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“Power to the pussy!” was the presiding sentiment echoing through the Nuffield Theatre on Thursday night.
I am, of course, talking about “The Vagina Monologues” – the much-loved feminist performance piece exploring the unique relationship between women and their most secretive parts.
I confess that when first viewing The Vagina Monologues I was a little apprehensive. The last thing I wanted to do with my evening was view a performance constructed entirely around the dark and obscure hidden underworld of femininity; a creature safely shrouded in myth and mystery beneath cotton panties.
But as we all know, to embrace life to the fullest, there is sometimes a need to dip your toe in the water, and explore life’s more complex subject matter – the barefaced terrors, the darkest taboos and the small unspoken truths; the vagina falls unremittingly into all three of these categories.
So, with that in mind, I took my seat with my legs crossed demurely beneath my skirt, and waited for the black cape of darkness to descend upon the theatre. “Ah, great! No one can see my glorious array of embarrassed, bemused, and squeamish facial expressions” Or so I thought…
The lights blazed on.
On my left shoulder, the prude; a small pink gremlin in Victorian dress with no coquettish wrists on show, interrogated “Why the hell did you sign up for this?”
On my right shoulder, the feminist; a small pink gremlin wearing a leopard skin bikini and Ariana Grande style boots, demanded “Persevere!”
Which voice was I to listen to? In that moment, I didn’t know. But in the end I was very glad I listened to the feminist in me, as I was certainly not disappointed by this performance. Empowering doesn’t quite cover it.
The play opened with a large group of young women seated on long pink sofas. I instantly recalled the familiar territory of all-girl slumber parties, and breathed a big sigh of relief. All I had to do now was wait there patiently for someone to commence the pillow-fight, or pass around the Quality Street.
But this was no all-girl slumber party.
Group by group, some in pairs, threesomes or quartets, the ladies took to the stage, and delivered performances filled with vibrancy, humour and heartfelt lustre for the extraordinary women of our world – women who were brave enough to share their vagina struggles, great and small, with the public, in a bid to banish Vagina shame across the land. The Vagina Monologues are ultimately a retelling of their stories.
Their narratives were as light-hearted and humorous as they were dark and unsettling. Some women claimed their vagina as a tool for power and ecstasy, while others spoke of the universal girl-hood embarrassment and shame that transcends far into adult-hood. Many spoke of a sexual awakening, and becoming a woman, while some women shared their experiences of childbirth in full gory detail. These stories, when coupled with the benefit of great acting, had the audience in stitches.
But equally, there were moments where the tears poured forth – first-hand accounts of war-rape which stripped victims of their identity, and desire for sex, marriage and children. These women came to loathe their vaginas as they were a permanent reminder of the unspeakable horrors that had been; their wombs were as hollow as their tarnished souls. And finally, some transgender women saw in the vagina a poignant sense of belonging. Only when a full sex transition had been carried out, did they feel complete as women.
I think I can speak on behalf of all women who have witnessed this performance, that in this theatre space, the vagina is not merely a vessel of pain or pleasure, but a potent force of female unity – women who must overcome the obstacles of sexism, objectification, aestheticism and misogyny, to earn their place in society. The Vagina Monologues isn’t about vaginas at all really, it is a tribute to the strength of women.
So, leave the shame at home, and be sure to make a date for The Vagina Monologues in your diary.