Warning: Here there be anatomy words
The word vagina, which came to describe a woman's lady bits starting in the 1600s, comes from the Latin word vagina, which means sheath. The sole purpose of a sheath is to be a receptacle that holds something. A receptacle meant to be penetrated by a deadly weapon, no less. What an interesting commentary on the ideas of the purpose of women's bodies - the purpose of women, as perceived at the time. And how much has our attitude toward the vagina really changed.
This February, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Canton will be staging a production of The Vagina Monologues. The show is complicated, troubling, and controversial, but I still absolutely think you should come see it February 25th at 7pm at our location at the corner of Easton and Middlebranch. Seating is limited, so be sure to hit me up right away if you think you want to come. All proceeds benefit organizations that victims of violence against women.
Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues after interviewing a few hundred women about sex, gender, sexuality, and yes, their vaginas. She compiled these interviews into a 90-minute one-woman production, which she first performed off-Broadway in 1996.
Ensler wanted the show to "celebrate the vagina," but the overall tone of the piece is far from celebratory. That's probably why, in later years, the show became more about spotlighting and fighting violence against women.
According to the production's introduction, "Over 200 women were interviewed. Older women, young women, married women, lesbians, single women, college professors, actors, corporate professionals, sex workers... Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one's ever asked them before." And that's true. Vaginas aren't a thing we tend to talk about. Men turn green around the gills when they hear the word, and women shift uncomfortably in their seats. Some say "you shouldn't talk about that" or "nobody wants to hear about that." Women use all kinds of euphemisms for their lady bits - "lady bits" being among my favorite (I'm also fond of cooch, vag, bajingo, and hoo hoo, if you're curious). The vagina's a dirty thing that society tells us we shouldn't talk about it.
Perhaps because of this informal ban on the discussion of our bodies, talk of rape is taboo as well. Rape's a dirty thing, and societies throughout time have openly blamed the victim. Even today, rape victims are often accused of having "asked for it," based on the way they dressed, the way they behaved, what they drank. In 2011, a Canadian law enforcement official voiced the opinion of many when he said that "women should avoid acting like sluts in order not to be victimized."
The Vagina Monologues discusses rape without shame, without victim blaming, and without hiding beneath euphemisms meant to avoid making people uncomfortable. The stories are troubling. The language is frank, and many will find it offensive. Some speakers engage in behaviors or espouse opinions with which many people - including myself - wholeheartedly disagree. And that's okay. It's okay to feel uncomfortable, offended, alarmed, and upset. Rape, violence, they should alarm us. Discussing this stuff will inevitably make us uncomfortable. But what's important is opening a dialog. What's important is letting go of the social stigmas that keep us silent. What's important is making people aware of the world around them. What's important is helping make the violence stop.