Friday, November 28, 2008

In Gratitude of Storytellers

I just finished reading The Vagina Monologues (The V-Day Edition), by Eve Ensler. I am both embarrassed and proud.

I am embarrassed to say that I am 31 years old, college-educated, a wife and mother but had not read (or seen) this play until this holiday weekend. I lived in New York City when the play gained momentum but did not see it live. I am ashamed that I let some part of my brain wonder if I could handle the contents of this play and questioned if it even applied to me. I am disappointed that I didn't know how to respond to adults in academic circles who told me they thought the play was offensive. I had chances to influence people but I missed them. I am embarrassed, but only a little because...

I am proud to say that I am 31 years old and I have just read The Vagina Monologues. I can speak with confidence about the material for many years to many people of all ages. I want to reach out and talk to the people who fear this play and "resist" the activity surrounding this play every Valentine's Day. I am so relieved that the other part of my brain--that bigger, stronger, curious part that made me bold enough to check it out of the library--is satisfied. I am proud I made it a priority to sit and read this book, especially with family bustling around to witness my reading it, before and after our Thanksgiving feast. I am proud that I joined the V-Day list to know about events in 2009. I am excited to become a part of the community.

And then there is my confusion. How did this happen to me? I am worldly-enough. I am a progressive, grassroots kind of girl. I am a birth activist and did not know there is a monologue about birth. How did I not get swept into this movement before today? It is true, the material is slightly off-topic to the issues I spend most of my time supporting: informed childbirth, breastfeeding, alternative education. I wonder if it was assumed I knew the contents of this play, as if it were a basic prerequisite to my interest in women's health and motherhood. It is like I skipped "Modern Feminism 101" and dove right into the 300-level subject matter. And it is from this perspective that I return to embarrassment.

Why embarrassment again? Women and men in the middle of 300-level "life" subject matter can talk to each other. Women who breastfeed their babies have friends who formula feed their babies. Hospital-birthers can hang out with homebirthers and they can get over their differences. Teachers and parents of children in various school settings can get along, possibly even share a bottle of wine and learn from each others' choices. They may not be soulmates, but they can enjoy each others' company. They seem to understand the word "preferences." They understand that they agree on most things while disagreeing on only a few things. So I am embarrassed that we have not talked about bridge building more when it comes to things like The Vagina Monologues. Why is it that when we see a source of public confusion, do the bridge builders not come out of hiding for a few days to do some healing? Are there really too few of us? I refuse to believe that.

One thing I feel is commonly agreed upon is this:
"How crucial it is for women to tell their stories, to share them with other people, how our survival as women depends on this dialogue." Eve Ensler, TVM, pg. 98.
I see many women today taking sides. The attention The Vagina Monologues gets from conservative and religious groups proves this. I challenge women out there to not fall for it. First simply immerse yourself in the material you fear. No matter if it is Intro 101-material or Advanced 300-level material...read and then speak. Please do not speak out before talking to at least one person from the "other side." At least attempt to understand how the other side sees its case. Try empathy. Rethink that old "Beat 'em, join 'em" adage into "Join 'em and educate 'em." Stop worrying about "beating" them and winning some war that perhaps the other side doesn't even understand. Let yourself consider what it might mean to your support system to "switch sides"--perhaps reveal there were no sides in the first place, besides that of humanity. Now you can be a messenger. A bridge-builder. A healer.

Yes, you will find empowerment language and very sexual themes. It is true, taking the "V-Word" back is not on your priority list. But take the time to get closer. Risk discomfort. Be embarrassed and proud at the same time. Maybe even join me at a V-Day celebration, February 14th, 2009. It is an inclusive holiday--bring your date and be ready to see the world differently.

5 comments:

amanda said...

LOVE this, Cythia. The Vagina Monologues, as i see it, is the single most important feminist "event" in the past 10 years. Unfortunately those who condemn it usually haven't read it, and if they have, cannot get past the sexual images in it to embrace the concepts of eliminating female sexual crime, genital mutilation and "vaginal igorance" as well as sexual repression, and the absolute shame and disgust women have for their bodies in our culture...(I mean, no wonder we can't "do" birth right...we were taught to hate own bodies). So glad you've read it...I had the wonderful opportunity to see The Vagina Monologues on V-Day in Charlottesville WITH my husband. He shouted "VAGINA" along with all the women in the audience...a great day! Thanks for bringing more attention to it!

Misplaced Musings said...

So let me go ahead and confess that I am 35 years old and have never read or seen it. I didn't know I *could* read it, so tell me where to get it.

The last part of your post about switching sides and building bridges is the key to everything. I have made more inroads, and become SO much wiser and more understanding, by going that route. It has helped me see "fanatics" the way the "other side" sees them, and I am grateful for that.

Allyson said...

I've got to share that I first heard about TVM years ago... from my then-92-year-old grandmother, who had gone to see it with a similarly aged friend, transportation arranged through her retirement home! She adored it, called to tell me all about it...

Bird said...

The Vagina Monologues made my head spin (in a good way) when I first heard about it in college. Interestingly, it was my boyfriend at the time who saw it first- he was in school in another city- and called me to tell me about it. I think the "light bulb moment" for me was my boyfriend being amazed that women could not only b so unfamiliar with their bodies, but that they could be ashamed of what they did know. At first, I was actually mad because I realized that I had negative feelings about my body, that stemmed from how vaginas (and women) are thought about/discussed in the public arena. (Happily, I have been able to shed most of those thoughts). When our bodies are cast in a negative light(not only in popular culture, but very powerfully by medical science), how are we to feel? Eve Ensler does us a great service by reminding us that we need to honor our bodies and that in so doing, we reclaim a more whole sense of ourselves.

EllenRebekah said...

I'm enjoying reading your posts (I pity you if you try to do the same on mine). I saw a student production of TVM in college. It was done in a tiny black boxy type theater and was a requirement for a theater class. It was performed by several (8??) students (woman's college) and I had a hard time getting to the material partly b/c I was young and b/c they were close and in my face making me uncomfortable. Honestly, I'm still not fond of the word. I'm trying to figure out what to say to Sara Ellen about the "front of her bottom". I have however grown to appreciate myself, I think getting married help. I also have an easier time in my examinations by CRNP's. When I was pregnant, and since then I have developed such an admiration for the strength of women when we accept our God-given power.