In November, several students from my theatre troupe (Ordinary People) were going to audition for a play which is produced annually by the Cornell Women’s Resource Center. I decided to audition as well. Although the play is very well known in the United States and has been performed for many years, I had never heard of it. It’s the episodic play “The Vagina Monologues”, written by Eve Ensler.
It’s not surprising that I had never heard of it before. In India, as in many other regions of the world, the word Vagina cannot freely be used in public. There’s a lot of shame, hesitation and embarrassment associated with it. In a place where the very word is taboo, I cannot expect an entire theatrical performance about Vaginas.
Last year, women from Beijing Foreign Studies University performed the Vagina Monologues in Beijing, China. They adapted the play to make it locally relevant. They were slandered on the internet and were threatened. “How could BFSU admit such vulgar girls?” and “If my daughter did this, I’d slap her across the face,” had been some of the least misogynistic responses online.
Most of the people who posted these comments probably did not even know what the play was about. The title was enough to awaken the moral police in them. I do not know if anyone has ever tried to perform the Vagina Monologues in India. But if there had been any public performances, I would expect a similar reaction to it in India.
Growing up in a different generation and environment, it’s easy for someone like me to label these people as ‘narrow minded’ or ‘conservative’. But I acknowledge that the context of their opinions and the experiences that have led to them cannot be explained by one label. So it’s completely acceptable for someone to not approve of the Vagina Monologues, but what I would ask of them is to read or watch the play, to understand its purpose before judging it.
Personally, I appreciate the Vagina Monologues for starting the conversation on women’s issues. But there are many aspects of it that I don’t endorse. So performing one of the monologues at Cornell this year is an experiment for me as well.
When I was talking about the play to my fall ’13 FWS instructor, she asked me what I’d told my family about the play. I said, “Hmm … I told them it’s about women’s empowerment.” She asked, “You did not mention the name?” I shook my head and we laughed.
What’s a better way to break the news than a comprehensive blog post?
P.S.: If you’re in Ithaca on March 7th or 8th, come watch the show and find out what this play is all about!