Mere feet in front of me, a confident, talented, inspiring woman stood on stage, moaning before the audience in the William Pitt Union. She was holding a flogger in her hands and wearing nothing but red underpants, a garter belt and a blue blazer.
I saw this woman in front of an audience Saturday night, not just as an object of sexual desire, but as a woman with a commanding stage presence at the Campus Women’s Organization’s rendition of “The Vagina Monologues.” Her monologue — and the many others before and after it — changed my perspective on vaginas.
For the purposes of this article and based on my interpretation of the performance, the vagina serves as a metaphor for female sexuality — whether you’re a cisgender or transgender woman, with or without one physically there. Vaginas, while not the essence or even a necessary part of being a woman, are mysteries to most people — even to those who have one. This lack of personal knowledge needs to change.
Initially, I didn’t expect to gain much from the experience, but I left realizing I had a lot to learn. The show talks about a woman’s experience in a way that is relatable, heavy, lighthearted and honest — all at the same time.
Last weekend’s performance came from an adapted version of a play originally written in 1996, inspired by a series of interviews with women conducted by feminist author and playwright Eve Ensler — who later combined the interviews to form the original script. The script and its portrayal is complex, yet presented simply, without much other than chairs, a stage and a cast of women.
For me, as a woman who grew up in a predominantly Catholic environment and had little exposure to discussions about female sexuality before college, “The Vagina Monologues” was about sexual enlightenment, empowerment and discovery. Performers in the production demonstrated the need to be proud of one’s own sexuality and body parts.
Being proud of your sexuality doesn’t have to mean taking a hand mirror and really looking “down there,” finding your clitoris or even learning that your “coochie snorcher” — as one of the monologues calls it — isn’t a bad place. But everyone should be encouraged to accept all parts of themselves and their sexualities.
Pitt sophomore and English writing major Sarah Gross, who performed in this year’s production, described why the monologues are important and potentially eye-opening for many in the audience and cast.
“I think the show was just trying to tell people in the audience, ‘Hey, it’s OK to talk about vaginas in these spaces,” Gross said. “These are things that have happened, these are real stories about women, this is stuff we have to deal with, this is stuff other women have dealt with, this is stuff just in general people need to know about.”
Although some have criticized the play for its focus on women’s genitals, I found it wasn’t simply about defining women by their vaginas. “The Vagina Monologues” personified vaginas to reclaim them and get women in touch with a part of themselves they otherwise might not have given much thought to. Asking people what their vagina would wear or what it would say, for example, is a way to get women to think of themselves as more than just an object of another person’s desire. Female sexuality doesn’t have to be defined only as it relates to male sexual desire — it has a beauty all its own.
So while I sat in the crowd of whooping and cheering women Saturday night, I felt different. Not in a cliche, “I just lost my virginity, and now I feel like a woman” kind of way, but in the “I didn’t even realize that I was doing this to myself until I came here” kind of way.
I too am guilty of not being knowledgeable about my sexuality. I identify as a woman, but how my gender shapes who I am is often a mystery even to myself. The monologue “The Flood,” in which an older woman describes her vagina as a cellar — a part of the house that’s infrequently considered and often out of mind — resonated strongly with me.
Why it is such a relatable experience for women to not know what their sexualities are? Why is it a common experience to be unfamiliar with a physical part of yourself?
These questions burned in my mind throughout the program. Obviously, every woman should be able to decide for herself how she wants to explore her own sexuality. But many times women aren’t even given the chance to explore their sexuality. Getting to know your body and your sexuality — not just in a sexual way — can be an empowering process.
Every woman should feel familiar with her sexuality. This doesn’t mean forced exploration, but it does mean that women should stop dissociating their vaginas from their bodies, stop thinking of them as dark and disgusting and stop being afraid to really understand what their sexuality means.
Part of understanding your sexuality comes with being comfortable with your bodies and all its parts. Even if you don’t know what your vagina would say, or what it would wear, you should always recognize it as a beautiful part of yourself and feel the freedom to expand the knowledge of your own sexuality.
Anne Marie primarily writes about gender and student issues for The Pitt News. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.