Boston University’s 2017 production of “The Vagina Monologues,” directed by Ara Butler, took center stage in its annual rendition. Although the show has been running for several years here at BU, it was clear that given the current political climate, this year’s show was more important and relevant than ever before. The stories covered all relevant feminist topics, tackling issues such as inequality in the workplace, sexual assault, racial inequality and overall rage with how women and their vaginas are treated in our society.
“The Vagina Monologues” didn’t hold back whatsoever. It was unafraid to be in your face with stigmatized affairs. It sparked something within me, some kind of audacious belonging and pride. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many men attended as well, making up a significant chunk of the audience and were equally as involved as the women. My heart was warmed by their presence, proud of them even, and ever so excited that they were representing their gender and the positive change taking place in our community.
Finally, an uncensored show that is dedicated solely to feminists, progressive and inclusive — sort of.
The original content, written by playwright Eve Ensler, premiered in 1996 on a limited run at the HERE Arts Center in New York City. It took the theatre world by storm and attracted a massive amount of attention. Even The New York Times called the play “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”
Twenty years later, the show is so much more. It is now its own global nonprofit movement, named “V-Day,” that raises money for groups that work to abolish violence against women and girls. V-Day stated that they had raised more than $100 million to fund educational programs and shelters serving survivors of violence and rape. What started as just entertainment has become a massive movement, actually imposing change and benefiting real people.
But my question is: two decades from its debut, does the play need an update to keep up with the changing world and equate the improvements made by its partner, V-Day?
Undoubtedly, the fundraising aspect of the show will always have a lasting impact. But what about the show itself? Its messages were certainly prevalent in 1996, but in 2017, we’re faced with a much different atmosphere where misogyny wears a mask, femininity is neither defined by sexual organs nor constricted by assigned gender, and true feminism is reforming itself to be rightfully intersectional.
While watching “The Vagina Monologues,” amongst the boisterous, audacious feminism that filled the theatre, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. After looking at the original script of “The Vagina Monologues,” it turns out that the script has mainly remained the same throughout its adaptations. According to Butler, copyright issues legally require them to not change any of the content. However, they saw it in their duty to “address the issues with ‘Vagina Monologues’ in the director’s note by making an announcement at the start of the show which recognized that while ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is a piece of feminist history, it does not represent all women equally, especially those who face violence in the transgender community and people of color.
Not only that, but according to Butler, two musical pieces were added to BU’s rendition this year, narrowly escaping legal restrictions. The first was a piece that Butler wrote, and the second was by the original writer, Ensler. Ensler wrote a new piece this January entitled “I Call You Body,” which brutally and honestly depicts the modern struggles of female bodies, demanding they say “no to your arrogance / no to your hate … [with] No gloves no mask no protection / From the sun / Or the boss or foreman or / The president.” The piece seems to dive deeper into the current political climate, calling out the monstrosity that has taken office and highlighting the injustices happening in the workplace.
My heart rests easy knowing that BU’s cast did the best they could, given the restrictive circumstances. However, I can’t help but wonder what a more contemporary and accurate take on the outdated “Vagina Monologues” would look like.
In the United States, 2017 has so far seen the unlawful killings of at least seven transgender women. New York City alone reported a staggering 56 hate crimes by Feb. 12, compared to the 31 that had been reported by this time last year. Among those 56, a whopping 28 were specifically anti-Semitic. Here in 2017, we are struggling. Looking at “The Vagina Monologues” from the arts and entertainment point of view, it is excellent and always has been. However, looking at it as a modern woman, it is lacking the social momentum it is so capable of.
Although many of us struggling are women, many of us are women and transgender, women and Muslim, women and disabled, women and black or women and feminist.