Finding my Voice through the Vagina Monologues By Anonymous


This post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

“Are you going to the Vagina Monologues try-outs tonight?” my friend asked me last year after class.

“I hadn’t planned on it,” I replied cautiously. Truth be told, the word ‘vagina’ made me uncomfortable. There were yearly productions of the Vagina Monologues at my undergraduate institution, but I never went. I thought it was a time when women gathered and performed monologues they had written, and I thought it demeaning to have these monologues named metonymically. I did not want to be associated with the Monologues: I was in favor of women’s equality, but I did not want to claim my sexuality in so visceral a manner. In my mind, the ‘Vagina’ of Vagina Monologues just referred to the actresses, not the content.

How wrong I was. 

I somehow found myself tentatively agreeing to investigate the auditions, but I wasn’t making any promises. I walked in the front door of Mudd Theater and filled out my audition sheet, and then one of the women told me to pick out a sample piece to read. The choices were excerpts from “Hair,” “Cunt,” and “My Vagina was my Village.” I spent a long time trying to decide which of these pieces I could possibly read, since I was uncomfortable with all of them. I couldn’t name my trepidation, but I knew that I did NOT want to say the word vagina. Reflecting on that experience now, I think a large part of that fear was because my body was never the subject of discussion in such a physical way before. My parents’ discomfiture with discussing anything related to sexuality shaped my own hesitance to broach the subject even on my own.

During the auditions, I was supremely uncomfortable hearing and watching women so overtly celebrate their sexuality through the stories they read. Even in a group of all women, I was incredibly embarrassed by their behavior. I wondered if there was a way to gracefully exit the room and pretend that this experience had never happened. When it came my turn to read, I was nervous. I chose to read from “My Vagina was my Village,” a story poetically describing rape. This seemed to me the safest option, because I could assign an abstract label to the rape victim; I could not so easily contain the celebration of a woman’s body. I walked out of the room after auditions rather hoping that I would not be chosen to participate. I received an email a few weeks later detailing which people from the auditions would be performing the different monologues. After a brief sigh of relief that at least I hadn’t been given some of the raciest pieces, I archived the email and didn’t look at it again until January.

I had a very difficult opening to my second semester at Claremont School of Theology. More and more I felt my voice being silenced in the classroom, ignored in preference for male voices. I began to feel invisible in the classroom. I unearthed the Vagina Monologues script from my email and began to memorize lines as a defense mechanism against the devaluation of my voice in the classroom. I would prove my worth to myself, even if no one else.

Then rehearsals started. My partner knew I was participating, but he did not press me for details about my experiences; he knew I would share when and if I wanted to do so. Incidentally, it was only after the Monologues that I told him about my experiences. Reflecting upon this, I think it was because there was something special about that all-women’s space, and even if the stories we performed for an audience were not verbatim our own, we shared a bond that I did not want to violate. These women held my stories as I held theirs.

Less than a week before opening night, one of the participants had to drop out, and I stepped in to perform “My Angry Vagina.” Here at last I connected with the text I was reading, the monologue I was performing. This monologue gave voice to my anger and gave me a way to channel my anger. My sense of self-worth as a woman had been denigrated time and again in classes and in my community at large, and releasing that anger through the creative power of an impassioned monologue afforded me an agency that I had hitherto fore not demanded. I felt empowered and restored as I purged the angry feelings, acknowledging them, venting them, and sharing them.

In the midst of a space for women only, I found the voice that had been mostly dormant and learned to celebrate with a community of women. We laughed and we cried, listening not only to the monologues we memorized but to the monologues we live every day as women attending Claremont School of Theology. Unlike the lesbian separatism of Sarah Hoagland, ours was a more inclusive separatism, welcoming women of any and all sexual preferences into community. As both participant and observer, I watched as women (in seminary, no less!) found their voices and celebrated their womanhood (however they defined it). I saw women marrying the ideas of celebratory sexuality and religious commitments (mostly Christian) in a way I had never before seen. The women who performed in the Monologues formed a bond not otherwise possible at Claremont School of Theology. In the freezing cold Mudd Theater in January and February, women came together and accepted each other in a way seemingly foreign to the pervasive CST ethos. The community we created in those weeks continues to inspire me even as I go about my normal life in a still-patriarchal society. In this time, I came to respect my voice, my body, and my self-worth, and I will forever be grateful to my friend for encouraging me to audition for the play that acknowledged, validated, and celebrated my experiences as a woman.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The author desires to remain anonymous.  If you know who the author is, please respect her wishes in your comments below.  Thank you!

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Categories: Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue, Sexual Ethics, Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women, Women and Community, Women's Agency

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Dear anonymous:

    This is a really wonderful piece – I love how you blend personal experience with the theories we’ve been reading about in class. True story: I remember watching the Vagina Monologues last year and, as we got to your piece, said internally to myself “I thought I knew all or most of the students at CST. Who is this actress? She’s so funny and does anger so well.” Little did I know that there was a lot going on “behind the scenes” for you. My hope for you is that find ways to nurture the support and solidarity you’ve found when inhabiting women’s spaces and that your voice is welcomed and celebrated (not denigrated) in the remainder of your time at CST.

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    • Dear Dr. Kao,

      Thank you for your affirmation. Since the performance of the Monologues last year, I have become much closer to several of the women who performed, and I have also learned the strength that comes with being in community and solidarity with people who share and affirm my experiences. I am grateful for classes like Feminist Ethics and projects such as this that give me an academic voice with which to engage and critique my experiences.

      Like

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your wonderful witness to the beauty of women in community.
    Dr. Kao is on to something when she says, “little did I know there was so much going on behind the scenes.” I am certain every woman in that production has her own story of transformation through being in the company of women and giving voice to women’s stories. Mine actually came when I decided not to perform a monologue. I get stage fright and decided that to memorize and perform a monologue was too much stress amid everything else I had to do that semester. Plus, to be honest, I didn’t want to say vagina in public in front of a bunch of strangers. There was a time in my life that I would have chosen the monologue that used the word vagina the most times and said it the loudest. But at 57, I just didn’t want to put myself out there. So I emailed the directors and backed out. However, I told them that I would do anything else they wanted me to do in support of the production. As I clicked send, I thought, “Oh God, EXCEPT take pictures.” After a successful career as a photojournalist I had been laid off from the Los Angeles Times in 2008. Although I was scouting divinity schools at that time and would have asked for a buy-out in the next round of layoffs, being rejected and tossed out of a profession that I loved and gave most of my energies too for twenty-five years is a pain I think I will cope with for the rest of my life. It is akin to losing someone you love and I didn’t want to stir up the pain.
    My cameras were safely tucked in my closet when the directors wrote back and enthusiastically asked if I would make publicity portraits of the cast. I told them I would do anything, so I unwillingly agreed. I knew what they wanted — clean well-lit portraits like you see in playbills at any theater. But I did not have the proper studio lights to do that and no money to rent them. In addition, they asked me to take pictures of the women’s favorite body part. I winced. I didn’t want to do that either. I felt burdened. So with desperation as my mother of invention, I used one main spotlight on the stage to light the women. As they trickled in to be photographed I found myself buoyed by each woman’s spirit. Even more, I began to fall in love with the light that was molding each face and the body part each claimed as her favorite. Was it possible that I still had passion for making photographs? In the end I had a collection of pictures that I actually liked; no, confidently liked. To top it off, the women didn’t care that the pictures were not traditional portraits. In fact they were delighted to see how I saw each of them anew in the same light. I was overwhelmed when one of the directors started printing them and hanging them on campus. After experiencing the deep loss and pain of rejection at being tossed from work that had defined my adult life, did I dare let myself feel the warm glow of acceptance?
    Even though I didn’t participate in the backstage bonding, the women who gathered for the Vagina Monologues changed me. My deep wound began to heal in the encouraging embrace of a community of women.

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    • Wow, Annie, that is quite a story. I really loved the photographs – so artistically done – and I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you more about them (in the context of CSGR stuff). Thanks for sharing your story of transformation through the VA.

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    • Dear Annie,

      I absolutely agree with you that “every woman in that production has her own story of transformation.” I know I was not the only individual who, despite a general commitment to liberal feminist principles (though I would not have defined them as such at the time), was still highly uncomfortable with naming and claiming my sexuality. In spite of your initial trepidation and reluctance to take the pictures for the show, I’m very glad you did! Having you take pictures of us was one of my favorite parts of the monologues. I watched you capture something uniquely beautiful in each woman who walked through the doors of Mudd that could then be shared with the community at large. I’m very glad for your participation, your sharing of your talents, and most of all for the healing you found in community.

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    • Annie,

      I never realized how directly we pushed you on your envelope! Thank you again for sharing your incredible gift of photography. I am awed by the photos that you produced with one spotlight and our stage. They are so incredibly powerful.

      Your photos are hung in the classroom in Mudd Theater. We have regular Arts Council meetings in that room. I still get a jolt whenever I see them gracing our walls. I am awed by their power, their beauty, and the celebration of women’s bodies. I sit with the photos and know that art can be a direct challenge and far preferable to any for of sexism and patriarchy. And those photos remind me that our dreams are absolutely accomplishable.

      Thank you for sharing your story about the monologues. I shall treasure it.

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  3. Dear Anonymous – Thank you for this post. I love your artful use of language, your decscriptions of your personal experiences and the skillful way that you interweave these themes with our readings from class. I was one of those who opted out of Vagina Monologues early on — feeling too stressed out with work to take on anything more, and also, if I’m honest, feeling like I was too stiff and uptight to really be able to embrace the free-style spirit of a production like the “Vagina Monologues.” But, getting to spend even the three evenings of the performances with you all, helping out with ushering and organization, was a true gift. I could tell right away upon first entering Mudd Theatre, where you were all warming up, that this had become a sacred space. The work that you all did created a space of possibility for women at Claremont: a place that, despite its best intentions, is still bound in the old trappings of sexism. Those evenings, watching you all, I was challenged to think about other ways to create spaces of possibility for women on CST’s campus. It was a good reminder that our response does not have to be to become absolute victims, but rather, we can claim agency and create new, affirming glimpses of community. Thanks for sharing – Hannah

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  4. Learning to love our bodies is a process and in a culture that commodifies women’s bodies, it is not surprising that these lessons need to be learned again in new generations. If anyone reading this is ever in NYC, do make a trip to the Brooklyn Museum to see the Dinner Party by Judy Chicago on permanent display and if you cannot, read her Through the Flower–or both. We need not only to own our bodies but to know their sacredness. This is what the Goddess symbols mean for many of us, and what “sweet Sophia” with honey dripping from her thighs meant to the women at the Re-imagining conference.

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  5. PS We can affirm our bodies without denying our minds. In Old Europe Goddess symbolized the creativity of women and Mother Earth, which was not only the ability to give birth and nurture, but also the abiltiy to “invent” agriculture, weaving, and pottery using the intelligence of our minds which also are part of nature and reflect the intelligence of all life. To turn dirt into pot into fire, to turn seed into plant into grain into bread, to turn flax or wool into thread into cloth into items of use and beauty, all of this took great intelligence and this intelligence was also understood to be the great gift of bounteous Mother Earth.

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  6. Dear Anonymous,

    I liked reading this piece. I can relate and may even need to begin reading some pieces from the Vagina Monologues to help gain some more insight into my inherent female strength. I was raised in a household where the female body parts were taboo to talk about, as well as the male parts. It was”naughty”; “inappropriate” and something I shouldn’t have been concerned about as a adolescent girl according to my family. Of course, as an adult things have changed, and talking about the dynamics between males and females in my home is a more casual conversation and the taboos have gone to the way side. I think it has to do with the fact I’m no longer 13! Whatever the reasons were, why my parents did not take the time to talk about such things throughout my adolescence, stems from their ubringing, and the ubringing of their parents etc. The world we leave in today, has become much more confrontational, communicative, and open to many topics once taboo. Sometimes I wonder, what if my mother was raised in a time where the Vagina Monolgues were created, how would she view herself, her body, her self worth? Same for her mother, and her mother’s mother.I applaud you for using your experience with the Vagina Monolgues both on stage and off stage. To be able to carry the strength gained from the women involved, and to build your own internal and external strength, are your own personal building blocks to a healthy and fulfilling life. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your brave and powerful post. After more than two years at Claremont School of Theology, I remain struck by our discomfort with sexuality – and most especially women’s sexuality – except when it pertains to procreation. I found your post powerful and liberating in that it both highlighted our lack of female-only or otherwise safe space to vent our historic and present appropriate (!) anger and frustration over the sins committed against women. And yet, you also managed to raise up our need to reclaim our comfort with our bodies, our sexuality. I’m glad to know that the amazing Vagina Monologue participants gained as much from this process as the lucky viewers did. And it makes me want to ask “Are we doing the Monologues again this year and can I audition?” Again, thank you!

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  8. Anonymous, thanks for your honest post. I consider myself fairly liberal, but private, so I was challenged the first time I went to a Vagina Monologues reading because my nineteen year old niece invited me! I didn’t want to put my hang ups on her, I wanted her to be free to experience a new venue and more importantly I wanted to keep the communication between us open no matter what the topic. Needless to say we went. I was determined to subtly convey to my niece that I’m proud of who I am and I want her to be proud of who she is. We went, we laughed, we signed, we cringed, and we had a blast. The best part was the conversation we had after the readings, open and honest about women’s strength, challenges and how together we can accomplish anything. I can’t wait to attend the next Vagina Monologues at CST, perhaps I’ll try out!

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  9. Dear Anonymous,

    This is a beautiful piece. I love how you reflect upon your experiences (prior, during and after) the Vagina Monologues in such a passionate, thoughtful and personal manner. To use a phrase I learned here at CST, you have cultivated your practice of “self-reflexivity” quite well.

    I was particularly struck by your sentence “[r]eflecting on that experience now, I think a large part of that fear was because my body was never the subject of discussion in such a physical way before.” That is really one of the most powerful dimensions of the Vagina Monologues, isn’t it? It encourages both the performers and the audience to reevaluate why so many of us are so afraid of bodies (particularly female) being physical – sexual, even (invaluably!) angry as you suggest later in your post. The sexual physicality of our bodies is so commonly portrayed in a negative light (as predatory and/or sinful) and something only controllable in extremely private domains. This is compounded by the fact that women, bodies and sexuality have all been often closely tied together culturally, and simultaneously denigrated all together. Sexism and Patriarchy have typically been anti-body – and not just theoretically, but viscerally. As you indicate, it isn’t just a discomfort with bodies, it is a discomfort with bodies being expressed so physically.

    And as such, as much as I can, I share your valuation of therapeutic anger (even rage!). Considering the scars that were (and still are) inflicted upon women’s bodies – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, communal – anger is not just a reaction – it is justice. The beauty, empowerment and healing that came from the Vagina Monologues here at CST, while just one step, was clearly an invaluable step, as made clear in your post. Ultimately, I hope it is in the spirit of your post to take hope from your reflection. After all, CST is not just the damaged and broken institutional structures that many students here have come to know well, nor (specifically) the sexist dimensions that have hurt you and other women. CST is also the community of women that you write was “created” with the Vagina Monologues. CST is also students like you. If CST (and CLU) is to live up to its promise, I believe it will be because of organic communities like the Vagina Monologues and students like you. Thank you for this gift.

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  10. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for this poignant reflection of your experiences with the Vagina Monologues. I find myself having similar reflections having been a part of the cast. I’m so glad that you brought up the notion of the monologues as a creative, inclusive space for women. I wanted to participate in the monologues as a way to be creative and escape from thoughts of classes and also as a chance to start acting again. I never thought that I would find so much meaning in a woman-centered space. Thank you for reminding me of this Amazing time.

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  11. Dear Anonymous
    Thank you for your frank post.We women are learning to celebrate ourselves and the words describing our private and precious parts.
    I was raised in a family of four sisters who were remarkably out of touch with our inner selves, with each other, with our reproductive capabilities, with celebration of ourselves. The Vagina Monologues come 40 years later than our youth but not too late to weave us closer together as women in better touch with each other and our bodies than ever in our girlhood. We have begun to find our way together in woman-centered space that opens for us when we get together despitee our still very real differences. The sisterhood of us all is saving our sisterhood. We owe a large debt to our daughters and nieces and to the woman thinkers who have shown us our woundedness and begun the healing possible and needed for flourishing. Rock on sisters, rock on.

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  12. Anonymous, I attended the CST production of the Vagina Monologues last year and LOVED it! I’ve seen more than 10 various productions, from Eve Ensler’s original to undergraduate and community theatre takes. Every single performance is somehow different, despite the general repetition of material. I was in attendance on a night when there were quite a few males in the crowd (including some younger male children), and I wonder how you felt about that. (I’ve only attended a few productions in which there was a significant male presence in the audience–mostly the Valentine’s Day shows–and I’ve always been curious about how the performers were impacted, if at all).

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  13. Anonymous,

    I apologize for taking so long to respond to this, but I wanted to take the time to publicly thank you for this story. It touches me deeply to realize that one of my hopes for bringing the monologues to campus was directly realized in this blog post.

    Yet, not just realized but built upon. The Vagina Monologues did not just give the opportunity for the women on CST’s campus to embrace their own stories, but created new, empowering stories to share for their time here.

    I appreciate too that the Monologues gave you an opportunity to relate to your body in a more positive and engaged way. I think that’s one of the beauties of feminism and this particular piece of explicitly feminist art – we get to engage ourselves in our wholeness instead of fractured, subsumed aspects of ourselves.

    Thank you for the post. It makes the play all the sweeter for me.

    Like

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