“The Vagina Monologues never intended to be a play about what it means to be a woman. It is and always has been a play about what it means to have a vagina,” said Eve Ensler in 2015, to defend her play against allegations of transphobia and exclusivity by students at colleges across the country.
The Vagina Monologues was written by Ensler in 1996 and was originally hailed as a feminist masterpiece. It consists of stories from women worldwide about everything from discovering feminism and sexual encounters to trauma and rape.
In recent years the show has come under fire for lacking diverse perspectives, such as those of transgender women and women of color. Many have criticized the show for implicitly suggesting that to be a woman it is necessary to have a vagina.
Berkeley High School (BHS) has had its own long-running rendition of The Vagina Monologues, which has been an important part of the school for many students. It was powerful to see students, teachers, and parents alike supporting a show that was essentially all about vaginas. Casey Galvin, a sophomore who saw the show in 2019, believes that it enhanced the bold feminist culture already present on the BHS campus. She said, “So many schools wouldn’t ever put on a production like this … It does let people have a sense of freedom about [their vaginas and femininity].”
In response to the exclusionary aspects of the play, BHS seniors Daphne Eleftheriadou and Mara Halpern decided that it was time for a change. This year, for the first time in nearly two decades, there will be no production of The Vagina Monologues. In its place, directors Halpern and Eleftheriadou are spearheading the creation of a show new to BHS, entitled Our Monologues. It will be a collection of monologues written by and for people with connections to the BHS community. While the new show will follow a format similar to Ensler’s play, these monologues will be performed by students of any gender identity, race, or ability. “We’re in Berkeley, and we’re progressing and the world is progressing … there’s no reason we should keep a show that doesn’t make people feel included,” Eleftheriadou said.
It is nothing new to criticize The Vagina Monologues, but to replace it with a play that rights its wrongs while still paying respect to the original is truly revolutionary. Although inspired by a similar collection of student monologues, also called Our Monologues, that premiered at University of California, Berkeley last year, the BHS production will be distinct in content and style.
Jane Hood, who graduated from BHS in 2017 and was the producer of the original Our Monologues at Cal said, “I saw [The] Vagina Monologues all four years. It was a really amazing experience, but also even when I was young there were a lot of things that made me and other people uncomfortable. There were a lot of things that needed to change.” Hood thought that Ensler wrote through her own cisgender, white perspective. “A lot of the pieces in The Vagina Monologues are very bioessentialist, which means very focused on things like having a period or having the ability to give birth, which not all women have,” Hood said.
Now, after The Vagina Monologues has made its enduring contribution to BHS culture, the unfaltering inclusivity offered by Our Monologues will contribute to a culture of care that is necessary in the country.
One question now is whether this will be a goodbye to the feminist core of The Vagina Monologues. Hood responded that she felt “It doesn’t take anything away from [the feminism of the play]. If your feminism is trans-exclusive, it’s not feminism, so if anything it just builds a stronger community and you’re not losing anything … it will only get better.”
Our Monologues is technically a replacement of The Vagina Monologues, but that does not mean it can’t be something completely different. “Right now when we introduce the show we say ‘Our Monologues in Replacement of Vagina Monologues,’” said Eleftheriadou. “But we really just want it to be the new thing,” she continued.
Eleftheriadou hopes this will be the start of an entirely new BHS tradition, following in the footsteps of The Vagina Monologues, but perhaps paving a new path.
Auditions are open to all BHS students and will be taking place from September 30 to October 11. Sign up sheets are posted around campus.