The Vagina Monologues

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The Vagina Monologues
Vagina Monologues Poster.jpg
The Vagina Monologues poster
Written by Eve Ensler
Date premiered1996 (1996)
Place premiered HERE Arts Center, New York City, New York, US
Original languageEnglish

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler which developed and premiered at HERE Arts Center, Off-Off-Broadway in New York and was followed by an Off-Broadway run in 1996 at Westside Theatre. The play explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, vaginal care, menstrual periods, sex work, and several other topics through the eyes of women with various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences. [1]


Charles Isherwood of The New York Times called the play "probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade." [2]

In 2018, The New York Times stated "No recent hour of theater has had a greater impact worldwide" in an article "The Great Work Continues: The 25 Best American Plays Since ‘Angels in America'". [3]

Ensler originally starred in both the HERE premiere and in the first off-Broadway production, which was produced by David Stone, Nina Essman, Dan Markley, The Araca Group, Willa Shalit and the West Side Theater. When she left the play, it was recast with three celebrity monologists. The play has been staged internationally, and a television version featuring Ensler was produced by cable TV channel HBO. In 1998, Ensler and others, including Willa Shalit, a producer of the Westside Theatre production, launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over US$100 million for groups working to end violence against women and girls anti-violence through benefits of The Vagina Monologues. [4]

In 2011, Ensler was awarded the Isabelle Stevenson Award at the 65th Tony Awards, which recognizes an individual from the theater community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of humanitarian, social service, or charitable organizations for her creation of the V-Day movement.


Eve Ensler wrote the first draft of the monologues in 1996 (there have been several revisions since) following interviews she conducted with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals. In an interview with, Ensler said that her fascination with vaginas began because of "growing up in a violent society". [5] "Women's empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality." She also stated, "I'm obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas."

Ensler wrote the piece to "celebrate the vagina". Ensler states that in 1998, the purpose of the piece changed from a celebration of vaginas and femininity to a movement to stop violence against women. This was the start of the V-Day movement [6] which has continued strong every year since, has turned into a worldwide phenomenon, and a very successful non-profit organization. [6]

The play opened at HERE Arts Center in New York City on October 3, 1996, with a limited run that was scheduled to end November 15 but was extended to December 31. [7] [8] The play gained popularity through sold-out performances, media coverage and word of mouth. "In 2001, V-Day sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden with more than seventy actors performing. The evening raised $1 million raised for groups working to end violence against women and girls." [9]

"After "The Vagina Monologues" debuted in 1996, it quickly became a hit. Soon, Eve Ensler's episodic play had graduated from off-off Broadway to Madison Square Garden to college stages the world over." [10]

In 2004, an all-transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues was held for the first time. [11] The performance was covered by the 2006 documentary Beautiful Daughters , which displays the hardships the all-transgender cast faced with the production.[ citation needed ]

The play was also adapted into a Marathi play called Yonichya Maneechya Gujagoshti by feminist writer-activist Vandana Khare in the year 2009. [12]

Gabriela Youth, the one and only national democratic mass organization for young women in the Philippines also adapted the play into a Tagalog theatrical show called "Ang Usapang Puke" with its student members from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in the year 2018.

Plot summary

The Vagina Monologues is made up of various personal monologues read by a diverse group of women. Originally, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring three actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role. Each of the monologues deals with an aspect of the feminine experience, touching on matters such as sex, sex work, body image, love, rape, menstruation, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the various common names for the vagina or simply as a physical aspect of the body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality.

Some monologues include:

Every year a new monologue is added to highlight a current issue affecting women around the world. In 2003, for example, Ensler wrote a new monologue, called Under the Burqa , about the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. In 2004, Ensler also wrote a monologue called They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy. . .Or So They Tried after interviewing a group of women whose gender identity differed from their assigned gender at birth. [13] Every V-Day thousands of local benefit productions are staged to raise funds for local groups, shelters, and crisis centers working to end violence against women.


V-Day logo LogoblackbackVDAY.png
V-Day logo

V-Day is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization [6] that distributes funds to national and international grassroot organizations and programs that work to stop violence against girls and women. [6] The Vagina Monologues is the cornerstone of the V-Day movement, whose participants stage benefit performances of the show and/or host other related events in their communities. Such events take place worldwide each year between 1 February and 30 April, many on college campuses as well. All performances must stick to the annual script that V-Day puts out specifically for the V-Day productions of The Vagina Monologues. [14] The V-Day organization encourages the renditions to include as many diverse actors as possible. [14] With a minimum of 5 actors required by V-Day, the organization also has no maximum limit on the number of actors that can be included in the productions and encourages inclusion of as many actors as possible. [14] The performances generally benefit rape crisis centers and shelters for women, as well as similar resource centers for women and girls experiencing violence against them.

On 21 February 2004 Ms. Ensler in conjunction with Jane Fonda and Deep Stealth Productions produced and directed the first all-transgender [15] performance of The Vagina Monologues, with readings by eighteen notable transgender women and including a new monologue documenting the experiences of transgender women. It debuted in connection with "LA V-DAY Until the Violence Stops" with monologues documenting the violence against transgender women. Since that debut, many university and college productions have included these three "Transgender Monologues". Beautiful Daughters (2006) is a documentary about the cast of the first performance by transgender women. [16]


An article in Signs by Christine M. Cooper begins by applauding The Vagina Monologues for benefit performances done within the first six years (1998–2004). These performances raised over $20 million, 85 percent of which was donated to grassroots organizations that fight against violence towards women. [17]


Criticism from feminists

The Vagina Monologues has been criticized by some within the feminist movement, including pro-sex feminists and individualist feminists. [18] Sex-positive feminist Betty Dodson, author of several books about female sexuality, saw the play as having a narrow and restrictive view of sexuality. Dodson's main concern seemed to be the lack of the term "clitoris" throughout the play. She believes that the play sends a message that the vagina is the main sex organ, not the clitoris. There is also criticism of The Vagina Monologues about its conflation of vaginas with women, more specifically for the message of the play that women are their vaginas, as Susan E. Bell and Susan M. Reverby argue, "Generations of feminists have argued that we are more than our bodies, more than a vagina or 'the sex'. Yet, TVM re-inscribes women's politics in our bodies, indeed in our vaginas alone". [19] The focus on women finding themselves through their vaginas, many say, seems more like a Second Wave consciousness-raising group rather than a ground-breaking, inter-sectional, Third Wave cornerstone. [19]

Criticism for being anti-transgender

Because of the title and content of The Vagina Monologues being body-centric, American University chose to change their production of it to a new show including all-original pieces, giving the production the name of Breaking Ground Monologues. [20] Although members of American University's Women's Initiative believe that the show was revolutionary in the 1990s, they concluded that equating having a vagina with being a woman is not an accurate display of womanhood in the 2010s, suggesting that The Vagina Monologues continues to perpetuate the gender binary and erase the identity of those who are genderqueer. [20]

In 2015 a student organization at Mount Holyoke College canceled its annual performance of the play for being, in its opinion, insufficiently inclusive of transgender people. "At its core", Erin Murphy, the president of the school's theater group, said, "the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. … Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive." The traditionally all-female college had begun admitting trans women the previous year, but the college denied that had anything to do with the decision to discontinue the annual performances of the play. [21]

Criticism for being colonial

Kim Hall, a professor of philosophy at Appalachian State University, further criticizes the play, particularly the sections dealing with women in developing countries, for contributing to "colonialist conceptions of non-Western women," [22] such as the piece "My Vagina Was My Village". Although she supports frank discussions about sex, Hall rescales many of the same critiques leveled by feminists of color at white privilege among second-wave feminists: "premature white feminist assumptions and celebrations of a global 'sisterhood.'" [22]

In The Vagina Monologues, depictions of sexual violence are told through mostly non-white and non-US centered stories, as Srimati Basu states, "While a few of these forms of violence, such as sexual assault and denigration of genitalia, are depicted in U.S. locations, violence is the primary register through which 'the global' is evoked, the main lens for looking outside the United States. These global locations serve to signify the terror that is used to hold the laughter in balance, to validate the seriousness of the enterprise, while the 'vagina' pieces are more directly associated with pleasure and sexuality and set in the United States". [23]

In 2013, Columbia University's V-Day decided to stage the play with a cast entirely of non-white women because of the misrepresentation. That decision, too, was controversial. [24]

Social conservative criticism

The play has also been criticized by social conservatives, such as the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and the Network of Enlightened Women. The TFP denounced it as "a piece replete with sexual encounters, lust, graphic descriptions of masturbation and lesbian behavior", [25] urging students and parents to protest. Following TFP and other protests, performances were cancelled at sixteen Catholic colleges. Saint Louis University made the decision not to endorse the 2007 production, claiming the yearly event was getting to be "redundant". The response of the university's student-led feminist organization was to continue the production at an off-campus location.

Robert Swope ('good rape') critique

In 2000, Robert Swope, a conservative contributor to a Georgetown University newspaper, The Hoya , wrote an article critical of the play. [26] He suggested there was a contradiction between the promotion of rape awareness on V-Day and the monologue "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could", in which an adult woman recalls being given alcohol and statutorily raped at 13 by a 24-year-old woman [27] as a positive, healing experience, ending the segment with the proclamation "It was a good rape."

Outcry from the play's supporters resulted in Swope's being fired from the staff of The Hoya, before the piece was even run. Swope had previously criticized the play in an article he wrote entitled "Georgetown Women's Center: Indispensable Asset or Improper Expenditure?" His termination received critical editorial coverage in The Wall Street Journal , [28] Salon , [29] National Review , [30] The Atlantic Monthly , The Washington Times , The Weekly Standard , and by Wendy McElroy of iFeminists. [31]

College performances

Every year, the play is performed on hundreds of college campuses as part of V-Day's College campaign. [32]

Inspired by The Vagina Monologues, many colleges have gone on to develop their own plays. Performances at colleges are always different, not always pre-written, and sometimes feature actors writing their own monologue. The Vagina Monologues also served as inspiration for Yoni Ki Baat , the "South Asian adaptation of The Vagina Monologues", [33] and as loose inspiration for The Manic Monologues , "the mental-illness version of The Vagina Monologues." [34]

The Cardinal Newman Society has criticized the performance of the play on Catholic college campuses. [35] In 2011 ten of the fourteen Catholic universities hosting the Monologues were Jesuit institutions. [36] The Jesuit Tim Clancy, pastor and philosophy professor at Gonzaga University, explains why he supports VM performances on campus: [37] "They are not arguments – they are stories … stories of pain and suffering, stories of shame, violation and impotence" that lead to discussions on "the extremes of the human condition", responding to the call of Pope Benedict for Jesuits in their work to explore "the boundaries resulting from an erroneous or superficial vision of God and man that stand between faith and human knowledge". [38]

See also

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Eve Ensler

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V-Day (movement)

V-Day, February 14, is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls started by author, playwright and activist Eve Ensler. V-Day began on February 14, 1998, when the very first V-Day benefit performance of Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues took place in NYC, raising over $250k for local anti-violence groups. V-Day was formed and became a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to raise funds and awareness to end violence against all women and girls. Through V-Day, activists stage royalty free, benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues "to fund local programs, support safe houses, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence shelters, change laws to protect women and girls, and educate local communities to raise awareness and change social attitudes toward violence against women" during the month February, with most of the benefit productions taking place on or about February 14. Ensler has been quoted as saying that it was women's reactions to the play that inspired her and her colleagues to launch V-Day. The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.

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Beautiful Daughters is a 2006 documentary that follows the first-ever all-transgender production of Eve Ensler's famous play The Vagina Monologues. It was released in the United States on February 11, 2006. The documentary is directed by Josh Aronson and Ariel Orr Jordan and features Calpernia Addams, Jane Fonda, and Andrea James.

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