A Review of the Monologues
I recently heard an audio production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, read by the author. The play is a menagerie of female voices talking very frankly about their vaginas. Most of the stories are tragic and represent the powerfully negative view some women have of their bodies. Many of the characters were mistreated or violently abused at the hands of men (and women). The voices provide an interesting insight into the thoughts and emotions of some women concerning their sexuality. Judging by the response the play evokes in its female audience, many women identify with the characters in the play. I imagine this gives them a sense of solidarity which can be empowering and lead to a positive self-image.
Some criticize The Monologues because of it‘s blunt and sometimes vulgar discussions of the female body. This does not bother me (with the exception of her more erotic monologues), but it bothers some. Christopher West, a catholic theologian, speaks of an error he calls “angelism.” It is the idea (in his words) of “spirit good, body bad.” Many well-meaning Catholics fall into this trap and consider candid talk of genitals (outside of the doctor’s office) taboo. But God created woman from head to vagina to toe, and the book of Genesis calls her “very good.” So when Ensler speaks of her “isty bitsy” she is speaking of something God created beautiful, something he created as good. Catholics should not shy away from such discussions, but should learn to appreciate (not lust after) the human body without shame. I will critique Ensler on this point: she is not shy about using profanity. Her crass and vulgar approach offers too little reverence for the beauty of the vagina.
The problem I find with the play is Ensler’s seeking to “liberate” women’s sexuality with an “anything goes as long as it feels good” philosophy. She casts masturbation, homosexual sex, extra-marital sex, prostitution and statutory rape in a positive light. Her view may satisfy for a time, because it provides a taste of the Love for which all human beings long, but this view always ends up disappointing.
Take the most controversial monologue, where a girl suffers a series of horrible experiences, including being raped at the age of nine by her father’s best friend. As a teenager she meets an attractive twenty-something woman who seduces her and has sex with her. The seductress is described as a sexual savior by the abused girl. Jackie Clark claims, “[The monologue’s] purpose is not to laud the experience, but to ask us to consider what kind of society we have created when such an appalling scenario is a woman's only positive sexual experience as a female.” While the tragedy of the situation is apparent, there is nothing in Ensler’s reading to suggest that statutory rape is a bad thing. In a morally legitimate setting the seductress would have been characterized as a predator not a hero. It seems in Ensler’s view, statutory rape and abusing a vulnerable, confused girl is acceptable as long as both parties feel good about it. The girl in the story ended up in and out of homeless shelters for the better part of her life. My concern is that women may initially find the message of play empowering, but it will end up leaving them empty.
Catholic communities, parishes, schools and universities should offer women a real alternative to the philosophy of The Vagina Monologues. We should encourage women to have a positive image of their bodies. We should work to uphold the dignity of women as created in the image and likeness of God. And most of all, we should strive to end all violence against women. The Church has the answers to these problems. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body is one example of a vast deposit of faith Catholics can tap to truly empower women. The girl in Ensler’s story did not need a sexual predator to redeem her “coochie snortcher.” She needed someone to love her completely and unconditionally; someone to love her through the hurt and the pain in her life. In short, she needed a Savior to redeem her. Only Jesus can do that, but we are His body.