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Disappointing: Pretentious female mysticism meets the feminism of the 1970s
am 26. Juni 2006
To summarize: Today, "The Vagina Monologues" may still be exciting and meaningful for an audience in the Bible Belt of Bush Country, but for females (and males) who have enjoyed watching "Sex and the City", "The Vagina Monologues" seem dated, stilted, pretentious, and sometimes even annoying.
Maybe the most insightful criticism of "The Vagina Monologues" was made by an ex-lawyer-now-domina-for-women whom Ensler quotes. The ex-lawyer said that she felt that she hadn't recognized herself in Ensler's monologue based on an interview with her; she felt that Ensler's play had created a distance to the vagina and not captured the spirit. I think this criticism applies to most of Ensler's monologues.
Right from the start of her play, Ensler sets out to envelop the vagina in the gobbledygook of female mysticism. Her interviews start with the question what the interviewee's vagina would want to dress in. So right from the outset of her mission, Ensler shows a tendency to veil the blunt reality of the vagina with metaphors and similes. She creates distance even in her performance: Her contorted rendition of the word "c*nt" in the hysterical singsong of a medieval mystic is embarrassing to listen to - why can't she just say the word (as Glenn Close apparently did)? Or do we catch a glimpse of Ensler's own inhibitions here?? A hint of this enraptured singsong can also be found in her monologue on giving birth - that's one of her most unconvincing pieces. Maybe she should just have acknowledged that she hasn't given birth herself and therefore prefers to skip the topic instead of coming up with some balderdash of mystic-metaphoric clichés?
Ensler aims to create a world in which men are predominantly disruptive perpetrators of evil and women are always non-violent angels of bliss and joy. Here, however, Ensler seems to walk blindfolded into her own trap: For example, Ensler recounts the experiences of a girl who, at 9, gets raped by one of daddy's friends and, at 13, gets seduced by a gorgeous sensual successful secretary in a one-night stand and in this sexual experience finally comes to accept her vagina as a place of joy. So what would Ensler (and everyone else) have said if it had been a man and not a woman seducing the girl - wouldn't she have raised hue and cry and shouted abuse? Does Ensler's story imply that it's okay to abuse a 13-year-old sexually, as long as it's done by a gentle and sensitive woman and the victim enjoys it? What a worrisome message!
Ensler's fame does not come from the literary merit of her play (because there is none) but from the topic alone - speaking (of) the vagina. In the early nineties, this may have been radical and liberating for women, a good and necessary step. But once the audience has learned to say "vagina", what else is there in the play? My answer is: Very very little! The most interesting bits in "The Vagina Monologues" are the vagina hard facts which Ensler quotes. And of course, in line with the totalitarian feminism of the 1970s, Ensler avoids mention of the male organ and never says "p*nis". So much for speaking out and overcoming inhibitions!
So: If you want to learn to talk about vaginas, skip "The Vagina Monologues" and start with "Sex and the City" - apart from being the far better entertainment, "Sex and the City" covers a much wider range of similar topics, its perspectives on them are much more differentiated, subtle, diverse and ironic, also include male perspectives, and all of it is done in a very intelligent way - and you're spared Eve Ensler's voice (not one of her greatest assets)!