Saturday, March 26, 2011

Varicolored Vagendas

First, let me give Kathleen Kirk full credit for this word, which I saw her use in this post, which comes from the show Fringe. What a cool word.

I thought of it again last night as my friend, her teenage daughter, and I went to see a college production of The Vagina Monologues. My friend and I had seen it before, but her daughter hadn't. Her daughter is a drama person--the kind of teenager who can argue about which Shakespeare comedy is overrated, the kind who shapes the drama troupe. She said, "I don't know what to expect. It's just monologues?" At the end, I could tell she needed some time to ponder what she had just seen, but she said, as if to reassure us, "I didn't dislike it."

I tried to think about what it would be like to see the play if I hadn't been steeped in several decades of feminist theory. I wonder if seeing the play is a similar experience to the day I discovered Our Bodies, Ourselves on the shelves of my college library. I was both shocked and thrilled that people would discuss such things in public.

Of course, that was before the Internet became as widespread. Heck, I knew people who still couldn't get cable, even if they wanted to afford it! I really am a dinosaur.

I loved being back on a college campus that had students who wanted to put on a play. Long ago, I used to teach at that campus--best teaching job ever, except that I was an adjunct, so I didn't have job security or much pay. But I taught upper-level British Lit classes to students who were English majors. Fantastic! It's the only time I've taught students who came to class having read the work--sometimes twice!

But then I got my full-time job, and it became increasingly difficult to teach at both places, just from a scheduling point of view. One was on a semester system, one on a quarter. One had classes that met two or three times a week, one had classes that met once a week for 3 hours at a time. And then, when I did the family taxes, I realized that I was teaching the Brit Lit classes basically just to pay the increased taxes for the tax bracket into which the extra classes catapulted us.

Last night, I felt a bit of sorrow/nostalgia for all the places I've taught, all the classes I no longer teach. I also missed my younger self who would have seen this play as being radical--but now, while I am full of respect and awe for what Eve Ensler has done and the movements she has sparked, it doesn't seem as radical.

I hate to say this, but there are times when I grow weary of a culture that seems to be in permanent consciousness raising status. But of course, that's easy for me to say, as someone who has had the benefit of all this conversation. I can't imagine what it would be like to come of age in a time before feminists had started to change the world--well, I can, and I wouldn't want to live in a world where women didn't know their bodies and didn't have many employment opportunities and couldn't demand justice when violence was done to them. We're still not in an ideal world, in terms of gender equality, but we're much closer than we were in the 1950's.

After the show, the teenage daughter of my friend said that she found it interesting, but not interesting enough to have all those conversations with women that Eve Ensler had had. That led us to wonder what topic would be most interesting. Even if we didn't want to write a play in the style of Ensler or Anna Deveare Smith, even if we didn't want to be a documentarian/sociologist like Studs Terkel, what conversation would interest us enough to have year after year of it with person after person?

We didn't have immediate answers, but as I've thought about it, I would have to say I continue to be interested in the question of having a creative life and how we manage the demands of our creative lives with the other elements of our lives, like work and family. I'm also fascinated by the intersections of creativity and spirituality (especially Christianity, since I'm Lutheran and understand Christianity more than, say, Hinduism).

After the play, we went to an Indian restaurant--what a joyful place. Even at 9:20, it was packed, with lots of families with small, energy-filled children. We had come intending to have ice cream, but we had a small meal, a late supper. Delish!

I thought back to my own adolescence, to all those plays my parents took us to, many of which were put on by the local university--thank God for university drama departments which put on quality productions at prices so affordable that the whole family can go. Afterwards, we'd go out for ice cream or frozen yogurt--remember when frozen yogurt was seen as exotic? Yes, again, I'm outing myself as a dinosaur. And then I reflected on the evening, the diversity of the audience and the acting troupe, the fact that we could have gone out to enjoy a meal from just about any culture I wanted. Yes, the world has changed, and not just in the way we discuss our vaginas. And despite my nostalgia for times gone by, I wouldn't want to go back. I'm mostly happy where I am.


Jim Murdoch said...

The only way I’d go back would be if I got to do it right this time but that’s never an option, is it? I’m jealous of the fact your parents took you to plays and I’m jealous that you got to go to college. I have mixed feelings about the whole vagina thing though although I did enjoy The Vagina Monologues when I saw it on TV. I too am a dinosaur and although I try and keep up or at least try and make up for time squandered and experiences lost I fear extinction is not too far off.

Kathleen said...

It is odd to be living through a time when The Vagina Monologues has gone from revolutionary to nostalgic to almost blase! I got to see it in Chicago, as a professional production, and in central Illinois as a college production--both wonderful and very different.

So interesting to see it here in the rich context of your life.

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

Last night was a rare treat and I hope if nothing else, it shall help my kid articulate questions about her self-image. she is lucky to have a wonderful role model in you. diversity (like the kind we were treated to yesterday) can enrich only when people are tolerant of, curious about, and capable of enoying stuff from across continents. i, too, am happy when /where i am, and actually feel fortunate, and you are a large part of the reason why!

Margaret said...

We performed The Vagina Monologues last month on our seminary campus.
My priest came to see the show (one of the first women in the Episcopal Church to be ordained, so she'd have been going through that process at about the same time as the whole monologue question). And she agreed with you that it felt a little dated at this point... "that anger," as she put it, has passed out of our cultural discourse by now.

It still had a huge impact on me. Maybe it was because of the character I was playing-- I played the Bosnian rape survivor in "My Vagina Was My Village," and that's one story that does and should still inspire us to anger. Or maybe it was because of the community-- one place we still don't talk about vaginas is in the church. But maybe the Monologues is one of those plays that more deeply affects the performers than the audience?

Margaret said...

PS I never thanked you for stopping by my blog. It's good to meet a fellow creative writer/theological thinker out there in the blogosphere. :)

Kristin said...

Wow--what a wide range of comments. Thank you all so much for coming by and commenting. I feel lucky to have you all as part of my blogosphere!