There’s some mighty thought-provoking debate happening around ‘The Vagina Monologues’

Last year was a watershed year for transgender awareness. So many people were educated by trans celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, TV shows like Amazon’s Transparent, and books like Ariel Schrag’s Adam. The major message being shared by this movement is that gender is not synonymous with sex organs. And that gender is not what you are assigned at birth, it’s the identity that makes sense to you. Which is to bluntly say that you may be born with a vagina and identify as a woman, or you may NOT be born with a vagina and identify as a woman. And both are completely valid ways of experiencing identity.

Which brings us to Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues. If this title is familiar to you, it’s probably because you either a) saw it at your liberal arts college or b) were IN IT at your liberal arts college (and if you were in it, I REALLY hope you got to do the “My Vagina is ANGRY” monologue.”)

First staged Off-Broadway in 1996, this theatrical celebration of vaginas and their owners receives thousands of productions every year, most of those productions going up on V-Day (Feb 14th) to raise money to end violence against women.

Recently, Mount Holyoke College, an all-women’s liberal arts school decided to discontinue their annual performance of The Vagina Monologues, deeming the show politically incorrect in the wake of the trans awareness movement. The movement is near and dear to the college’s heart; the school recently announced that it will begin admitting trans female students.

A representative of the student-run theater board explained in an e-mail sent to the campus community why the group felt the need to stop performing the show:

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman . . . 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.”

The student theater group, instead of the traditional text, is going to perform their own, trans-friendly version of the show.

Not every student at Mount Holyoke agrees with the theater group’s decision. On the school’s anonymous message board Holyoke Confessional, one student wrote:

“I love how people who have never been able to discuss or embrace their vaj-wahs aren’t going to find an avenue here, either, since female-validating talk about vaginas is now forbidden. That’s so misogynistic under the guise of ‘progress.”

In the same thread, another student argued in favor of the decision:

“But we can’t present a show that is blatantly transphobic and treats race and homosexuality questionably, when one of the conditions of getting the rights to the show is that you can’t critique it or alter it.”

And, of course, The Vagina Monologues boss-lady herself, writer Eve Ensler, eventually weighed in, penning a piece for Time entitled “I Never Defined A Woman As A Person With A Vagina,” in which she explains:

The Vagina Monologues never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina. In the play, I never defined a woman as a person with a vagina . . . We need to create a loving space for people with vaginas, and women without them, to address our oppressions, desires, and secrets and to simultaneously honor the fact that gender is not based on anatomy or genitalia . . . ”

There are a lot of voices speaking up and raising great points on this issue, and regardless of where you fall on this one, Mount Holyoke deserves major kudos for being an inclusive institution that seems overwhelmingly dedicated to making sure all of its students feel valued and heard.

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