The Vagina Monologues was my gateway drug to feminism. It’s a story that’s not uncommon among feminists – how the Angry Vagina monologue allowed us to express all that we had kept bottled up for so long, or how sobbing through My Vagina Was My Village with each other was the first time we found connection over shared injustice. The Vagina Monologues holds a special place in my heart, but like most experiences that help me change and grow, it has fallen slightly from the pedestal upon which I used to envision it.
For a solid two years of my college career it offered a community of support as I learned a lot about myself, my politics, and the kind of relationships I wanted to pursue. But the politics, feminism, and identity that I have found myself now operating within and constantly working toward force me to take a very different stance, not only about the monologues themselves, but about the movement they represent. Among the manifold issues I now associate with the VDay movement is a distaste for the essentializing work of the monologues. By focusing every monologue on literal vaginas and the experience of women survivors within the show, Ensler allows no space for male or trans* survivors, or even female perpetrators. While a “female” space can be empowering in social movements, we must all take very seriously the destructive and transphobic rhetoric that almost inevitably follows, as well as the limits placed on the movement to end sexual violence when we consider violence only through a heteronormative lens.
Beyond the monologues, however, the issues that many folks now take with VDay and the One Billion Rising movement have a lot to do with the creator of the monologues, Eve Ensler. In her desire to build a truly global movement to end sexual violence, Ensler has continually appropriated and exploited the voices of women of color and indigenous women. In keeping the movement centered around her voice, her writing, and her interpretations of justice, she has also kept the movement myopic, and based on a single-issue, very white, feminism.
I still smile when I see posters for The Vagina Monologues, or when someone I know auditions, but I don’t attend the performances anymore. I don’t follow Eve Ensler on Twitter or spend hours cruising the V-Day website like I used to. The thought of them happening means that someone is getting support, someone is finding their voice, and someone who thought sexual violence wasn’t a problem is getting a real shift in perspective. But my gateway drug has opened my eyes to some different and very real issues – issues that are inextricably linked to sexual violence – and I’ve discovered a new community to support me as we do the work of unlearning privilege, fighting racism, learning about indigenous history and current struggles, and pushing for a new understanding of gender and sexuality.
We’ve all had experiences that helped us change and grow. I am grateful for what VDay did for me when I needed it, and for the education and experiences since that have allowed me to gain an understanding beyond what Eve Ensler offers us. Happy end of the VDay season to us all, and may we continue to feel empowered to learn, grow, and question the things that we hold dear!
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