“If my vagina could speak, what would it say?” “If your vagina could speak, what would it say?”… These were the echoing thoughts of The Vagina Monologues that were held in Newtown from 17-19 May 2010. The Vagina Monologues is one of my all-time favourite initiatives, because it allows women to Talk Frankly! None of that politically correct bull-dust that generally washes down the truth and leaves you comfortable and often unchanged. Most importantly, however, The Vagina Monologues has a purpose. To liberate and to celebrate! To allow women to reclaim their womanhood: through the proud proclamation of the word vagina, it encourages women to begin the healing process from within. Because we may not be able to change the attitudes of rapists and violators, but we can fight victim mentality.
The Vagina Monologues were originally written and performed by Eve Ensler in 1996, after a series of interviews and conversations with 200 women on sex, relationships and violence against women. Ensler found that a woman’s empowerment is deeply connected to her sexuality because violations such as rape, incest and abuse are all connected to the vagina. So she wrote The Vagina Monologues, initially to celebrate the vagina and so empower herself and the women she had spoken to, but gradually used the play to fight violence against women and girls. This play now forms the cornerstone on The V-Day campaign, held world wide to benefit various organisations fighting abuse against women and girls.
The Vagina Monologues are made up of eight core monologues, but different productions often add one or two extra poems here and there depending on the directors. The eight poems are called:
I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me, which is a chorus describing a young girl’s first menstrual period.
My Angry Vagina, which comically rants and raves about the different “struggles” a vagina has to endure: such as tampons, scented soaps and visits to the gynaecologist.
My Vagina Was my Village, a chilling look at a woman’s experience in a Bosnian rape camp.
The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could, a controversial journey through a young girl’s various traumatic sexual experiences and how they eventually lead her to a “healing” sexual experience at the age of 16 with a woman in her mid 20s.
Reclaiming Cunt, which is quite self-explanatory really. This is a celebration of the word cunt, despite all the negative connotations that have been attached to it.
The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy is quite an explicit account of a female sex worker’s career in pleasuring women.
Because He Liked To Look At It is a conversation with a woman who used to think her pubic area was ugly until she met a man named Bob, who loved to spend hours looking at it…
And finally: I Was There In The Room, which actually describes the birth of Eve Ensler’s granddaughter.
In The Johannesburg Vagina Monologues, the directors, Rifilwe Nkumo and Gugulethu Mayisela also included: Hair (a woman’s celebration of her pubic hair as a sign of being a grown woman); The Vagina Workshop; and The Teenage Girls’ Guide (a heart-wrenching survival story of a young woman who was abducted at the age of 16, raped and forced to wed a soldier in a nearby village – in Xhosa it’s called ukuthwalwa).
After seeing the show, I found myself increasingly haunted by the question of what our vaginas would say if they could speak. So I decided to explore the plight of the vagina, particularly in the African context. Now, believe it or not, I am the daughter of a very conservative and religious mother (who was Punk’d and given an inquisitive, open-minded daughter who asks way too many questions for her own good), so generally, this was no easy fete I tell you. Thankfully, however, I have an outspoken and feminist aunt who was willing to indulge my curiosity. But I realised that that’s where it all begins really: at home. As young women, we are generally taught that ladies do not to talk about their genitalia, especially not in public. Even when in a doctor’s consulting room, one will find women referring to their “lower areas” or “va-jay-jays” because bold words such as vagina almost sound profane… like something a prostitute would say just before she got on her knees in a dark alley. That word is certainly not the kind of word a lady would use. This, consequently, also makes it difficult for women to take control of their own sexual health because women can’t even check their vaginas with a hand mirror without it being turned into something perverse. There are women who don’t even know that the hole you put your tampon in and the one you pee out of are two separate holes… hence “a virgin’s pee supposedly digs a hole into the ground and a non-virgin’s pee scatters all over the place”. Generally, women are even reluctant to see a gynaecologist, not to mention discuss vaginal concerns with their partners, because it is seen as taboo.
On my journey towards giving the African vagina a voice, I found out that apparently there are cultures in Sub-Saharan Africa wherein women, from a young age, are taught to stretch their clitorises and labia gradually (with stones) until they hang; a practice referred to as ukudonsa. Apparently it is believed that this will make the woman “warm” in bed; as the clitoris becomes wrapped around the penis during sex. This means that the clitoris is constantly being excited by the thrusting of the penis and the penis is stimulated by the sensation of both the clitoris and the vagina at the same time. Now I don’t know what these vaginas would say, but I do know that there is an old wives’ tale saying that if your man beds a woman who has done this… then hardy for you. He’s gone baby.
I then went on to learn about the weeping vaginas of Eastern and Central Africa, wherein women can experience one of two kinds of circumcision: the cutting of the clitoris, or the cutting then stitching of the vagina. One of the reasons why some women’s clitorises are cut off is because it is believed that women are not meant to enjoy sexual intercourse. And the primary reasoning behind the stitching of the vagina is so that the husband can experience a virgin-like tightness when he penetrates his wife. So she is sown tight, and then he rips her open. Not only do these kinds of practices leave the women severely mutilated and often with repulsive infections, they also rob women of their rights to their own sexuality. These women are taught that their vaginas are not their own. That they belong to their husbands and sex is a duty that a woman must perform and not enjoy.
But it doesn’t end there! The things women will put their vaginas through is incredible. And shocking, to say the least. There is a medical procedure that a woman can go through to make her vagina tighter, but I found out that, less affording, women have used Oros (yes, the orange squash), Savlon concentrate, snuif and Allain (which is apparently a really sour grain – resembling a grain of course sea salt – commonly used to help with sore throats) to shrink their vaginas!! Yes. All in the name of having a tighter vagina for their men…because sex is always about the man right. Apparently there are also some women are not allowed to wash their vaginas because it makes their men suspicious: who is she washing off? (I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing those vaginas are begging for fresh air) And I haven’t even touched on virginal testing yet: where girls get their vaginas checked to see whether or not they are still virgins based of whether or not their hymens were still intact. (I shudder to think how many young girls lost their virginities while playing tennis and consequently missed out on being part of The Reed Dance because they were no longer intact) It is said, however, that some girls who had lost their virginities at school and had to go home to face virginal testing developed a clever trick whereby they would take the iris of a CHICKEN’S EYE and put it in their vagina. This would then fool the testing ladies into thinking their hymen was still intact.
All this made me realise that the vagina has got to be the most oppressed organ of the human body… ever! It has been waxed, torn, cut, sewn, drowned, suffocated, mutilated, stuffed, deprived and devalued. It has even been the Sara Baartman of South-East Asian ping pong shows. The vagina has “been degraded, Exploited…NOT Celebrated!” I generally try to steer clear of judging cultural practices I don’t fully understand because I think that education tends to give us a false sense of superiority, but I can honestly say that I am grateful I live in the time and place I live in. That I was not born into an immediate community that would condone my vagina being treated in this way. I feel grateful that my sexuality is my own. That my vagina is mine. My vagina has rights and freedoms and EXPECTATIONS! It has a history and a future. But there are many vaginas out there that aren’t as lucky as mine. And if they could speak, I believe they would quote Amistad, and say: “Give us Free!”
Food for thought: “since we all came from a woman, got our name from a woman, and our game from a woman. I wonder why we take from women, why we rape our women, do we hate our women? I think its time we killed for our women, be real to our women, try to heal our women, coz if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies that will hate the ladies, who make the babies. And since a man can’t make one he has no right to tell a women when and where to create one” – Tupac Skakur
*FIRST PUBLISHED BY http://www.consciousness.co.za/ *( June 2010)