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.
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