If in the world of emojis, a peach represents a butt and an eggplant represents a penis, which emoji would represent a vagina? The diamond emoji?
Vagina. What a weird word! Even in this post-feminist world, where women are in charge of their sexuality and girls are taught they’re just as good as boys, saying vagina out loud feels wrong — like I’m swearing in front of my middle school principal.
It feels awkward rolling off my tongue. Six letters, three syllables, va-gy-nah.
Why is it that we hear about erectile dysfunction on TV, but tampon and pad advertisers rarely use the word “period” or “vagina”? It’s almost like having a uterus and a vagina is shameful.
When I was brainstorming names for this column in early January, and I had finally settled on “The Hijabi Monologues,” the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan said: “Well, I love that you’re playing off of The Vagina Monologues…”
I lost what she said after that because I was thinking about the fact that I had not been playing off of The Vagina Monologues because I hadn’t read it! How could I write a feminist literature column if I’d never read what is widely regarded as one of the defining feminist works of the 1990s?
Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues started out as a one-woman play.
“I was worried about vaginas,” writes Ensler in the introduction to her book. “There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them — like the Bermuda Triangle. No one ever reports back from there.”
After reading The Vagina Monologues, I am worried about vaginas too.
In our patriarchal world, where women are subjected to harassment and rape and even genital mutilation, female sexuality is largely forbidden. Even here in L.A., which claims liberal ideologies and a diverse population, women are still labelled sluts and whores for doing the same as men do.
Ensler’s book is a compilation of interviews she conducted with more than 200 women.
“At first, women were reluctant to talk,” Ensler writes, “They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before.”
Ensler asked her subjects questions that ranged from odd to serious, such as, “If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?” and “If your vagina could talk, what would it say, in two words?”
To the first question, the answers were the expected: a leather jacket, silk stockings, a silk kimono, an electrical shock device to keep unwanted strangers away — and how sad it is, that saying “‘no”’ isn’t enough, that this woman felt the need for a weapon to get her message across — and more.
For the second question, some women answered, “slow down,” “more please” and “not yet.”
What’s fascinating about Ensler’s work is that it’s realistic. Some of the women interviewed laid themselves bare, both literally and figuratively, but they were almost apologetic in their answers. Years of being told that female genitalia are appalling are not so easily forgotten, and Ensler conveys that to the reader without judgment.
The Vagina Monologues talks about the importance of body hair, about childbirth, about rape. It talks of women’s first experiences with pleasure, with boys and periods. I won’t call it comprehensive, because I doubt one book can encompass the relationship between a woman and her vagina, but Ensler’s book gets pretty close to it.
Since its publication in 1998, The Vagina Monologues has been read and performed countless of times, especially on college campuses, those special environments where you’re almost a child again — anything is possible, everything is new.
How many times did I use the word vagina, both in its plural and singular form, in this article? Microsoft Word tells me I used it 18 times. At least, now saying it out loud is slightly less awkward.
Noorhan Maamoon is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “The Hijabi Monologues,” runs on Thursdays.