This month, I joined the Banging Book Club, hosted by YouTubers Hannah Witton, Lucy Moon and Leena Norms. Basically, it’s a book club where all the books are about sex: neat. There’s a Goodreads group for general discussion, and at the end of each month, the hosts upload a YouTube video and podcast with their thoughts. The book for February was The Vagina Monologues—which I’d somehow managed to avoid watching or reading over the last 20 years, so I was excited to dive in!
And, well, I think I got to it about 20 years too late. I can see how it would have been groundbreaking two decades ago, but a lot of it seemed rather outdated now. It’s fantastic at talking frankly and openly about vaginas, something which our society still shudders away from—but a couple decades down the line, there are more inclusive ways to go about it.
In the intro, for example, Eve Ensler excuses the absence of monologues about trans women by saying she doesn’t write to “serve a politically correct agenda”. If Ensler doesn’t see how understanding the experience of trans men or women with their vaginas is a relevant and important part of understanding any of our relationships with our vaginas, then hers may not be a feminism I can really relate to. Then again, this particular intro was written in 2001; it’s possible that she would feel differently today.
Some of the most interesting points for me actually came from Gloria Steinem’s foreword: her discovery that the symbol we call a heart most likely came from the ancient symbol for a vulva, for example, was particularly fascinating.
But while the overall experience may not have blown me away, the monologues themselves as individual works were often rather beautiful. The Banging Book Club girls pointed out that, while explicit, they don’t fetishise the vagina; the monologues are so personal and honest that you quickly forget the content is controversial at all. Which is the point, so that totally worked!
Growing up, I pretty much avoided my vagina like the plague. We would joke at school about heading to the bathroom with a hand mirror to check it out, but the one time I took a peek, I thought it looked pretty revolting and vowed never to look again.
“One new idea for me was that many women haven’t looked at their vaginas. My junk is just all over the place when it isn’t covered up by clothing or pixels added in post-production. So that isn’t something that had occurred to me before. Now, however, I can see how that could have a huge impact on one’s body image and one’s attitude towards sex and sexuality.” – Ben, Goodreads
So overall, there’s no doubt that we need to keep talking about vaginas. While we generally seem to have closer relationships with our vaginas than people did when The Vagina Monologues were first performed, there’s still so much that people today don’t know: like that the hymen is not a barrier that breaks when you have sex, or, yes, where the clitoris is.
“I wonder whether or not this is all a bit outdated—perhaps BECAUSE of the monologues.” – Amanda, Goodreads
I related much harder to some of the monologues than others. I liked the ones about exploring it, both physically and by exploring the word—but I didn’t get much out of the personification aspects. (I wanted to feel more connected to my vagina as a part of me, not like there’s a strange beret-wearing woman living in my underwear!)
But, as quite a few of the book club members suggested, my greater ease at exploring my vagina may well be thanks to the existence of The Vagina Monologues in the first place. And, of course, reading a static copy of the Monologues immortalised in the early 2000s isn’t really giving it a fair shot: since then, the play has evolved and absorbed far more varied perspectives each time it is performed. Banging Book Club trip to watch it live, anyone?