The Vagina Monologues and Body Shame

The Vagina Monologues and Body Shame March 25, 2013


A few weeks ago I attended a production of the Vagina Monologues. Watching actor after actor deliver a monologue about her vagina was a bit of a culture shock; just a few hours ago, I was on the bus coming from my Christian fellowship at the Trinity Forum Academy, where the topics covered in the Monologues aren’t usually discussed.

Under the influence of this culture shock, I instinctively cringed a little at the show’s vagina preoccupation. But I starting warming up to it— until one girl began yelling for men to respect her vagina, because that would mean respect for her. I saw her point, but raised an eyebrow at the conflation of her vagina with her identity. Eventually the flamboyant celebration of a woman’s sexual appeal began to feel a little excessive. The discomfort in me was saying, “This provocative way of dressing and walking is irresponsible and naïve. You are setting yourself up to be objectified.”

It is not as if the VM’s creator did not care about the objectification of women. Several of the monologues were about the horrors of sexual assault. So why did the general response seem to be to flaunt one’s sexuality in a provocative way?

At the end of the show, each actress spoke briefly about why she participated in the VM. It all clicked when the last girl spoke. She was clenching back angry tears as she spoke about her rape by a current classmate who still walks the campus, unpunished by school authorities. She was by far the most sexually flamboyant actor of the night. I began to wonder about the connection between her performance and her story, about whether her performance was a way for her to reclaim and celebrate a part of her – her sexual body – that may have felt tainted after the rape.

A friend explained it to me, “By dressing however she wants, it is her way of saying that it is not her fault that she was raped. If she alters how she dresses, then she is effectively saying that she was, in a very small way, responsible for what happened.”

While her sexual freedom is still something that I would not imitate, it was admittedly free of a shame that can characterize some Christian attitudes toward the body. Given the high premium Christians set on virginity and the general squeamishness about body talk throughout much the church, the vagina can easily turn into a little bit of a shameful body part that is seen mainly as a potential setting for sin until one gets married.

The traditional Christian response to the objectification of women is to tell men to control their lust, and to tell women to help men out by dressing more conservatively. Thus if one is single, one might as well lock the vagina up, as it is “not in use” and so there is “nothing to see” (there was a monologue about this). The vagina becomes invisible and is covered by embarrassment. This is certainly not what God had in mind when he declared, “And it is good.”

[Image of VDay Logo Courtesy of Wikipedia]

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