Quite honestly, despite looking forward to reading a book I’d heard so much about and thought of as a brilliant idea, I found Ensler’s ‘Vagina Monologues’ awful in the extreme.
The principle idea was a superb one – giving voice to women who have had to suppress sexuality and honesty all their lives; to speak openly about the vagina, possibly for the first time, and all that means physically and emotionally; to speak about the good; to speak about the unutterable bad.
Occasionally this was done superbly. The Yugoslavian woman who likens her rape, committed as a weapon of war, to that of the destruction of her village was superbly powerful and brought me to tears. Similarly the piece titled ‘Because he liked to look at it’ was highly thought-provoking and really rather beautiful in it’s own way.
I do understand that this book was probably a very necessary work at the time, opening the doors to conversations and honesty which was much needed and long overdue. I give Ensler full credit here, and of course the book has gone on to raise a lot of money for charities and raise awareness of sexual abuse and rape which society all but openly condones at times. The recent Hollywood and governmental sexual abuses scandals are depressing evidence of this fact. All this is good and the monologues have played an important part in righting wrongs.
But from an aesthetic and literary point of view, the work is ghastly. With many friends from the US I’m loathe to use the word ‘American’ as a derogatory adjective but…well, I feel I don’t have much choice here. When you have narrators screaming ‘vagina’, ‘cunt’ and urging themselves to ‘be my clitoris’ it’s all just very like those personal life trainer gurus you see on the TV and bookstores pimping their false theories about how to have the perfect life. It’s grossly and exaggeratedly American.
One aspect of this was an element of triumphalism and even male-bashing which was simply too much and spoiled what could have been a brilliantly powerful book, not just for women but men too. The test for me of whether empowerment messages for women are valid or not comes with what happens when you swap gender words and play out the same messages from a male perspective. If I shout ‘I love my testicles’ and ‘I AM my penis’ the messages which come across are anything between ridiculous to disturbingly dangerous – the latter being exactly what this book is seeking to eradicate.
There are ways to grow gender equality and, more importantly, mutual respect of others – but this isn’t it. This book is really right on the edge of female chauvinism rather than true liberation of both sexes. Ten years ago, fine, maybe that was ok. But now? Really not good at all.
This is an important issue to me because, with my prophetic hat on, I predict a backlash coming very soon which will change global perspectives in much the same way the ‘women’s lib’ movement of the 1960s did – only this time it will be men who are raising the banner. We’re seeing, on an almost daily basis, that men are taking the flack effectively for not being women. The assumption is that if we don’t behave the way women expect us to then it is automatically wrong – indeed, perhaps even tantamount to abuse. Don’t misread my words here to think I am suggesting that rape, abuse, inappropriate touching, grooming or sexually harassing someone is in any way acceptable – it’s not and I condemn any man guilty of it. But I am saying is that it works both ways. I’ve lost track of the number of times some woman has felt it completely acceptable, unbidden by me, to put her hand on my thigh, keep it there and even maybe rub it a little. And I’m supposed to be flattered and maybe even a little grateful. I certainly can’t go and talk about it, make a complaint or otherwise do anything to make her stop. I use that image because of the recent outrage over a certain British politician in this respect, but I could give many other examples. For instances, a group of men lustfully looking at a woman’s arse as she walks by is now pretty much universally abhorred. But a group of women, giggling and drooling at a man in the same fashion? Well, that’s ok isn’t it?
At the moment, society is in line with the ethos of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and it is, in my view, way too far on a wrong side. Time is coming – and I think I’ll be alive to see it – when the balance will be corrected and we will see high-level women in business, politics and entertainment worlds on the run from police and press for things they have done – or are accused of doing. My view is that the gender war was won many decades ago even if the battles continue to rage around the world. Certainly in the West, sexual equality is no longer an issue to contend with (bar the few idiot male chauvinists who raise ugly heads from time to time). Instead, the greater issue is one of any person – man, woman or whatever – feeling they have the right to abuse another, be they of the same sex or different. Abuse is not simply the male prerogative.
We are not yet there in getting this message driven home. Men are the enemy and that’s that. But the truth (and this can be proven statistically – it’s not just my opinion) is that both sexes are guilty of prejudice and abuse more or less in equal measure. It has to stop; and ‘The Vagina Monologues’ are, at best, not helping. At worst, they rouse up a militant, egoistic female army which will be its own undoing in the long run.
Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org