The Vagina Monologues and V-Day

On a vibrant pink stage, Marlene Schiappa performs a Vagina Monologue

Thomas Samson / Getty Images

A night of theater can be much more than getting dressed up to watch a Rodgers and Hammerstein revival for the umpteenth time. Theater can be a voice for change and a call to action. Case in point: "The Vagina Monologues." Playwright and performance artist Eve Ensler interviewed over 200 women from a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds, many of whom bared their proverbial souls by responding to questions like, "What would your vagina say if it could talk?" and, "If you could dress your vagina, what would it wear?"

Origins and V-Day

In 1996, "The Vagina Monologues" began as a one-woman show, a series of character-driven pieces. Almost like poetry, each soliloquy reveals a different woman's experience with topics like sex, love, tenderness, embarrassment, cruelty, pain, and pleasure. As the show gained popularity, it was performed by an ensemble of actresses. Politically active theaters and college campuses began staging productions of the monologues, which helped launch a global movement known as V-Day.

What Is V-Day?

V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls."

Anti-Male Sentiments?

When college students are asked to raise their hands if they are feminists, often only one or two students raise their hands. The women students who don't raise their hands misguidedly explain that they "don't hate men," whereas many uninformed men believe that a necessary prerequisite for membership in feminism is womanhood. Sadly, while feminism is understood to mean "equality for the sexes" or "the empowerment of women," it seems that many believe feminism is anti-male.

With that in mind, it is easy to see why many assume that "The Vagina Monologues" is an angry rant of naughty words and feverish male-bashing. But Ensler is clearly raging against violence and oppression rather than men in general. V-Men, a digital section of V-Day where male writers and activists speak out against misogynist violence, is further proof that Ensler's work is man-friendly.

Powerful Moments

  • The Flood: This monologue, based on a conversation with a 72-year old woman, combines humorously erotic dream imagery with the pragmatic, worldly views of a tough, outspoken old gal. Picture your elderly great Aunt talking about "down there," and you'll get an idea of this monologue's potential. During her HBO special, Ensler has great fun with this character.
  • My Village Was My Vagina: Powerful, sad, and all-too-relevant, this is absolutely the most haunting of the monologues. This piece is in honor of the thousands of victims from rape camps in Bosnia and Kosovo. The monologue alternates between peaceful, rural memories and images of torture and sexual abuse.
  • I Was in the Room: Based on Ensler's personal experience watching the birth of her grandchild, this is arguably the most touching and optimistic monologue. This scene captures the joy and mystery of labor, in all its glorious and graphic detail.

The Controversial Monologue

Sure, the whole show is controversial. There's shock value simply in the title. Still, one particular monologue involves two accounts of molestation. The first incident occurs when the character is 10. In that account, she is raped by an adult male. Later in the monologue, she describes a sexual experience with an adult woman when the speaker is only 16. This monologue upsets many viewers and critics because it presents a double standard. The first case of molestation is accurately nightmarish, whereas the second case is portrayed as a positive experience.

In an earlier version, the lesbian encounter took place at the age of 13, but Ensler decided to adjust the age. Because she generated the monologues from real-life interviews, it makes sense to display what she learned from her subject. However, considering the mission statement of V-Day, it's hard to fault directors or performers for omitting—or perhaps revising—this particular monologue.

Other Ensler Plays

Although "The Vagina Monologues" is her most famous work, Ensler has penned other powerful works for the stage.

  • "Necessary Targets": A gripping drama that depicts two American women journeying to Europe to help Bosnian women share their tragic stories with the world.
  • "The Treatment": Ensler's most recent work delves into the moral questions of torture, power, and the politics of modern warfare.