Sunday, February 20, 2005

Vagina Monologues Controversy Goes International

Every year the feminist group on my campus stages a reading of The Vagina Monologues for Valentine's Day, and every year some conservative students grumble about it. It's anti-romantic, it's anti-men, it takes all the fun out of Valentine's Day. There was even a "Take Back Valentine's Day" campaign last year. I haven't seen The Vagina Monologues, and I'm pretty certain it wouldn't really be my thing, but there's something kind of annoying about the backlash. Nobody is being forced to spend the evening watching an ode to female genetalia. The performance is popular on campus because people want to go to it. If you'd prefer to do something else on Valentine's Day, by all means, do something else. What exactly is the big deal?

Anyway, the stupid "Take Back Valentine's Day" campaign can't hold a candle to the play's reception in Uganda, where the government resurrected censorship laws so that the producers could be forced to change it beyond recognition. For instance, the word "vagina" in the title has been declared obscene. Seriously. Apparently, in Uganda, one cannot use the technical term for women's genitals. The production was intended to raise funds for women who have been kidnapped and raped (the article says "abduct[ed] serve as forced 'wives'") in the war in Northern Uganda. It looks like the show will not go on.

The play was censored at the behest of Christian lobby groups, which objected to frank discussions of sexuality, particularly lesbianism. But African feminists have raised more legitimate objections.

But Ensler's play has also attracted criticism for offering a universal treatment of women's lives. 'It seems extremely arrogant that The Vagina Monologues remains the same everywhere,' Wainana said.

Although the drama draws heavily on American womens' experiences, the Nairobi performance touched on its Kenyan context with references to female genital mutilation and the high incidence of rape in the city's slums.

I think the racial issues around Eve Ensler in general are pretty thorny: her latest play on body image is getting a lot of flack for being white-centric (or Ensler-centric), too, but almost all of the complaintants are white themselves and don't take issue with all the male and transexual (male-to-female) performances of the Vagina Monolgues, either, which is just as colonial as an act; I'm not so sure it's (at least in the West, this is a complete digression from your actual post) as much about race as it is about the urbanely-hip of the liberal world moving on now that they are done with their toy, and calling out Ensler as a potential racist is part of that.
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