Reclaim and embrace ‘vagina’

By Shannon McClain, Guest Columnist

For the last few weeks, you may have noticed posters advertising for Pacific Lutheran University’s annual production of “The Vagina Monologues,” an episodic play by Eve Ensler.

Just last year, I couldn’t help but be enticed by the posters. I wasn’t entirely sure what the play was about, but I had somehow cobbled together the broad notion that it was a collection of monologues on women’s experiences.

Now, I loved thinking about what it could be about, but somehow I hadn’t gone to see it yet. However, this year the perfect combination of factors, both natural and contrived, ensured that I was going.

Ensler wrote the first draft of the play in 1996,  basing it on interviews Ensler conducted with about 200 women.

It began with Ensler and some friends casually discussing their experiences with sex, relationships and violence against women, but their stories led to other women’s stories until there was a network.

The purpose of the work is to celebrate the vagina, which has had a history fraught with hushed tones and absence. Even today, many still act as though “vagina” is a dirty word, unfit for public conversation or display.

Junior Sarah Wheeler, a cast member of PLU’s production, was in “The Lists,” a monologue that embraces vaginas as the center of a women’s sexuality.

After seeing it her first year at PLU, Wheeler said she thought it was unbelievable. “At that time, I could barely say ‘vagina’ out loud, and here were these women shouting to the rooftops their feminine power,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler finally decided to participate this year and described the experience as “completely unnerving and uncomfortable, as it’s been really difficult for me to show a sexual side of myself to the world, but why should it be?”

“The Vagina Monologues” embraces women’s sexuality, and this embrace must also include vaginas.

As some friends and I were perusing the posters, one said, “Why can’t they call it ‘The Women Monologues?’ I would be much more willing to see it then.”

For me, this is the point, or a piece of it. We cannot keep pretending that nothing exists between a woman’s legs.

Society must reclaim the word “vagina” and put it at the forefront to represent the unique, significant and diverse experiences of all women it is central. Every experience I have ever had in my life has been in some way influenced by the fact that I have a vagina and am gendered as a woman.

Yet, it is still hard for women to come to terms with their vaginas. Often, I hear vaginas mentioned with the words “dirty,” “disgusting” and “hate.”

“People act like talking about women’s bodies is a dirty thing that should never be done under any circumstances, but it’s not,” Wheeler said.

Through her participation in the play, Wheeler said she has come to the conclusion that “rejecting that notion and feeling the rebellion in saying the lines in such a public space is beyond liberating.”

Not until “The Vagina Monologues” did I hear of love and acceptance of the vagina. It was fantastic and yet made me feel oddly uncomfortable at times.

One monologue, “Reclaiming Cunt,” ends with calls for audience members to say the word “cunt.” I must admit, I couldn’t bring myself to say this word aloud just yet.

However, in the process of reclaiming these words,  we must be willing to say them without shame. To reclaim “vagina,” we must embrace the vagina. 🅼

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