Feminism in the Service of Exploitation

January 2001

Our apologies if you haven't yet heard of the dubious off-Broadway hit with the shameless title, but the splashy success of The Vagina Monologues simply requires comment. Created and performed by Eve Ensler, this one-woman show has also been performed by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Brooke Shields, and Alanis Morrisette in various cities, including such disparate outposts as Jerusalem, Johannesburg, and San Francisco. Also, a book and an HBO special -- both of the same name -- have been released to eager audiences.

The contents of the play should be obvious given its title, but David Brooks, writing in The Weekly Standard (Feb. 7, 2000), offered a useful summation: "Ms. Ensler is an attractive woman who sits up on stage in a revealing black nightgown talking dirty and moaning fake orgasms." The underlying message of the show is that "great sex is possible between people who have absolutely no emotional commitment to each other."

While it's tempting to dismiss this self-indulgent exercise as just another incarnation of sleazy porn masquerading as high-brow erotica for the theater-going Our Bodies, Ourselves set, Ensler's motives bespeak a grandiose, if incongruous, vision.

Ensler, in a newspaper interview prior to her November 2000 San Francisco appearances, insisted that her "chief goal" is "ending violence towards women," which, according to her calculations, would create "a world where racism and poverty could not exist." She also proclaimed, with typically bombastic theatrical flair, that "Stopping the violation of women will affect everything on the planet." Toward that end, Ensler has used her prestige to create what she calls the International Stop Rape Contest, in which women worldwide are encouraged to submit "strategic or fantastical ideas for the eradication of rape," the three best of which will be "awarded huge grants to implement their plans in their countries."


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New Oxford Notes: January 2001

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