Feminism | Posted by Jenae S on 02/21/2011

More Than A Vagina: A Critique of the Vagina Monologues

For anyone who doesn’t know, The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler. Each monologue deals with an issue relating to the vagina. Topics cover everything from love and masturbation to rape and mutilation. Every year my university puts on a production, and I’ve seen it twice now. Two viewings were enough for me to know that the play makes me feel uncomfortable.

It’s not the open discussion of sex that caused the discomfort, but the generalization of women, the idea that a vagina is what makes a woman, and most of all the reduction of all women to vaginas. Women are more than vaginas; I am more than my vagina. The Vagina Monologues presents the idea that all women have vaginas so all women can associate with anyone else who possesses one. It’s the idea that a vagina is the one thing that connects all women. But what about women who don’t possess a vagina? What about men who have a vagina? In the world of the Vagina Monologues trans people do not exist. If you have a vagina you’re a woman, if not you’re a man, it doesn’t seem to matter how one chooses to define their gender. It is not life experiences or emotions that make a woman; it’s just anatomy.

The Vagina Monologues also present gay and straight sex in different lights. Monologues regarding sex between two women are positive depictions of satisfying consensual sex. While straight sex is depicted as non-consensual, unsatisfying, or oppressive. The idea that sex between a man and a woman can be pleasurable and consensual is simply ignored.

Yes, the vagina is a body part possessed by most women, and it is a body part with a lot of connotation surrounding it, but that doesn’t mean that women should be reduced to it. The Vagina Monologues come off as internalized misogyny, women reducing themselves to their sex organs. How different is this to advertisements that reduce women to certain body parts, just a pair of breasts, a thigh, a nice ass. Isn’t it worse that women are willingly reducing themselves to their sex organs?

The women I know are more than vaginas. They are the sum of all their parts, their brains, their breasts, their muscles, their hearts, their emotions, their education, their life experiences, and yes their vaginas too. It’s unfair to reduce over 50% of the world’s population to a body part. It’s unfair that we are reducing ourselves to a sex organ. Women are more than sex. I am more than my vagina.

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  • NWOslave @ at 12:11 pm, February 21st, 2011

    So you find the play unsettling because as you said, “I am more than my vagina.” and “But what about women who don’t possess a vagina? What about men who have a vagina? In the world of the Vagina Monologues trans people do not exist.”

    Possibly the only thing you correctly indentified was this statement, “The Vagina Monologues also present gay and straight sex in different lights. Monologues regarding sex between two women are positive depictions of satisfying consensual sex. While straight sex is depicted as non-consensual, unsatisfying, or oppressive.”

    You just couldn’t bring youself to say that this vulgar piece of narcissistic, self serving perversion which promotes lesbian pedophila is just the latest and vilest production by women in their all consuming self absorption.

    Your final paragraph, as with all article’s on women must reaffirm the amazing character of all women, “The women I know are more than vaginas. They are the sum of all their parts, their brains, their breasts, their muscles, their hearts, their emotions, their education, their life experiences, and yes their vaginas too.”

    Well just because you type such fine sentiment on the wholeness and holistic beauty of all women doesn’t mean that much, when we can plainly see the action’s of college women flocking to and gushing over the grand production of the Vagina Monologues.

  • Kristen @ at 12:23 pm, February 21st, 2011

    NWO what is your point? Please take your rude and anti-woman rhetoric elsewhere, and at least have the guts to link yourself to something instead of hiding behind a flimsy username, you cowardly woman-hater.

    Personally, I found Because He Liked to Look at It to be a good example of a consensual and pleasurable heterosexual experience, even though it began uncomfortably and there was no actual description of intercourse.

    As somebody who has seen the Vagina Monologues various times and is reading one of the scripts at my university this year, I can understand why you feel it equates women as just being their vaginas and how it tends to portray heterosexual experiences as uncomfortable and oppressive. However you have to remember that many of these scripts were written to showcase the sexual shaming and violence against women that occurs daily around the world, where much of this violence is male on female violence.

  • Zoe @ at 1:32 pm, February 21st, 2011

    I understand the authors concern about neglecting and ignoring the cases of trans people in the Vagina Monologues. That’s a genuine con of the play. I think, tho, that Eve Ensler has included more transwomen in the play after receiving this criticism. Of course, not every college putting on this performance will remember to be inclusive.

    I really have to disagree with the idea of the Monologues reducing women to their vagina. Yes, that is the point of focus for the monologues but I wouldn’t consider it to be the same as reducing a woman to her breasts, stomach or legs. Women are taught to regard their vagina as a dirty, disgusting, ugly part of their body. Many women don’t touch it and some have never really looked at it. It is one of the most mysterious body parts a cis-gendered woman can have. Taking one night of the year to demystify and celebrate it does not, to me, mean the same thing as reducing a woman to her body parts.

    I agree with Kristen in regards to no examples of consenual, non-violent hetero sex. The Vagina Monologues bring in donations to give to anti-violence groups for women. Most (but of course, not all) domestic violence against women is acted out through heterosexual relationships. I guess this is reflected in the Monologues.

  • NWOslave @ at 1:35 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @Kristen…My name is John W. Halaway, is that clear enough. Using shaming language by calling me a cowardly woman hater simply has no effect, feminist’s have overplayed that hand long ago, it no longer works. I just hold men and women accountable for their action’s if that makes me a woman hater, so be it.

    Strange how in my previous post I stated how college women are gushing over this piece of filth and here you are extolling it’s many virtue’s.

    You said…”However you have to remember that many of these scripts were written to showcase the sexual shaming and violence against women that occurs daily around the world, where much of this violence is male on female violence.”

    I’m guessing you mean women dressing in skantily clad clothing and a man calling her a skank or tease when you say sexual shaming. Yes that is exactly what I’ll call a woman acting like that. Teasing is not OK. If a child teases another with a cookie saying “I’ve got a cookie and you don’t.” We tell them this is wrong, don’t we? Is a man’s sexual urges any less than a child’s cookie urge? If a woman chooses to dress and act like a tease shouldn’t she be held accountable for her action’s?

    When you talk about male on female violence you must know that every study done show’s men and women commit DV in equal number’s 50/50. Further, as a man, when you say male on female violence you insult me. The term “male” means the gender of all men, I have never hit a woman in my life, yet your statement means that ALL men are inherently violent to ALL women. Yet I’m not supposed to be insulted?

    Here let me generalize a little for you. We need to raise awareness that females cheat on their mates. We need to raise awareness that females use men for money. We need to raise awareness females are liar’s. Tell me now does that feel good? And you have the audacity to call me a woman hater.

    So you see when a play comes along calling me, as a man, a worthless piece of filth I naturally take offence at this subtle piece of satire. I believe one of the scene’s she explains how she was raped by a woman as a little girl and describes it as a “good rape.” Rape being a horrible, violent crime when done by a man is something good when done by a woman? Can you explain this to me?

    I hold both men and women accoutable for their actions. And this play depict’s straight men as vile filth and all women as victim’s.

  • Zoe @ at 1:59 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @NWOslave Do you really have such little regard for your own gender to compare your sexuality to a children’s urge for a cookie? Do men really have such little control over their penises? I highly doubt that. I have more respect for guys than that.

    Male on female violence means cases where men hurt women. Male does not mean ALL men; we are talking about a trend of cases. Plenty of men do not hurt their significant others. Also, you may find studies that say both genders commit domestic violence equally but women are more likely to be killed as a result of it than men are.

    Your generalizations are bullshit whinings. I’m sorry that you hold those views on women but I guarantee you there are many women out there who aren’t like that.

  • NWOslave @ at 2:53 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @Zoe…I can say the same thing. Do you really have such little regard for your own gender that they can’t control their sexual urges to dress up to attract all men, while rejecting those she deem’s unworthy. If dressing in skimpy clothing causes young boy’s entering puberty sexual frustration and dysfunction later on in life should a woman be held accountable?

    Male does mean all men. If I say the males of the feline species it means ALL of them. You say,”Plenty of men do not hurt their significant others.” why not say the reverse.

    You can’t even bring youself to sat women do anything wrong, ever. You refuse to hold any woman accountable for her own actions. I’m sure in those oh so rare cases where women commit DV somehow a man was to blame. How can men take you serious unless you can admit that sometimes it’s a woman’s fault.

  • Nano Muse @ at 3:23 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @Everyone: Dude, don’t feed the troll. Seriously, you should know better than this. This guy is just attention-whoring, as evidenced by his lack of cohesive arguments and general inflammatory language. He’s not out for intelligent debate, he’s out for attention – don’t give in to that.

    @Jenae: I haven’t seen the Vagina Monologues, I’ll say that right up front. That said, I don’t think their intent is to somehow represent or summarize women in general or address gender identity – a lot of women have a lot of problems that are essentially connected to their vagina, and those are what’s addressed.

    Maybe the play is condescending to women or any other number of issues you mentioned – like I said, I wouldn’t know. But I think this play isn’t meant to address a lot of problems or a spectrum of issues, but only one set of problems, which is cis-female issues connected to their sexuality, their vaginas in particular.

  • Zoe @ at 3:24 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @NWOslave I think a woman should be able to wear what she wants without shame or blame. The way a person dresses is never an invitation for rape. Saying “Yes, I would like to have sex with you” is an invitation to sex. A miniskirt isn’t. Holding all people accountable includes holding a person accountable for rape. Funny how you want to sidestep that.

    I’m sorry you are so convinced that I think all men hurt women. That isn’t what I think at all. And yes, plenty of women do not hurt their significant others. Plenty of people in general do not hurt their significant others, straight or gay or queer. But in the cases of domestic violence, it is more likely that a woman will suffer more lethally.

    You are putting words in my mouth. I never, EVER said that women aren’t at fault. EVERYONE makes mistakes.

    You are so quick to judge and assume, it makes having a conversation pretty worthless because I know I’m not going to be able to convince you that women are real people who make mistakes but should never be held accountable for the vile actions of a rapist.

  • Zoe @ at 3:26 pm, February 21st, 2011

    @NanoMuse I know, I really shouldn’t, it just gets so hard to ignore sometimes.

  • Liz @ at 4:46 pm, February 21st, 2011

    I feel conflicted about the Vagina Monologues. I went for the 3rd year in a row at my university. There are some that I can relate to, and in general I wish women were more comfortable talking about vaginas. That’s not all that makes up a woman, but it is a significant part of many women. I agree with Kristin’s comment, I think she summarizes some of the really great aspects of the play well.

    Interestingly, there’s a documentary (I think you can watch it on Netflix) called “Beautiful Daughters” in which the first production with transwomen is performed. I really like it. Eve Ensler’s bits in it are all right… she plays a little too much into the global sisterhood idea that I don’t think really exists (realistically), but it’s really interesting and the women in the documentary are great.

    http://www.logotv.com/shows/dyn/beautiful_daughters/series.jhtml

  • Katherine C. @ at 5:04 pm, February 21st, 2011

    The only thing I can understand in this post is the concern over the lack of trans women.
    You have to realize that it’s not a play About Women. That would be stupid. It’s about vaginas and what women do with them. It’s about sex. These are two things women have been taught to be very ashamed of, especially prior to the play’s publication. The play’s not trying to say that Vagina=Women. It’s ABOUT VAGINAS. If this subject makes you uncomfortable, fine, but that doesn’t make it un-feminist in any way.

  • Steph @ at 12:00 am, February 22nd, 2011

    Also, I’d like to point out, as a trans woman myself, that there exist different plays about the concept of womanhood as a whole and how it can relate to trans women. I’m fine, personally, with how the Vagina Monologues work. Personally, I don’t feel that I’m the right person to perform any of the monologues, at least for now (bar the one I’m about to mention), but I fully support their need to be performed. I think that working together, we can do so much more than we can apart.

    Also, recent scripts of the Vagina Monologues include one called “They Beat The Boy Out Of My Girl”, which is a trans woman’s monologue. So as it gets included in more performances, we can fight oppression all together, like an awesome Batman and Robin.

  • Steph @ at 12:06 am, February 22nd, 2011

    Oh, also Calpernia Addams’ “Beautiful Daughters” is a fantastic film about an all-trans cast of the monologues, and is really something worth watching.

  • scary joann @ at 10:46 pm, February 22nd, 2011

    I will not feed the troll.
    Moving on…

    Wow. This piece is not only poorly researched and written, but also insults (not ignores, Insults) the experiences of women who have been empowered by the play.
    Transgender, female bodied person here. I have a vagina, it’s not what defines me, but by damn I can appreciate it and the need to celebrate it more as a culture.

    I’m actually CURRENTLY doing the trans piece in the Vagina Monologues “They Beat the Boy Out of my Girl”. It does exist, if your college doesn’t show it, maybe you should be looking into that and promoting it instead of ripping on the entire play. Which is much easier, I know.

    And as the intro to the play said, as a culture we do not talk about, appreciate, or celebrate vaginas. What’s that? They’re saying hetero sex isn’t always good? Those vagina motherfuckers! *pun!*
    What about “He Liked to Look At It?” That’s pretty celebratory of hetero sex. The males love for looking at and worshipping vaginas showed his partner that her vagina was something that could be appreciated and considered beautiful.
    Damn those monologues and their desire to educate people about vaginas! Because any woman talking about her own body can’t be reclaiming her own form and learning to love and view it in new ways, she must have internalized the oppression. And since you’ve never seen the trans piece that must mean it doesn’t exist. And since some women want to celebrate one body part that frequently gets ignored and often vilified, why that must mean that they are reducing ALL women to that body part.

    And as a plus, way to equate women who want to celebrate their vaginas to women who pose for playboy. Then shame both groups.
    That’s really empowering. I’m sure it helped way more women appreciate themselves than the Vagina Monologues ever could.

  • Natalie @ at 11:05 pm, February 22nd, 2011

    I only read a bit of this, but I am currently in the vagina monologues and am doing a piece called “They beat the boy out of my girl” that is about trans gendered women, just an fyi

  • Natalie @ at 11:08 pm, February 22nd, 2011

    Oh and also “Because he liked to look at it” is a piece about a woman having consensual sex with a man who loves vaginas, so no straight consensual sex is not ignored, the production is not about reducing women to their vaginas it is to raise awareness for all things that affect women in all areas of the world.

  • Simim @ at 2:24 am, March 23rd, 2011

    And here I thought The Vagina Monologues were meant as satire, with the concept that women are essentially vaginas deliberately portrayed in order to mock the objectification of women in the status quo.

    But who knows? I may have been mistaken.

  • Feminist Viewing Guide for Gender Queeries | dynamo @ at 3:30 pm, November 19th, 2012

    [...] Vagina Monologues have been criticized for portraying women of color exclusively as victims and  reducing women to their genitalia. Although the play creates roles for women and preaches female empowerment, it does so within the [...]

  • Do We Still Need “The Vagina Monologues?” - EyeOnCelebs @ at 3:14 pm, February 17th, 2013

    [...] bodily acceptance. “I am more than my vagina,” wrote blogger Jenae S. on feminist site The F Bomb. She notes that the play fails to take into account transwomen, or people who identify as female [...]

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