Celebrating and Critiquing Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues on Valentine's Day
Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues encourages women of all ages and backgrounds to embrace their vaginas, to rejoice in having a vagina. In 1996 the performer, feminist and activist debuted The Vagina Monologues, based on interviews she conducted with 200 women about their bodies, their sexual experiences and about their vaginas.
In 1998, she spearheaded the annual V-Day celebration, which brings anti-female violence to the world's attention every Valentine's Day. To date, the global non-profit movement V-Day has raised over $75 million for women's anti-violence groups through benefits of The Vagina Monologues. Last year the movement grew to become "One Billion Rising for Justice," a global campaign to highlight and eliminate violence against women. The theme emerged from a horrifying statistic: that "one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime," Ensler's V-Day site says.
Over the decades, Ensler's play has spread like wildfire, with women all over the world of different ethnicities, cultures and religions performing the sometimes entertaining and othertimes heartbreaking monologues.
The play promoting V for vaginas and V for women's victory grew in a very grassroots way, with Islamic women bringing it to the Islamic world, and Native women bringing the play to Indian country. In 2003, for instance, Ensler wrote a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan called "Under the Burqa."
But as Anishinabe teacher, writer, artist and author of Lies to Live By Lois Beardslee points out in the artcile F'd by the Vagina Monologues, Ensler's play is written by Ensler, a white woman putting words in the mouths of black, Hispanic, Islamic, Asian and Native women.
A few years ago, asked to try out to read the Native American portion of Ensler’s monologues for a play in Traverse City, Michigan, Beardslee writes, "It was put to me in such a way that I felt I was expected to prove I was good enough for the distinction of reading the words a white woman had written for me, a Native American woman. Since I’ve probably had more experience with public speaking than most of the community leaders and staff at my local junior college and university center, it was an odd request, to my mind. And since I’ve probably written and published as much as Eve Ensler, it was an even weirder request. I suggested to my caller that I might have as much to say about the sexual roles of Native women as Eve Ensler, because I, unlike Ensler, am a Native American woman, and – what a bonus! – I share my strong opinions on the topic through the written and spoken word."
Beardslee's suggestions to write a monologue from the perspective of an Indigenous woman, her offering of a poem for the playbill, and more were ignored.
"Ensler did damage to Native American women. Her essays in Indian voices spoke only about domestic violence, in contrast to the essays in white women’s voices. Ensler did not make clear to her audience that, in fact, the bulk of partners who abuse Native American women are not Native Americans themselves, but non-Indians who have sought out a weaker, vulnerable element of society – as abusers do," Beardslee explains.
"...By wearing the hat of a writer rather than that of an open-minded editor of contemporary Native women’s voices, Ensler has trivialized us and presented us as stereotypes within a vacuum. While Ensler and dozens of other non-Indian authors who write about Indians reap the economic benefits of giving the dominant culture what it needs and wants to think about the competence of Native American people, Native scholars find themselves waiting years for the publication of materials contradicting those stereotypes."
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