The University of California Berkeley will play host later this month to an, er, updated version of the 20-plus year-old “Vagina Monologues” that will “embrace the notion that womanhood isn’t defined by any one thing.”
And … certainly not “whether or not a person has a vagina.”
Arguing in The Daily Californian that Eve Ensler’s 1996 play has become “increasingly outdated,” Sheen Kachen and Rudy Brandt note directors have “grappled” with the production’s “increasingly problematic material” due to stories of folks whose identities aren’t represented in VM’s “myopic vision of womanhood.”
As a result, with assistance from the campus Gender Equity Resource Center, Berkeley will produce “Our Monologues,” a student-led effort which will include parts of Ensler’s original play as well as “all-original pieces with topics ranging from gender identity and sexuality to intergenerational cultural shifts.”
Kachen and Brandt are members of the Berkeley production.
Our community has examined pieces from Ensler’s original show with a critical eye, investigating and problematizing, both to uncover their limitations and to continue to celebrate their value. The few pieces we’ve selected from the original script will be performed in the first act of our show with an openness and circumspection that reflects this dichotomy. In our efforts to shift away from the original material of “The Vagina Monologues,” we decided to keep some of the show’s meaningful pieces in our show this year while spotlighting the original monologues included in the second act of our show.
Our hope is that this year’s double feature will be the beginning of a larger movement on Berkeley’s campus with “Our Monologues” becoming the primary space for students to explore gender, sexuality, personal identity and sexual violence through theater. Audience members should come expecting both classic and diverse stories from diverse individuals and will leave with the words of those folks ringing in their ears and in their hearts. We want to leave audiences feeling touched by the uniqueness and singularity of the performers’ monologues instead of questioning the author’s initial intent and understanding of the broader issues the monologue addresses. This desire is the motivating force behind “Our Monologues.”
Berkeley isn’t exactly unique in this regard; three years ago Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts did away with “Vagina Monologues” because it was dismissive women without vaginas, and last year Vermont’s Middlebury College put on a “neutered” version of the play which celebrated “femininity, however you may define it.”