Is Eve Ensler’s ‘The Vagina Monologues’ Transphobic?

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The Vagina Monologues performed at Tufts University's Cohen Auditorium. (Photo by Presta)

443px-Vagina_Monologues_PosterA student-run theater group at Mount Holyoke College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, has decided to permanently discontinue its annual production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. According to Campus Reform, the group believes the classic feminist play offers a narrow view of gender, race and class.

The site reports Project Theatre sent an email to the campus citing concerns about how gender, race and class are depicted in the monologue play.

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“Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” a group representative wrote in the email.

In an interview on Friday with The Guardian, Ensler says she believes her play is just as timely now as it was when it debuted in 1996.

“I think it’s important to know that I never intended to write a play about what it means to be a woman, that was not what the Vagina Monologues ever intended to be,” she told The Guardian. “It was a play about what it means to have a vagina. It never said, for example, the definition of a woman is someone who has a vagina … I think that’s a really important distinction…”

She continues, “I don’t think inclusion comes from refusing to acknowledge our distinctive experiences or trying to erase them. It comes from listening to our differences and of the right for everyone to talk about their reality – free from oppression and silencing.”

“I think we have to create a space for the over 3 billion women who have vaginas to talk about our vaginas – the oppressions, and suffering and secrets and pleasures they have – without it being seen as dominance and transphobia,” Ensler says.

At its debut, The Vagina Monologues was hailed as a ground-breaking play that forced the word “vagina” into public discourse. For the project, Ensler interviewed approximately 200 women about their thoughts and experiences with violence, sex and relationships.

The play was a hit and has been produced around the world. The first production featuring an all transgender cast occurred in 2004.

Eve Ensler
Eve Ensler

The playwright notes that she added a monologue to the play titled, “They Beat The Girl Out of My Boy” in 2005. The theatre group at Mount Holyoke last performed that monologue in 2010.

While some media reports link Project Board’s discontinuation of The Vagina Monologues with Mount Holyoke College’s recent decision to admit transgender students, the college refutes that claim. In a public statement, the college says that the group made an independent decision to shelve the play. Furthermore, the college notes in the Campus Reform comment section that the group had concerns about the play. They request the Dean of Students to survey the campus for input. Based on the results, members made its decision.

The Mount Holyoke group has performed the play every year for V-Day, a global campaign to raise awareness and money for organizations dedicated to stopping violence against women and children. This year, the theater group will perform an original play called, The Student Body, which will feature monologues about sex and gender by students at the college.