). On the other hand, lesbian relationships are glorified, even when they are profoundly unhealthy.

The lesbian prostitute, er, “sex worker,” says that she “dominates” women, sometimes using ropes, whips or handcuffs. There are two things seriously wrong with this. First of all, prostitution, or sex work, is profoundly degrading, dehumanizing and damaging. It should not be lauded. I think that the attempt by modern feminists to ‘normalize’ prostitution is an attempt to humanize and thus help the prostitute herself, a noble goal indeed. Yet this is another trick of the Devil. When a person is deeply hurt and damaged, it does not help to tell her that she is not, in fact, hurt. It does not help her to support the behavior that continues to deepen her wound. When Jesus encountered prostitutes and adulteresses, he did not save them by telling them they had done no wrong. Rather, out of love for them, he forgave them their sins and bid them to sin no more. To normalize and even praise prostitution is not loving, but cruel and degrading.

Not only does the monologue by the prostitute, which is called “The Moaner,” praise prostitution, but also sado-masochism. How can a practice that physically puts women in bondage and causes them physical pain possibly be liberating?

What is even more disturbing than “The Moaner” is the monologue in which a women describes the memory of her rape by an older woman and calls it her “salvation.” Basically, a 16 year old girl meets a 24 year old woman. The 24 year old seduces her, getting her drunk and then engaging in intense sexual activity with her. In the original script, this woman says, “If it was rape, it was good rape.” How can a play that purports to fight all violence against women admit that rape can be good? Rape, and all forms of unhealthy sex, can never be good, but can only be damaging and hurtful.

4) Although Ensler claims to have interviewed hundreds of women, she selected only a few to include in her play. None of the interviews she selected are from the point of view of a girl who practiced chastity. This is not surprising, but it is nonetheless lamentable. Ensler is trying to tackle female sexuality, but she does not even attempt to engage the question of whether or not premarital sex is OK. Indeed, none of her monologues even talk about the loss of virginity.

In the one monologue in which a rape is described in graphic and horrifying detail, the rape is juxtaposed with the experiences that the same woman had of premarital sexual encounters, which are described as blissful. I am not trying to demonize Ensler’s point of view in the debate about premarital sex, I am only saying that a fair and balanced look at sexuality needs to engage both points of view.

One other thing that I found deeply disturbing was the fact that because Ensler’s play focuses only on the physical aspects of female sexuality, it makes it seem as if the most important consequences of sex and even rape are physical. The emotions connected to sexuality are never discussed. According to the play, sex is good when it produces pleasure and bad when it causes physical harm. This oversimplification leads to an impossibly warped moral code.

To those who would tell me that I am taking this all too seriously and that the play is just in good fun, I would respond, “impossible.” The play cannot claim to be a comedy and simultaneously claim to deal seriously with the mystery of human sexuality and the tragedies of rape and sexual violence. The two claims are not compatible.

And finally, does nobody else find this stuff simply bizarre? I mean, forget offensive, it is just weird. Almost cultlike. Ensler’s book has been described as the “bible” for the modern woman and Ensler herself used religious language when she said in an interview that vaginas deserve “awe” and “reverence.” Another one of Ensler’s more off the wall claims is, “A patriarchal culture is waging war on vaginas. You wouldn't come up with something like thong underwear if you started with a great love and appreciation of your vagina.” Even if the thong didn’t originate as a male article of clothing and even if the man credited with inventing the thong for women wasn’t a gay activist (hardly the typical representative of a traditional, patriarchical society), Ensler’s quote is downright weird. Far from being the visionary that modern feminists think she is, I have a suspicion that Eve Ensler may be patently insane.


sushi said...

I find the 'Vagina Monologues' pretentious and melodramatic. Also, they only cater to a certain type of woman- those who believe that they're defined by their bodies rather than by their intellect or personality. A current trend in society at present anyway.

Instead of objectifying women by their body parts and sexuality, I think it makes more sense to focus on what women have achieved throughout their lives and if they've contributed positively in any way towards society.

It's as if the first thing that pops in to Eve Ensler's mind when she sees a woman is 'Here comes a vagina' which is just sad!

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