Boston University student group VAGMO+ recently put on a production of “The Vagina Monologues.” In essence, its members describe the organization as an inclusive feminist group who use their platform to allow comfortable discussion of natural topics that are unfairly stigmatized. However, according to VAGMO+’s actions, that inclusivity is in name alone.
In alignment with original 1996 playwright Eve Ensler’s arcane conceptualization of womanhood, VAGMO+’s “The Vagina Monologues” failed to include a sufficient performance about trans women.
There was one monologue that attempted to do the trans experience justice, but among the cacophony of cisgender stories and focus on genitalia more than womanhood, it failed to be heard. It entirely focused on the ultimate goal of having a vagina — and fully ignored the possibility of being a woman without one.
It is 2020, and the group’s sole concern should not be lessening the discomfort around vaginas. Instead, it should focus its attention on how it claims to promote inclusivity while endorsing a cultural icon who unjustly generalized women to the point of exclusion.
In order to show “The Vagina Monologues” on campus, VAGMO+ most likely pays for the rights to do so — funds which ultimately end up in Ensler’s hands. She claims that she rejects non-intersectional feminism because one cannot think critically about violence against women otherwise. Yet, she also refuses to update the play to reflect the fact that gender is an identity and not an immutable, biological fact.
That is the sort of essentialist feminism VAGMO+ supported during this weekend’s production. It is hypocritical for the group to portray itself as an organization that is spearheading a more inclusive feminist movement on campus. It is abundantly clear, and has been proven over and over, that women are so much more than their genitalia.
The work “The Vagina Monologues” is doing now is at best inefficient. Each performance pulls society closer to the diluted white feminist movement of the 1990s. Women, on aggregate, do not suffer solely on the basis of their gender. Ensler, if this is about violence against all women, why do you not talk about how black trans women are killed at disproportionate rates? Stop exploiting something you refuse to accept as true so that millennials and Generation Z will watch your show.
Ensler was right when she said one play cannot be everything. So, VAGMO+, do better and stop using her work. The organization does not need to support “The Vagina Monologues” in order to teach people about female anatomy or make those with vaginas feel more comfortable about their bodies. Again, a vagina is not the defining characteristic of womanhood.
What about the trans men who have vaginas? Shouldn’t they have been on stage alongside the rest of the cast?
It’s absolutely not enough to just include trans women, non-binary individuals and non-gender-conforming in production or in the cast. A couple of perfunctory performances about their lived experiences is the traumatic equivalent of erasing their existences. The idiosyncrasies of their lives cannot be discounted.
And since they already have been, VAGMO+ has just done itself a disservice. If the organization’s aim is to destigmatize, it’s failed to do that by not openly and proudly discussing the variety of stories around biological and symbolic vaginas.
It is fortunate that Yoni Ki Baat, a more diverse adaptation of the monologues, is coming to campus in March to address the intersectionality of womanhood. But what its existence hides is the underlying problem — that the feminism on-campus is a white, cisgendered one.
A second show is not an adequate solution to the problem of “The Vagina Monologues” being a serious case of internalized misogyny. VAGMO+ will stop itself in its own tracks if it continues to share this version of “feminism” with the rest of campus.