There’s something different about vaginas. Not “coochies,” not “twats” and definitely not “pussy.” Vaginas.
The word alone is loaded with meaning in a way unrivaled by any other body part. No one purses their lips when the conversation turns to elbows or looks away when a friend starts bragging about what her workout routine is doing for her thighs.
It’s not just that we’re uncomfortable with genitalia either – you can expect to hear the word ‘dick’ at least once a day on a college campus, and you’re labeled a prude if you make a fuss about it.
This weekend, Page to Stage Productions went beyond the veil of cutesy idioms and intimations to get to the bottom of what it means to be a woman with a vagina. Based on a series of interviews with divorcees, children, refugees, prostitutes, lesbians, sectagenarians and others, playwright Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” has everything from full body laughs to gut-wrenching tragedy.
Page to Stage’s entire cast captivated audiences with three performances this past Friday and Saturday, but one of the most visceral monologues at Saturday’s 1 p.m. showing in the Women’s Center was “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could” by Lucia Greene, a sixth-semester journalism and Spanish major. “Coochi Snorcher” follows the true story of a homeless survivor of childhood rape on her path to sexual healing via her first relationship with another woman.
While the woman’s memory of her assault at the hands of a family friend is only a few sentences long, Greene’s sincere portrayal of her trauma, followed by the sweet relief of her first positive sexual experience, seemed to capture the essence of what it means to be a survivor.
“When I was reading it I could almost feel someone talking to me, and I wanted to do that story justice,” Greene said of her performance. “It speaks to the fact that behind every face there’s a story.”
The in-your-face humor of the next monologue, “Reclaiming Cunt,” contrasted sharply with Greene’s more somber piece. Taking on the erratic persona of a veritable vagina crusader, Krystiana Estiler, a sixth-semester communications major, positively gushed about her character's love for the word.
Estiler shouted the inexplicably taboo word no fewer than 26 times in a handful of minutes and then led the audience in saying it themselves.
“I said, ‘cunt,’ that’s right. Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt. It feels good,” Estiler said in character. “Try it, go ahead, go ahead. Cunt.”
Estiler, who viewed various renditions of the monologue before choosing the part, said she was immediately drawn to the crazed energy many women have brought to the role.
“I really like the shock factor,” Estiler said. “We should be able to reclaim the word just like people have been able to reclaim the ‘n-word’ and the ‘f-word.’”
Estiler said “The Vagina Monologues” has changed her perspective on vaginas as a whole. During the post-performance discussion, many cast members admitted that they didn’t even know why the word “cunt” is considered offensive in the first place.
“It shows how mainstream society conditions us to do things even though we really don’t have to,” Estiler said.
Director Allison D’Alusio, an eighth-semester American Sign Language and deaf community studies major, said “The Vagina Monologues” experience helps women become more vagina confident.
Even if that just means someone in the audience, or even the cast, becoming comfortable with saying “vagina,” it would all have been worth it, she explained.
“It’s very empowering, it’s opened my eyes to a lot of experiences,” D’Alusio said. “It’s helped me to understand that they’re just words. It’s the connotation that makes it something else.”
Co-assistant director Sophia Valentin, a sixth-semester digital media and design major, said creating an atmosphere where the cast felt empowered to discuss the complex issues of gender and sexuality within “The Vagina Monologues” was key to their rehearsal process. This allowed them to dig deeper into the material than students might be able to in a typical women’s studies class.
“It was a completely different environment because we were all comfortable enough with each other to bring in our own personal stories,” Valentin said.
While there’s no question that Page to Stage mounted an impassioned and inspiring performance, there has been consistent criticism of “The Vagina Monologues” itself for whitewashing the experiences of women and excluding transgender people altogether. Things have improved since the original 1996 production - the woman in “Coochi Snorcher,” for example, is a Southern person of color, but the play is not without its limitations by modern feminist standards.
During the post-show discussion, D’Alusio explained that they chose to omit “They Beat the Girl out of My Boy - Or So They Tried,” an optional monologue based on the experiences of transwomen, because she thought it would be disingenuous to perform it with a largely cisgender cast.
Ensler spoke to these issues in Time magazine in Jan 2015, after Mount Holyoke, an all women’s college, canceled a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” due to perceived transphobia.
“The Vagina Monologues” never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina,” Ensler told Time magazine. “In the play, I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina.”
I would still argue the play equates one with the other, something many female-to-male transgender people and genderqueer individuals such as myself would disagree with, but that doesn’t mean the deeply personal stories told through the “The Vagina Monologues” don’t deserve to be heard. Ensler was right when she told theatre advocate Howard Sherman that talking about our vaginas is still not widely accepted.
Think of the last time you told a boss or professor you were “feeling under the weather” when you stayed home because of period cramps - over half the people in the world have vaginas, and even then we’re compelled to pretend Barbies are anatomically correct.
Better yet, ask yourself, when was the last time you actually said “vagina”?
Through “The Vagnia Monologues,” Page to Stage brought our not so dirty little secret into the limelight, exposing vaginas for what they really are: a source of pleasure, pain and truly bizarre nicknames.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.