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Vagina Monologues promotes sin in Africa
February 17, 2005 5:13 AM   Subscribe

The Vagina Monologues is, to the outrage of many, being staged at a cultural center in Kampala, Uganda, East Africa. For the past few weeks, the play has been a key topic of debate, with many radio stations even refusing to utter the name of the play out loud, and shaming call-in listeners that do. Today, the local media council announced that “to the extent that the play promotes illegal, unnatural sexual acts, homosexuality and prostitution, it should be and is hereby banned, citing the play as "a smokescreen for graphic lesbian pornography" and that the play's "graphic descriptions of masturbation, rape, and genital mutilation in a manner that is “abhorrent, outrageous and disgusting." Local NGOs are even refusing to accept funds generated by the sale of tickets.
posted by Kololo (32 comments total)

 
Ah, bless the religious zealots....
May they continue their struggle to spread fear and ignorance.... O_o
BTW, fist post so 'Hi All!' 8-)
posted by StormFront at 5:19 AM on February 17, 2005


Bigots, hypocritesm are a dime a dozen !
posted by elpapacito at 5:50 AM on February 17, 2005


A fascinating post--both informative and unbiased. Thanks.

The ensuing discussion seems to be similar to the discussion that took place on my (fairly liberal) university's campus every year around Valentine's Day--just cranked up by a factor of ten. This touches on the continuing debate about what the primary purpose of the play is--is it to entertain, or to provoke political discussion?* (Reviews of stagings of The Vagina Monologues tend to stay away from discussing the quality of Ensler's writing or of the performances, choosing instead to address the politics surrounding the play and the importance of the work. In case you're wondering, my personal stance is that, though I agree wholeheartedly with most of the political sentiments that have come to be attached to the play over time, as a piece of art in its own right I just don't think it's that good. The difficulty of judging the quality of the work is exacerbated by the fact that stagings are regularly mounted without using trained actors--it isn't clear to me whether that's the case with this particular Ugandan performance.)

At any rate, if the primary purpose of the play is to encourage political discussion, then it's arguably doing so, perhaps more effectively because it's being banned than if it were staged without question. Information wants to be free, after all, and nothing makes a potential reader more curious about a work than banning it. On the other hand, the backers of The Vagina Monologues shouldn't have been at all surprised that Ugandan culture has a different (and, by our measurements, more conservative) value system than America's. I suspect that they weren't.

*"Well, can't it do both?" a hypothetical future poster will say. In this case, I don't think so, but this is because I think that as a piece of art, TVM isn't quite up to scratch. You may believe otherwise, hypothetical future poster--I don't presume to argue matters of taste.
posted by Prospero at 6:34 AM on February 17, 2005


I agree with Prospero: From everything I've heard, the purpose of the Vagina Dialogues is to start discussion about the topics presented. It would appear that it is accomplishing its goals in Uganda by not being performed.
posted by Bugbread at 6:41 AM on February 17, 2005


Stormfront say: BTW, fist post so 'Hi All!' 8-)

In a discussion about what might be considered as the "graphic" nature of VM, the wording of your comment seems a little.... funny.
posted by mcgraw at 6:44 AM on February 17, 2005


well said prospero, but like cristo's gates in central park, a large part of art IS the controversy surrounding it. there can be little question that ensler considered the controversy that would inevitably be attached it as part of her play when she chose the provocative title.

as literature, yeah, it's probably below average, but under the broader definition of art i'm willing to give her top marks.

that her play can serve its artistic purpose without even being performed is nothing short of genius.
posted by three blind mice at 6:55 AM on February 17, 2005


The list of crimes within the play excluded "not funny" and "painfully outmoded" for some reason.
posted by squirrel at 7:20 AM on February 17, 2005


Yes, the people condemning the VMs are the usual hidebound, narrowminded a**holes, and the world would be better off without them.

At the same time, I find myself disturbed almost as much by Eve Ensler parachuting in, touting the VMs as some sort of heroic tool for ending female oppression. I don't think the VMs are going to have much effect at all in East Africa; it's simply the wrong approach to the problem there. No, I don't profess to know the *right* approach -- but the VMs seem most effective in a society which professes equality between the sexes, and is not brutally oppressive, but still riddled with hypocrisy, inequality and vilence. Staging them in Uganda just seems self-serving and obnoxious.

I'm reminded of the reaction of mothers in Juarez, Mexico to Ensler's appropriation of their struggle to find their daughters' killers. The specifics of the situation are different, obviously, but not Ensler's approach. In both cases she'd be better off staging them at home for a bunch of college kids and squares, then sending the proceeds to people who actually know something about gender inequalities in other parts of the world.
posted by Coherence Panda at 7:34 AM on February 17, 2005


If only I could live in a country where a play is banned for being a really, really bad play..
posted by Luke Pski at 8:11 AM on February 17, 2005


In the name of cultural sensitivity, perhaps they should call it the bidness monologues
posted by delmoi at 8:12 AM on February 17, 2005


Thanks for the chuckle delmoi. I've always referred to it as "People Talkin' About their Woo-Woo's" but I just might have to change! I think Prospero's opinions are spot on. I'll be better prepared the next time I try to express my reservations about the whole phenomenon.
posted by rainbaby at 8:32 AM on February 17, 2005


that her play can serve its artistic purpose without even being performed is nothing short of genius.

Speaking from ignorance, having never seen the play, I'd speculate that 90% of that genius was choosing the play's title.
posted by straight at 8:36 AM on February 17, 2005


I'm quiet frankly surprised that nobody's made a lesbian porn flick called "The Vagina Dialogues."
posted by jonmc at 8:42 AM on February 17, 2005


I'm quiet frankly surprised that nobody's made a lesbian porn flick called "The Vagina Dialogues."


Oh. They did. But that was the just working title. I think it ended up being released as "Vulva Chat".
posted by tkchrist at 9:01 AM on February 17, 2005


PS I saw the play a number of years ago... [trying to avoid offensive pun... must resist.... must...]

Uh. I didn't like it.
posted by tkchrist at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2005


I directed the play here at my school--Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. The performance was monday the 14th, we sold out the 326 seat venue and made about 2500 dollars for Murray's almost-completely-unfunded women's center.
There was less opposition and interference than I thought there would be. We held an open mic poetry reading at the campus coffee shop, a notorious hangout for a couple of the fundamentalist Christian student organizations, and they left en masse with much sighing and rolling of eyes. I told them it was an open mic for everyone and one tiny androgynous woman stayed behind to read that passage from the New Testament about how women should be submissive to their husbands. She seemed disappointed when she received polite applause and smiles instead of the angry reaction she was waiting for.
My supervisor at the library where I work (who's never seen it, only heard about it) told me it was filth and she was ashamed of me. I said parts of it were pretty filthy but too bad about that pesky first amendment.
I think the writing is, for the most part, crap. Awkward and often confusing. But it does seem to hit home with alot of people. And, at least from my experience, the amateur actors added rather than detracted from the performance. I deliberately cast non-actory people, and the performances ranged from honest and comfortable to near brilliant. Seriously.
posted by cilantro at 9:16 AM on February 17, 2005


Go Uganda!
posted by walljm at 9:23 AM on February 17, 2005


that her play can serve its artistic purpose without even being performed is nothing short of genius.

So if I write a play whose artistic purpose is to be ignored, am I a genius automatically if the play isn't performed?

Genius seems pretty easy to come by nowadays.
posted by Bugbread at 9:31 AM on February 17, 2005


I actually agree that staging the play here is inappropriate and somewhat pointless, from a political education point of view. I actually have a ticket for this Saturday's show in kampala (if it happens), and I'm predicting that it's going to be an audience full of muzungus (what the locals here call white people or foreigners). Outside of the teeny slice of economic elite, the rest of the population still largely beleives in the subservience of women to men as part of the natural/rightful order of things. I think that trying to make whatever points VM is aiming at is sort of skipping a necessary intermediary step in the understanding of equal gender relations.

I also really really really hope that this isn't being staged by ethnocentric foreigners who didn't bother to think about how innappropriate it was in the Ugandan context. I also really really hope that it isn't being staged so that it creates some renewed interest in the press releases Eve Ensler's agent sends out.

Although the whole debate has made for some hilarious radio. So maybe its all worth while.
posted by Kololo at 9:32 AM on February 17, 2005


This reminds me of the artist Judy Chicago who took a photo of herself removing a tampon ("Red Flag" -I believe that's the title), and it raised this huge debate in our art history class on whether it should be considered art, or if it is just frankly disgusting. Many of the women in my class saw the photograph not only disgusting, but one of the women viewed the vagina as a dirty place, mostly because of menstruation. What is interesting, is that this natural part of their body is so deeply despised... Anyway, I believe a couple of the women in the play begin to embrace their once "disgusting" vagina as a beautiful part of who they are. I think most people who despise the play, particularly women, clearly hate their vagina, and any attention it may receive. Too bad, its a great play.
posted by pixelsmoke at 11:10 AM on February 17, 2005


I dunno, I'm not particularly fond of my asshole, even though it's a natural part of my body. Sure, it's useful, but I'm not going to be taking pictures of it and taping them around my room. I'm not saying an asshole is like a vagina. (Not at all). I just have never understood arguments for or against anything based on "A is natural, therefore A is good" or "A is unnatural, therefore A is bad".

Hating part of your body is another matter entirely. I think assholes are disgusting, but I'm damn glad I have one. I certainly don't hate it.

Anyway, sorry, that was a bit of an aside about the type of arguments being made, not the conclusions (vaginas should not be hated), which I completely agree with.
posted by Bugbread at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2005


The same debate is taking place right now in New Orleans at my alma mater, Loyola University. Apparently the Archbishop tried to lay the smackdown on our President, Rev. Wildes, but he remained firm in supporting the Women Studies Department + Drama Honor Society's right to stage the play. Here's an excerpt of the amazing letter Rev. Wildes emailed members of the community and press explaining his position (wish I could find the entire text online):
[...]Loyola University, as a Jesuit university, is rooted in a tradition of Christian humanism that seeks to understand the human experience. To understand that experience – and to improve it in the long term – we must first listen to it. For too many centuries "human experience" has been seen through the eyes of a few individuals and small groups of people. Today, we are more conscious of the diverse views of human experience that are present in different races, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. We are conscious of the voices that have not been heard in the past. Among these voices are the important, and for too long overlooked, voices of women.
Viva los Jesuits! The same religious reactionaries unsuccessfully tried to keep Loyola Law alum and current president of NOW Kim Gandy from speaking a couple of years back. I'm glad there are high-ranking Christians like Rev. Wildes--and Jim Wallis--out there. It's refreshing to hear their voices cutting through the noise.
posted by leslita at 11:32 AM on February 17, 2005


I LOVE all my sexual organs. I am PRO Vagina. Vagina Vagina Vagina.

That fact doesn't make the above paragraph poetry, does it? Far from it.

And I don't need to buy a ticket to listen to a bunch of amateurs recite mediocre monologues about THEIR vaginas for an evening, even - no, especially - in the name of a cause. My artistic sensibilities trump my political ones, pixelsmoke. How dare you generalize. My critical judgements are based on more than subject matter.
posted by rainbaby at 11:36 AM on February 17, 2005


I think most people who despise the play, particularly women, clearly hate their vagina, and any attention it may receive. Too bad, its a great play.

pixelsmoke, maybe some people hated the play simply because it was really bad. Art can't hide behind the smokescreen of politics to defend itself from criticism.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 11:44 AM on February 17, 2005


Art can't hide behind the smokescreen of politics to defend itself from criticism.

Try telling that to anyone at all in my alma mater's art department.


I think most people who despise the play, particularly women, clearly hate their vagina

"Particularly" women? So there are some men who despise the play and clearly hate their vaginas?

Sorry, that was a snark, but in a good, jovial way. It was just kind of amusing.
posted by Bugbread at 11:51 AM on February 17, 2005


I just spent a good hour or so reading through kololo's blog. Didn't know we had anyone posting from Africa. I know we're not supposed to self-link but I'm not kololo so...I guess this is okay to say! Check it out, neat stuff, and pics too.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2005


Kololo most definately has a point -- from a second person posting from Africa. Certain ideas take time to develop and I think she is right in saying that there are some intermediary steps to take..

It is true that Africa and other countries dealing with poverty and modernity can be an easy target for the those wanting to vant their ideas and agendas.

However, women of such countries tend to be very receptive and, when given the chance, capable of many, many things. A lot of times, they have nothing to lose. While the VM may be shocking, I am not convinced that it is totally displaced.
posted by pwedza at 2:07 PM on February 17, 2005


I'm very glad to see that I am not the only person who thinks the Vagina Monologues are complete & utter trash.

rainbaby, bugbread -- thank you for stating what I was thinking.
posted by davidmsc at 8:36 PM on February 17, 2005


Stinkycheese, THANKS!!!
posted by Kololo at 9:54 PM on February 17, 2005


You don't go to Uganda with the play you want, you go to Uganda with the play you have.

Wait, are we just worried about the quality of the writing and cultural sensitivity here? Nowadays, I'm not particularly interested in being culturally sensitive to misogynist fuckheads.

If this is just a case of carpetbagging foreigners, then it's probably not productive, but I don't see how it could make things worse unless violence ensues. If it's grassroots, then, holy shit, that's a big deal and it's something to be celebrated by everyone who believes in equal rights and freedom of expression.

I went to a staging of VM on Valentine's Day with my girlfriend (my idea, not that that should really matter, though) and, yeah, it could be better written and, yeah, even I was offended at parts. So what? It addresses and attempts to resolve real issues that affect everyone. At the very least, you know your ticket price is going to a worthy cause and you get to gawk at an international phenomenon. That's more than I can say for most past times.
posted by Skwirl at 11:34 PM on February 17, 2005


Wait, are we just worried about the quality of the writing and cultural sensitivity here? Nowadays, I'm not particularly interested in being culturally sensitive to misogynist fuckheads.

Er...is the audience of the VM normally composed of misogynist fuckheads? Isn't that a bit odd? I was under the impression it was composed of people on the receiving end of misogyny. And that's who the discussion about cultural sensitivity is about.

I dunno, just seems odd that someone would put on a show about the oppression of people A to a group of people A but not be concerned about being insulting to people A.
posted by Bugbread at 2:25 AM on February 18, 2005


yeah, it could be better written and, yeah, even I was offended at parts. So what? It addresses and attempts to resolve real issues that affect everyone. At the very least, you know your ticket price is going to a worthy cause and you get to gawk at an international phenomenon. That's more than I can say for most past times.

From one rodent to another, you deserve better pastimes, Skwirl. And don't forget that you share with the playwright a similar set of cultural languages. That makes a huge difference.
posted by squirrel at 2:35 AM on February 20, 2005


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