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C'mon, guys, there's nothing to be afraid of

Originally published in:
The Salt Lake Tribune, Opinion

Peter Walters
Why are people afraid of "The Vagina Monologues"?

We were asked in class to attend Utah Valley State College's third annual production of Eve Ensler's theatrical production (which in my opinion is worthy of a Pulitzer or Nobel prize). I had heard of the show but had never attended.

We were warned that part of the production might be - no, would be - offensive. Ironically, one of the students asked, "Now, is this something we can bring the wife to?"

The answer to that question is yes. (In fact, after seeing the production, one might realize just how ironic the question is.) As a film, theater and literary critic for about five years now, I can safely say that those years of narrative awareness (and 27 years of narrative consumption in general), "The Vagina Monologues" is the most intense, stirring two hours I've ever sat through - yes, including yucky surgery.

Does that mean "The Vagina Monologues" is tantamount to torture? Nah. The show is actually funny at times. I am surprised at the wide range of emotion explored in this one show.

The monologues are based on interviews with women all over the world - some of whom have experienced the most intense of life's situations: war, torture, child birth, ecstasy. I think I cried more than I laughed - real tears and gut laughter, with plenty of "ah hah!" moments.

Let me suggest to you that all cultures and societies are different. Let me suggest that just as so-called uncivilized or fundamentalist societies have for centuries held certain prejudices against women, Utah is not without its own cultural biases.

Without being sermonic, "The Vagina Monologues" is like a Zen master's walking stick to the back of the head. It's a wake-up call. It's a promise and a commitment that you want to be aware of and dedicate your life to. Yes, "The Vagina Monologues" asserts its own normative view of universal truth: that women deserve respect, and that their bodies are their own property.

Just because the title of the show contains the word "vagina" does not make it a bad or dirty show. A friend of mine (who did not see the show) suggested that a name change might be in order if people were expected to actually go see it. I said, "See, that's the whole point of the show. Why should women and their sexuality be something that has to be apologized for or quieted?"

Personally, the word "offensive" is the last word I would ever use to describe this show.

I told my friend to remember until the day he dies that we had once chatted about "The Vagina Monologues" and that I had called it one of the most influential narratives I had ever heard, and that he should reconsider his aversion to the title. I hope he'll see the show one day, and I hope you will, too.

The end of the show found every member of the audience on their feet, promising to fight sexual violence and inequality wherever we saw it. I left with a much more profound respect for women, and I found myself wanting to do my damnedest to be the type of man that a woman deserves to have in her life.

You can see the Broadway version of "The Vagina Monologues" on DVD. But I'm glad that I saw the show presented by women from my local community.

I'm not going to tell you to run out and rent the DVD right now, or that the show is required viewing for all who want to call themselves enlightened. All I want to do is tell you how strongly the show affected me, and that I hope you'll give it a try the next time it comes to your community.
Peter Walters studies media analysis at Utah Valley State College.