Published in The Oklahoma Daily on December 2, 2011.
Sometime in the month of February, don’t be surprised if you hear words like “vagina” echoing through the third floor of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. It’s just the annual performance of “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler.
If you’re like many who haven’t seen the play, or this is your first introduction to the monologues, you’re probably already conjuring awkward images of what the performance must be like. Is it some nearly pornographic, avant garde rambling? Or is it more of an angry feminist rant?
Well, there’s certainly some mention of sex and sexuality. And you’ll definitely see some women full of righteous anger. But more than any of that, the audience of “The Vagina Monologues” will be treated to a rare sight indeed: women speaking openly about their sexuality.
You see, our culture has this hang-up about sex. We’re perfectly fine using it to sell movie tickets and perfume and everything else. But when it comes to having real, frank, positive conversations about sex in the real world, that’s just a little too awkward. Especially if it’s a woman doing the talking.
Now I don’t think this is some conscious, overt conspiracy by the patriarchy to subvert the almighty power of the vagina. I think it’s simply a feature of how our culture has developed — we view female sexuality and the female sex organs as these mysterious, taboo things. Our cultural discomfort with sexuality leads to silence, and silence leads to shame. After all, what kind of decent lady talks about her “lady parts” in public? It’s just inappropriate.
It’s this silence and shame that lead to self-image issues, painful societal pressures and widespread violence against women.
I have to admit, while growing up, I internalized this sense of embarrassment about sex and my own sexuality without question. Sure, I could talk about the fundamentals of sex and trade safe sex facts like a champ. But I was just as embarrassed by, even ashamed of, my own sexuality as the rest of society seemed to be.
That ended the day I stepped into the room to audition for “The Vagina Monologues” two years ago.
It was disconcerting, at first, to see all these otherwise sweet, upstanding girls sitting around in a circle reading a list of names for the vagina (“cootchie snorcher” was my favorite) and what their vagina would wear if it had clothes (one was in a feather boa). But once I relaxed and had a good laugh at my expense, I realized that this was the first time I’d felt safe enough to confront my own sexuality head on. I realized that this was the healthy environment, not the one full of shameful silence and fear.
This performance was an opportunity to be truthful and genuine in a way I had never been before. It explored everything from understanding our own anatomy to the power of first sexual experiences, from the gritty miracle of childbirth to the dangers of rape. And it was open and real in a way that had many of us crying backstage in between pieces.
Through this performance, I learned that vagina is not a dirty word. That sexuality — yes, even female sexuality — is a beautiful, natural part of adult life. That our shameful, repressive silence surrounding sex only keeps us from fully understanding and celebrating it.
And I got to meet a group of strong, amazing women who went through this transformation alongside me.
So, my fellow Sooner women, I hope you’ll join me in auditioning for this year’s performance from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Traditions Room of the union. I promise, it’s an experience you can’t replace.
And all Sooners, regardless of gender, I hope to see you in the audience this February. You’ll either leave the auditorium with a big grin or dabbing at tears — either way, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Mary Stanfield is a philosophy senior and The Daily’s opinion editor.