I read The Vagina Monologues far too recently for someone with a degree in literature (see what I did there? I turned a self-deprecating comment into self-praise.) You should take a couple of hours to read it yourself or better yet, catch a performance (I’ve not yet managed the latter). I read it for the first time just a few weeks ago in fact, because somebody asked me to make a response to it from the perspective of a Christian woman. So here it is: my Christian Woman’s Perspective TM .
The content of the Vagina Monologues definitely could not be considered to be “Christian content” (I am reminded of a comment I read somewhere years ago about how Christian makes a great noun but a lousy adjective). In the parlance of our increasingly stupid era it is certainly not in the “family friendly” category (whatever that might entail). (For the record, it’s advised that nobody under the age of 13 should be present at a production of the play.) The content recounts a sample of the experiences of hundreds of American women in how they have viewed, thought of, spoken of and experienced their vaginas. (Come on women, say it with me. VAGINAS.) The content deals with shame around the body, shame around sexuality, experiences of profound sexual violence, experiences of sexual awakening and sexual repression, menstruation, prostitution and lesbianism. In short, it deals with many of the experiences of life that are unique to women. These experiences are, I believe, as relevant to Irish women as they are to American women.
The play has been accused by Christians almost universally of being immoral, or of promoting lesbian relationships. So let’s say for argument’s sake that both of these accusations hold. What then should our reaction be, as Christian Women TM ?
If as Christians we can neither participate in nor view any form of art that expresses the brokenness of humanity, then we cannot participate in or view any of the forms of art with which we’re already very familiar. We can no longer read novels. We can no longer watch films or television programmes (Grey’s Anatomy, I’m looking at you). Art by its very nature exposes our humanity in its broken state. The Vagina Monologues is uncomfortable reading and viewing because it deals frankly with taboo words and subjects (VAGINA!). Can’t we be trusted as Christians to engage with taboo words and subjects with the open minds of those who are secure in the Gospel truth? Is it not always valuable to hear the stories of others? It is after all, our story, and the story of the life of Christ, that we are trying to unfold in our own lives, in our own church communities and with our non-Christian friends. If we expect others to listen as we drone on, why then can others not expect the same respect from us?
God speaks to us in his own ways. Karl Barth said, “God may speak to us through Russian Communism, through a flute concerto, through a blossoming shrub or through a dead dog. We shall do well to listen to him if he really does so.” Are we not open to hearing the rumblings of the spirit in a conversation about the rape of women, or a person’s right to pleasure?
But what of participating in the the sharing of such stories? What about being a Christian woman, performing in the Vagina Monologues? Do Christian women not have vaginas (do you guys not? I think I do)? Do they not experience sexual pleasure? Do they not experience shame, hurt and rape? May a Christian woman not act as a voice for someone who has no voice or even more simply, stand in empathy with another (note the word “other” here)? Although vocalising the truth of the Gospel is something that all Christians are called to, not all activities are about vocalising the Gospel. When we watch Coronation Street or paint a still-life or listen to a symphony or bake banana bread or write a song about a loved one, are we to be reprimanded for not telling the full story of the gospel in our re-creative activities? Is it a rule that we, if we are actors, can only be in plays where all the characters are Christians? (I don’t want to see that play.)
Maybe we should begin by boycotting the bible, with its tales of concubines, prostitution and faithlessness to God. Because these stories are our stories. The Vagina Monologues are the stories of women and we should not try to censor those stories. In fact, perhaps we should wait before speaking and, for once, as a church, simply listen. Perhaps we will learn something. Perhaps we will hear the rumblings of the spirit or the stirrings of our own stories. We cannot be afraid of what we perceive to be darkness, if we make the pretty outrageous claim that we do, to be those who bear the light. VAGINA!