Elizabeth Sines, '19
I will never forget the way I felt when I saw The Vagina Monologues for the first time. I was a sophomore undergrad who had just declared a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies, but I had considered myself a feminist for years. I thought I was very comfortable in my own body and, for the most part, I could talk about sex with ease.
But as the monologues began, and a woman dressed in head-to-toe red took center stage to discuss her journey to love her own pubic hair, I felt myself simultaneously intrigued and incredulous that I was about to spend the next two hours listening to women fearlessly talk about their vaginas, their pleasure, and their sexual relationships. This was completely novel for me. I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and had always been taught that “ladies” did not discuss such “private and intimate matters” in public. In fact, even the word “vagina” was taboo. Throughout my life, vaginas were referred to by a series of cartoonish names—a "peep," a "coochie," or—my mother’s personal favorite—a bugaboo. Growing up, quite frankly, it seemed to me that the right way to refer to a vagina was by any word other than vagina.
Because no one other than my gynecologist could bear to even speak the v-word, it should come as no surprise that discussions about women’s sexual pleasure were not something I was used to. My favorite shows and movies depicted the sexual development and experiences of male characters quite often, but noticeably absent was any acknowledgment that women, too, were sexual beings capable of experiencing sexual pleasure. Seriously, I watched Jason Biggs pleasure himself with an apple pie before I ever saw a woman discuss masturbation with her friends on a television screen. So I was floored when, an hour into The Vagina Monologues, a lingerie-clad woman with a whip burst onto the stage and gave a powerful speech detailing the various ways she loved to make herself, and other women, moan in bed. I was in awe of the way she so confidently and unashamedly discussed orgasms. It was the first time I had ever heard a woman talk about orgasms as though they were something she had control and autonomy over. Pleasure was not just something women could hope to receive in their sexual encounters with others, but something they had a right to actively seek out and, even more importantly, something that they could provide for themselves without shame.
Flash forward four years, and I am now co-directing The Vagina Monologues with Courtney Koelbel and Amanda Lineberry, two women I befriended when I performed in the show for the first time last year. My views on sex, sexuality, and womanhood have evolved greatly since my first time watching the show, and I now recognize that there are aspects of the original conception of The Vagina Monologues that are outdated and exclusionary, especially of transwomen. That is why, this year, we have worked hard to make the show more inclusive by incorporating outside pieces amplifying the experiences of women of color and centering monologues that acknowledge that womanhood is not determined by having a vagina. Our hope is that the show will be a celebration of every woman and her sexual freedom.
Please, come out to the Domestic Violence Project’s presentation of The Vagina Monologues on March 30, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. in Caplin Auditorium. Tickets are available all week from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Hunton & Williams Hall or at the door for three dollars. Light refreshments will be served, and all proceeds will be donated to the Shelter for Help in Emergency.