Vagina Monologues (1990)

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Dublin Core

Title

Vagina Monologues (1990)

Description

The Vagina Monologues is the title of an episodic play written in 1996 by Eve Ensler, which has been performed at hundreds of colleges and universities around Valentine’s Day every year since. To quote Ensler herself, “The play explores consensual and nonconsensual sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation, direct and indirect encounters with reproduction, vaginal care, menstrual periods, prostitution, and several other topics through the eyes of women with various ages, races, sexualities, and other differences.” The play and its bestselling script have been widely controversial for many reasons, and this was no different at the College of Saint Benedict in the early 2000’s.

Initial attempts from forward-thinking Bennies to have readings of the play in 2003 failed, but by spring of 2004, plans of hosting the play for Valentine’s Day in 2005 began. Immediately, student organizers spearheaded by Johanna Hatch and accompanied by faculty Dr. Smiles and Dr. Wengler ran into countless issues. Word of the plan became widely known, and a newsletter from the President of St. Mary’s College (Now St. Mary’s University) informed students that she was canceling their production of The Vagina Monologues on account of an “overwhelmingly negative response from students, faculty, and staff, and from external constituencies”. These external constituencies primarily consisted of the Cardinal Newman Society, whose complaints to St. Ben’s numbered in the dozens. The Cardinal Newman Society is “an American 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization founded in 1993 whose stated purpose is to promote and defend faithful Catholic education”. They campaigned aggressively against any Catholic colleges/universities that were hosting The Vagina Monologues, with messages being sent to the Dean at the time, Rita Kneusel, such as, “I am not willing to make contributions to St. Ben’s until I know that this abominable play will not be hosted at St. Ben’s. It is contrary to the ‘Theology of the Body’ and the encyclical Deo Caritas Esf, and it does no service for Christian women. Please assure me on this issue.” Ultimately, the student body and their backing staff prevailed with an audience of 250 filling O'Connell's for a one-night-only reading of the play. According to Johanna Hatch, it required having multiple professors overseeing the event and that, through the format of a one-credit ILP (Independent Learning Project), “academic credit was involved in this learning experience.” In the end, making the event academic allowed it to pass at the school. However, the backlash that this play received is not to be forgotten. 

An abundance of letters from the local bishop and concerned parents that tried to protest the event in 2006 and 2007 are evidence that the controversy never went away, but why was it a controversy? Those in favor of the presentation of the play argued that it brought together the community and advocated for women’s rights. Critics of its playing argued that it degraded women and was inappropriate. The controversy surrounding The Vagina Monologues, put into context of the history of sexist behavior CSB and SJU have been implicated in, ultimately began because opponents to the play chose ignorance, which is a theme that has been repeated time and time again. Multiple different letters from members of the CNS used the same argument -- that the play had a vignette about the sexual feelings of a six-year-old, without explaining into further detail.

Date

1990

Citation

“Vagina Monologues (1990),” College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University Libraries, accessed June 15, 2024, https://csbsjulib.omeka.net/items/show/1598.