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Monologues’ Sensitive and Unflinchingly Open

Jess Shaffer | Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On bookshelves, Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” appear to be just another a simple little black book. Unsuspecting passers by would never realize that Ensler’s work is in fact an explosive cultural force onto itself. Shoving taboos of secrecy, fear and shame out of the way, Eve Ensler faces the issue of female sexuality head on. Using her work as mouthpiece for the stories of hundreds of women’s personal stories, Ensler describes a full spectrum of her subjects’ sexual encounters.

With fearless honesty, Ensor harnesses the emotive power of personal stories told in moments of vulnerability and openness. After interviewing over 200 women, Ensler creates a stage for the marginalized, the silent, the confused, the misguided and the repressed, shining a bright, perceptive light on female sexuality. While the experiences described are diverse, covering an almost incomprehensible variety, the common element of femininity and the focus on the vagina creates a motif that solidifies the work as focused, cohesive exploration.

The work, with its calm persistent attention to details no matter how miniscule or uncomfortable, could have easily become a desensitized recounting of women’s sexual highs and lows. But the monologues maintain a highly personal tone. Though the work is a retelling of oral accounts told to Ensler, each tale reads with a remarkably personal toneand  gives a genuine, uncensored first person account, placed in Ensler’s nonjudgmental, caring hands. It is the quality of monologue that is the underlying strength of the work.

Lending a voice to women and their vaginas, Ensler creates an intense, stirring experience that allows for a sensitive, open and almost tangible connection between the individual speaker and the audience. By forming such a rare sense of community, the atmosphere of Ensler’s work reflects the very sense of inherent female solidarity that her work not only feeds off of but also contributes to. Ensler’s compilation of stories speaks to the marginalized, openly embracing victims of rape, those scorned by infidelity, minorities, the lower class and lesbians. Ensler, in this way, takes people generally ignored and draws attention to issues and perspectives that society has notoriously preferred to ignore.

Still, through the distinctive individual voices represented in the “Monologues,” the author carefully avoid generalizing all women or speaking for a stereotyped population. Instead, the individuality of each woman, each vagina, is clearly represented and given its place of respect independent of the other characters. Individual personality shines through in every monologue. In pieces like “My Angry Vagina,” a wry sense of humor is employed to rant about what the narrator considers to be offenses to her vagina’s liberty.

Other monologues are far more complex and controversial. The controversial “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could” describes the experiences of a sexually tormented youth. Eventually, the girl testifies to finding healing and redemption through her sexual relations with an older woman while she is still a young teen. Whether the audience should perceive this tale as an abomination, and harrowing tale to sexual and psychological damage that leads to misguided behavior, or a sweet tale of personal discovery and healing is largely ambiguous.

The sense of personal ownership of each tale, regardless of judgment or acceptance, contributes to an inspiring environment in which both the audience and the narrators can gently embrace their glories and sufferings in a feat of self-exploration and acceptance. The heart of “The Vagina Monologues” negates the socially taboo of discomfort when it comes to discussing things like tampons, rape, sex, lesbianism, and, yes, vaginas. On the whole, the monologues pursue a much more profound goal of acceptance, openness, and individuality for women.