May Not Contain Nuts

In March, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues comes to Berwick-upon-Tweed and NOTBAd gets a little thrill right there from having the words ‘vagina’ and ‘tweed’ in the same sentence.

The Twat Chats, as we fondly refer to them here at NOTBAd HQ, will be performed as part of the V-Day campaign, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls.   Money raised goes towards awareness initiatives and anti-violence organisations.

You can’t argue with that, can you?  You can’t possibly voice concern over a local am-dram group wanting to throw their hat into the global ring to help stop rape, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery.  If you do then you probably have a penis, right?

Well, not exactly.

The Vagina Monologues needs no introduction.  The title promotes itself.  It has had stars of stage and screen clamouring to take part, including the likes of  Kate Winslet, Jerry Hall, Glenn Close and Whoopi Goldberg.  In fact, these days you’re hard pushed to find someone who hasn’t taken part in The Monologues, and soap actresses whose characters are in scriptwriting limbo waiting to return from the dead are proving particularly keen.

Therefore we can’t imagine there’s anyone confusing The Vagina Monologues with the Queen’s Christmas broadcast.   Seriously, if you haven’t heard of this award-winning feminist juggernaut then you must be nun or something, who don’t actually  have vaginas because – Nun Fact #1 – that’s where the Devil gets in.

Based on Ensler’s interviews of 200 women around the world about their vaginas, the play is a curious hybrid.  Tales of humour and celebration  are juxtaposed with mouth-drying accounts of horror.   At times it can seem didactic and preachy, at others warm and open.

And this is the challenge The Tingling Wilmas are facing.   On the plus side, the title alone will attract a sizeable and game audience – hence their sell-out debut performance in Hawick last year – but The Wilmas still need to be able to balance the conflicting elements of the play, not easy with such limited experience.  Depending on their approach, this production could end up being either a workshop for militant feminism, or something so slight and inoffensive that it merely caters for middle-class women who have only popped along so they can impress themselves with their own daring.

A script making so much of blunt references to ‘cunts’ demands the utmost subtlety in its delivery, and at NOTBAd we dread the over-earnest enthusiasm that can accompany projects such as this.   To be fair, The Twat Chats is an American play so over-earnestness comes with the territory – just try saying “My vagina is angry” in an American drawl and see what comes out.   It’s only ever going to sound like beads and Mooncups and a fringe that you’ve cut yourself.

And thinking about it, elements also seems curiously dated.   The urge to reclaim the ‘c’ word? Boring.  Why would you want to call your vagina a cunt?   A cunt is what school kids call their friends these days, and NOTBAd defies any woman saying they have a fanny resembling a dyspraxic fourteen-year-old whose voice hasn’t broken.   There is no shock value to be had any more; it’s just a word, emptied of violence through pubescent overuse.

The main problem we have with The Vagina Monologues though, is how it excludes men.

If, as Ensler claims, one of the purposes of The Monologues is to re-educate men in their attitudes towards women, then surely you need male bums on seats to hear the message? This is not the format that will do that.   The audience will contain a handful of squirming men surrounded by cheering and whooping women.   And while Eve Ensler insists the play does not have an anti-male bias, we can’t help but feel she is being deliberately disingenuous.

Since 1996, when The Vagina Monologues was written, Western society has experienced a growing backlash against traditional notions of masculinity, with the result that today many men now feel displaced, bemused, and undervalued by society.    Consequently, the tension between the sexes is greater than ever, leading to – guess what? – a rise in violence against women.

Go and see this by all means, and support a local community theatre group in their efforts to raise money for the best of causes and with the best of intentions.   However,  The Vagina Monologues can do nothing to change men’s attitudes towards women in the long-run.  To do that we need free communication between the sexes and we can’t have that when only one of them is in the room.

The Vagina Monologues by The Tingling Wilmas, The Maltings Theatre, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 16th–17th March, 8.00pm

If you would like to submit a reader’s review for this production, please drop us a line with a sample of your writing to flyte.tipping@yahoo.co.uk


5 comments on “May Not Contain Nuts

  1. Dear Chastity – I do agree with your sentiments about a one-sided dialogue being an ineffectual tool for change. However, don’t you think drama opens up or widens (excuse me!) a subject’s coverage in a way that political debate or negotiations so often don’t, won’t or can’t – and therefore the freedom to discuss and engage with the subject/issue also broadens – remember Shopping and F***ing?But there, as you say, is the rub. The VM format – and S&F – has become dated and rather hackneyed as a tool for change, education or even shocking people into listening and has settled, rather, into a slightly uncomfortable and ‘in’ form of entertainment – what was once an if-you-haven’t-got-the-T-shirt event, has become a sidle-along-with-sunglasses-behind-a-newspaper event. – although I have to say that, unlike you, I still find the C-word really shocking! Thank you as ever for your witty and thought-provoking piece. I hope The Tingling Wilmas pull it off. Love Jax xxx

    • Dear Jax

      Thank you so much, I’m delighted you enjoyed it! And absolutely, I totally agree with you! Theatre can certainly open things up for debate, and make us face things we would rather keep in the shadows.

      My problem with VM is that it’s a one-sided debate. The VM format engenders male defensiveness and guilt, giving rise to retaliation rather than understanding and respect. Surely it would be more effective to intersperse the VMs with men’s stories too? Including those who have committed violence against women? Because by listening to these stories we understand the beginning, rather than emotionally reacting to what’s already happened. Furthermore, these stories need to be told in a language that men in the audience can relate to. Men don’t think in soft terms of ’empowerment’ and ‘ownership’. They connect better with absolutes. The V-Day campaign also stretches to The Transgender Monologues (male to female). It seems everyone’s invited to the debate but men. If this isn’t sexism, then Keith Barron never appeared on telly in the 80s.

      And as for the C-bomb? Three brothers…

      Chastity x

      • You are of course right – what I love about theatre is it can do everything you describe and get away with it…this doesn’t mean that the story of violence against women can not and should not be told in a way that men hear more effectively…AND it doesn’t mean you can’t have a rallying cry play for women to get behind if they so desire.

        You trump me by one brother…it’s not that I’m not used to hearing it – I just don’t like it much!

        These Word Post comment things are really annoying as you have to remember to check the notify box of follow up comments at the end and I always forget.

  2. Dear Chastity, could you not have gone to watch it in the Maltings first, rather than slate it before it’s even been performed?

    You clearly made up your mind NOT to like it 2 months before it happened. Fair enough.

    Let’s see YOU get up and do your own version, though. Apparently you know exactly the “right” way to perform the “Twat Chats”. Reclaiming cunt indeed.

    • Dear Jillian

      Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to leave a comment. It is always much appreciated.

      You seem to be labouring under some misapprehension, so let me clarify my position. If you re-read the article I posted about The Vagina Monologues, you will realise that I did not in fact ‘slate’ The Tingling Wilmas’ production. Rather, I encouraged people to go and support it as The Wilmas are raising money for a good cause motivated purely by the best of intentions.

      Further, you are mistaken in saying I made up my mind not to like this production two months ago – I had actually made up my mind a number of years ago after seeing several versions. I had no desire to sit through it again, which is why I invited readers to submit a review. In this way, any critique would be fair and objective.

      Be clear here. My issue is entirely with the content. I object to its one-sided handling of such important subject matter, a charge that can be laid solely at the feet of its author, Eve Ensler.

      In my job I deal with domestic violence every day. Every day. Believe me, it is not just a women’s issue; they do not throw themselves down the stairs. We need to hear from the men themselves, the perpetrators, if society is to have a hope of re-educating them.

      The Vagina Monologues, as I said in the article, is not the vehicle to do that and it is disingenuous of Ensler to pretend otherwise. It is a play for women, about women, in the language of women, written by a lesbian. With the best will in the world, The Monologues has disqualified itself from any meaningful dialogue between the sexes as it simply doesn’t have the vocabulary.

      But apart from that, did you enjoy it? Please feel free to submit a review.

      Best wishes

      Chastity x

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