Home of the Moan

'The Vagina Monologues' Seizes the Means of Production

The tours de force of the Monologues are an extended riff on the word cunt—Glenn Close will brave this one—and an inventory of orgasmic moans, which Ensler will perform herself: the clit moan, the vaginal moan, the elegant moan, the WASP moan, the baby moan, the doggy moan, the uninhibited militant bisexual moan, the machine-gun moan, the triple-orgasm moan.

Camille Paglia's notorious notion that if women ran the world, we'd all be living in grass huts (which ignores the fact that a large percentage of the world live thus and aren't ruled by women) postulates female power as clthonic, the raw maw for crude reproduction. To reduce Paglia's logorrhea to its essence, men have minds, women have bodies. Ensler's work is an artistic and organizational attempt to bring female sexual power to left-brain articulation.

Like most radical feminists, radical right-wingers know that the body is the economy, stupid. That's why folks whose long-term goals might involve a master race aren't contradicting themselves when they oppose abortion. The female body (except on The X-Files) is the primary means of production, and seizing control remains a fundamental historic issue, whether in terms of abortion, clitoridectomy, or pleasure.

When Yeats wrote, "But love has pitched his mansion in/the place of excrement," he was speaking for men. For women, love pitches her mansion at the factory door. Pregnancy, a metaphorical experience for men, the magical result of fucking, is for women literal and vulnerable. There is no male equivalent of the vagina, so desire can be unambivalent, an augmentation of self. For women, desire can be perilous, and fraught with knowledge that feels born-in-the-bone. The Vagina Monologues explores the dangers that arise when the locus of pleasure and risk is the same.

A few weeks ago, in Baltimore, I watched Ensler rehearsing the last solo performance before V-Day. The Center Stage Theater was lit red. Ensler, a slight, relaxed figure, was dressed simply in black pants, a black tank top. "Actually, Jane," she called to the lighting director, "I think that's the orgasm light. Let's check the opening one." To the stage manager sitting about halfway back she said, "How were my moans last night? Were they too low? Were you with me?" "I was with you," a woman's laughing voice replied from the dark theater. "Well, I was almost with you."

Later, over dinner, Ensler said, "I don't do jokes. I'm not a comedian. But, you know, it's laugh or die. The Bosnian women were the funniest women I ever met." Then, as easily as she'd laughed, she wept. "How can people know what's happening and not help? We knew what was happening in Bosnia. And why are women still being raped and battered right here?"

The Vagina Monologues ends with birth. "Things come out of you that are horrible to look at," she said, recounting the impact of seeing her granddaughter's birth. "But I see shit differently now, I see my period differently. We come out in a mess. It's sexy, it's hot, it's alive, it's undeniable." Then from her gut brain, where metaphor is not analogy but an actual passageway, she offered this extraordinary thought: "The vagina is the heart."

On Saturday, formerly Valentine's Day, the performers will wear red velvet. Bright pink boas will line the half-moon stage, the same boas slitting the pale pink backdrop, and, as the stars step through this slit, V-day will be born. The event is sold out, but already plans are underway for a V-Day 2000, possibly at Madison Square Garden. The vagina, Ensler believes, is where men and women can come together, and it's expansive enough to include us all.

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