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Saturday, 27 January 2007


Lucky Spinster

all right, fine. i'll bite.

regarding men not being allowed to perform in TVM, the rules do state that men are not supposed to perform in the show, but they also state that the term "woman" can be someone who was born either with a vagina or as a transgender female. there is an optional transgender monologue, and in 2004 there was the first ever transgender V-Day performance of TVM.

i read/skimmed the two posts referenced and couldn't really get a handle on what his point was. not sure about this idea of male companion monologues in response to the vagina monologues. is this supposed to be monologues by men about their penises? about how they feel about vaginas? is it a joke?

IF it is a joke or somehow meant to belittle The Vagina Monologues (and i'm not sure it is, i'm just saying), no matter how flawed TVM may be, its goal to end violence toward women and girls is worthy of respect and attention. (and i know no one would officially argue that it's not a worthy goal, but it seems to me blog posts that intellectually try to parse it apart for purposes of pointing out how silly it is do just that, even if obliquely. if he openly mocked it as satire or parody that would be funny and interesting, or who knows, maybe even horrifying because it would be truthful. maybe that's what he's trying to do with the male version of TVM. how do men feel about vaginas? pretty angry and conflicted, i'd say, just from the number of rapes that are actually reported and from the amount of porn devoted to degrading women that's out there.)

and, um, if we were talking about an evening of monologues devoted to exploring the struggles of being born black or native american or [pick your historically oppressed demographic], i don't think you'd get people either seriously or jokingly arguing that there should be a white response. part of the whole point is that women have been shamed and ashamed for too long.

and i'm here to tell you, no matter how sensitive a man might be, there are just some things you're not gonna be able to understand about what it means to be female unless you were born with a vagina or are transgender.

and that is why i believe it would be disrespectful for men to perform in this living document. it is not art, it is a documentary. is it heavy-handed and didactic? unfortunately, at times. is it perhaps overambitious in scope? sure. does it set itself up for mockery with its stridency and stretched cleverness (e.g., The Vulva Choir)? embarrassingly, yeah. but it is also wonderfully personal and earnest and heartbreaking for all its flaws. and that's why it's successful. women need this.

it just bugs me when there is this sense that it's okay to dismiss feminist issues, even obliquely, through reductive humor. sexism, much like racism, has just grown more subtle over the years.

Lucky Spinster

"how do men feel about vaginas? pretty angry and conflicted, i'd say..."

didn't mean to generalize. i know there are plenty of men out there who behave quite peacefully toward vaginas.

i guess this hits home because of the work i've been doing on "Rape of Lucrece" these last few weeks.


Yeah. What she said...

Seriously though, after reading through his posts I had no better idea of what he was actually going for. I mean, does he wish Ensler had written a part for a man in TVM's? Or does he want the right to cast a man as the sixty-year-old woman who finally discovers her sexuality? And why? Or is he lamenting the lack of male-power pieces in the theater cannon? And aren't there a lot of those even if they don't directly address his organ?

So I'm just confused. But I think Callie's got it covered.

And I'm sorry, but I can't stand the snap previews. When you first put it up I was reading the article about Ari's plays in Atlanta and suddenly here's this big pop-up of Ari's forehead. But just his forehead. And it's a lovely forehead. But surprising, you know, when you aren't expecting it.

Lucky Spinster

omigod i was all set to respond to your response with something to the effect of "thanks for piping in because i was beginning to fear my sole contribution to this blog is my ability to shut a room up"...

...but then i read what you wrote about ari's pop-up forehead and so now i have been laughing for like two solid minutes.

so thank you for that.


Come now, Spinster: You didn't expect the guys to jump in on this one, did you? [grin] But perhaps I will. Having started it, and all.

First, about Nick: Don't know him, but I don't think he's doing anything more than taking the piss -- probably for the heavy-handedness and didacticism and stretched cleverness you yourself diagnose, though I don't claim to speak for him. I genuinely don't see these posts as actually mocking the goals of V-Day; the machine it's become, perhaps, but not the goals.

Second, about the "male companion pieces": As I read it, he's responding to someone else's call for such plays, not suggesting himself that they'd be a good idea. (Though to be fair he seems to endorse the notion, however cheekily.) I do think he has a point when he suggests that a listserv subscribership that can handily produce a list of “Plays about Rural Gay/Lesbian/Transgendered People” might reasonably be expected to come up with a few level-headed ideas about such companion pieces, though, regardless of whether anyone thinks it's a good idea.  Perhaps he means to suggest that the silence on the LMDA listserv is born of a certain sense of intimidation?

Third: Nah, you're right.  I think he crosses a line, at least eventually.  For a while the history of V-day stuff is amusing, but frolicking in the overlapping territories of castration and female genital mutilation strikes me as overdoing it.  (As for the Squeegee Elvis and the evolution towards a Third Sex, your guess is as good as mine.)

Fourth, and here we go, treading gingerly: If only for the sake of the inquiry, can we revisit the question of men performing in The Vagina Monologues? I ask not least because of the Norah Vincent book, which in a chapter on pack sexuality among blue-collar men contains this remarkable passage:

"The more I observed about the painful compulsions of male sexuality while in the company of men as a man, and the more I understood about the deep insecurity that goes along with being man in the company of women, the more I understood what a ham-handed charade men were often putting on in front of each other, all of it in a desperate effort to hide that insecurity and pain."

Staggering, that: She knows all too well how "angry and conflicted" men are about women's bodies, about female sexuality. And yet in part because she's disguised and among them, she's able to see past the swagger and understand how much of that anger and conflict is rooted in insecurity and pain -- to understand that men are angry and conflicted about their own sexuality, too, about the males they're allowed and not allowed to be. 

If, by assuming the outward show of another gender, a woman can discover something so valuable, and express her discovery so charitably, might we not allow for -- hope for -- some glimmer of discovery were we to challenge a male actor to assume the personality and the pain of one of the Vagina Monologues' women?

It occurs to me (partly because we're in this tricky territory, and partly because it came up a week or so ago) that one of the most interestingly gendered performances I've ever seen was in the Theater Alliance's Slaughter City in 2003: Aubrey Deeker was the Cod, so you had a man playing a woman masquerading as a man--a woman, moreover, who's a kind of avatar of exploited women across industrialized history.  It was beautifully played, respectfully played, honestly played.

Again, just for the sake of the query: Wouldn't one generous, hopeful stance on the question of men and The Vagina Monologues, now that we're 10 years on, be one that acknowledges the righteousness of the original women-only impulse -- and yet allows for the possibility that men might be able to approach it now with a similar honesty and respect?

I expect I'm naive. But when I'm not being thoroughly jaded, I try to believe that all of us mean well -- so I'd like to think something might come of the experiment.

Finally: Ari's forehead was indeed a riot. But due to popular demand, the Snap previews, huzzah, are history.



Thanks for the attention and the double-edged critique of my posts. I was somewhat apprehensive about the posse you sent after me. I see you got the Lucky Spinster and sas to saddle their horses, but so far they seem a bit reluctant to read, as opposed to skim, what I wrote. And both you and your posse still haven’t really ventured out of the corral at the theaterboy® domain, although I do appreciate Tboy’s closer read and attempt at dialogue. As you point out, boys especially need to walk gingerly around the subject.

I want to post more on V-Day, so I won’t answer much here in the comment section or at your blog, but I will say this:

“I think he crosses a line, at least eventually. For a while the history of V-day stuff is amusing, but frolicking in the overlapping territories of castration and female genital mutilation strikes me as overdoing it.”

I gave that section its own special Swiftian title, “A Modest Proposal to Boy Playwrights” to underscore the satire. Of course I am not advocating genital mutilation. The modest proposal contrasts the two contexts, one historical, one cultural.

Today we find the castration of boys to sing in opera barbaric and perverse. However, only a few centuries ago, even the Pope thought differently.

Germaine Greer's Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility expanded her critique of Western attitudes toward sexuality, fertility, family, and the imposition of those attitudes on the rest of the world. Her target again was the nuclear family, government intervention in sexual behavior, and the commercialization of sexuality and women's bodies. Greer argued that the world is over-populated only by Western standards of comfortable living. Advocating poverty over consumerism, she frequently endorsed practices at odds with the beliefs of most Western feminists. She wrote that female genital mutilation had to be considered in context and might be compared to breast augmentation in the West.


Honestly T-boy, I would be totally game to see how gender bending in the V-monologues played out (though I doubt that will ever legally happen) if it was done well and clearly and with some purpose. And I will say this (now treading gingerly myself) I have vivid memories of a handful of the most textured and interesting "female characters" I have seen on screen or stage, all from men playing women (two that come to mind are the lead in Farewell My Concubine and an actor playing Katharine opposite Mark Rylance's Henry V at the Globe many years ago. Yeah, the circumstances of both of those are totally different, as one was a part of the plot line and the other was playing it out as the Elizabethans would, but regardless both "women" were charming, complex and riveting. And I'd definitely add Aubrey's Cod to that list.)

But then, I'm not an actress vying for too few parts with throngs of other women. And I suspect that if I was, I'd take greater issue with the idea.

The Norah Vincent book sounds fascinating. The impact of gender roles/expectations is an endlessly rich topic to mine. This is a bit of a tangent but... it came up last night in a discussion that a female director gets used to being surrounded by a design team of men. I kind of wish it were not this way (that's not to say that I would not trade away any of the phenomenal guys--and one woman--I am working with right now) but that's the way it is. Ms. Sivigny talked about how she is sometimes the only woman in the room during production meetings. When does a male director (or designer) ever find himself surrounded by a (nearly) all female design team? Ever? And how do these breakdowns change the dynamics in the room?

Not necessarily for better or worse. But gender and sexuality influence all relationships, there's no way around that. I guess along the same lines one could examine how a gay male director interacts differently than a straight male... etc., etc., and all the blurry-blurry lines in between. And then maybe it's not about gender at all. Maybe it is just a case-by-case basis of how different humans interact, and the different tactics they have learned to use to get what they want.

Anyway, no real answers, just interesting fodder for thought.


Nick's comment posted as I was posting, so I'm not simply ignoring it. To be fair--you are absolutely right Nick, I have not taken the time to do a careful read of your posts but the reluctance is all about lack of time, not about lack of interest. Maybe in the next few days... we'll see how other things fall out.

Lucky Spinster

similarly, it is not reluctance but a lack of time that prevents me from reading slowly. i took tboy's specific invitation because i didn't want to shy away from the discussion completely simply for lack of time. i owned up to my skimming at the top of my comment, and i probably will not have the time to go back and study the posts.

i am all for gender-bending. (and am using it in the play I am now writing. like now. as in today. that opens in just over a week. hence the no-time thing.) but i think gender-reversal should enlighten or cull something that otherwise cannot be accessed from the text. trying to do that with the vagina monologues just feels like a stunt to me.

but sure, men in the vagina monologues--i'd be curious to see if having men talk about being raped in their vaginas or discovering their clitorises or getting their periods or learning to love their vaginas by having a boyfriend stare at it and get turned on adds something to the vagina monologues. why not. but i'd be more interested in hearing fresh, well-written material by men about women's sexuality or their own genitals for that matter.

it's like can't women just have their own thing without men needing to claim it and rework it? isn't that part of the point--that women are tired of being quiet and ladylike and letting their bodies be used by art and media in ways that often promote sexual violence? can't we just have our vagina monologues? is it really that threatening?

it just rubs me the wrong way. pardon the pun.

also, i think gender-bending can further an artistic goal, but i think the vagina monologues is more of a documentary than something inherently theatrical.

that's all i have time for. and i didn't really have time for that.

and please, stop worrying about treading so lightly. i mean, opinions should be strong or they're kind of worthless. as long as we're not insulting each other personally we should explore these issues frankly. maybe it gets heated. so what. maybe we'd actually get to something new through disagreeing if everyone called it like they really saw it and stopped tiptoeing around. 'cause political correctness just leads to passive-aggressiveness in my opinion.

Kathleen A.

I come wandering into the party late like always and with a suspect sort of jello dish to offer at a table covered in jello dishes: I don’t see why men shouldn’t be allowed to perform in the VMonos. I see now after I have written all this that tboy did indeed take this on and Spinster gave a long good answer. But I gotta say, what hooks me from all this smart material here is only my own disgust at learning about the prohibition (yes, I only learned about it here. Bad feminist, bad; no biscuit. I only saw VMonos once, performed by Ensler herself at Studio many years ago and am not educated in these details and rules of performance).

First off, I admit that I respond first as an artist and only some unnumbered point down the line from my socio-political center (I know, for some the definition of “artist” necessarily includes response to that cultural framework). As artists, we (hopefully!) constantly get work that includes learning about/entering/empathizing with something otherwise largely or even wholly alien. So men not having vaginas not an impediment to “playing” someone who does, OK, check. On my sheet anyway.

Theater is after all an art form, and it is artistry, not reality, that is supposed to bring us these (real) reports. And if we reply “but the men can’t understand” or “men don’t have the right hardware to make this meaningful” or even “they can’t represent” then I’d say we’re exposing a weakness in the VMonos themselves – that we can’t see them as theatrical art but only as political rallies being performed in theaters. And then we’re in the land of Tim Robbins’ wholly un-theatrical (really, it was more of a political speech) Embedded where nothing is elucidated because no oppositions are present. Spinster says it’s a documentary more than a theater event but all that does for me is invoke a sliding scale of understanding and awareness: it doesn’t get the non-theatrical Pass into documentary until it’s being performed by the people who experienced it.

That’s all the reason I need, but I offer some others for those who are more politically-minded than myself: I feel there would be quite a bit of potency in watching such a stark opposition as this (not just artistic allowing: embracing the disorientation and then seeing what comes of it). For whatever reason men are excluded by the rules (I am going to assume it doesn’t say anything like “them what’s done it to us!” so will call it X) – it is in fact the X factor itself that would make a man’s attempt on one of those monologues so potentially vivid. I don’t think that needs to be claiming and reworking, I think we’d get maybe some understanding, maybe some sorrow, maybe some apology. Sure, maybe some Man Show buffoonery but “your majesty and I are free souls, it touches us not.”

And even if we don’t think anything would be gained by that exploration we might at least think that something is lost by responding to aggressive exclusion with passive exclusion.

Has all this already been covered and I’m being slow? But that’s all I’ve got. In theater, we should err on the side of trying it even if in politics we are more careful. I’d rather find out, personally, than disallow.

Lucky Spinster

no, it hasn't already been covered, KA, you just said it much more intelligently and less heated than some of us.

you're right, it's not literally a documentary but it's also never resonated with me as art with a capital A. it's more of a machine at this point. (i do, however, think it was closer to Art when it was ensler's solo show, which, by the way, i also saw back in '98 at studio--did we go together?)

i think it'd be a really cool experiment for some of us to gather a dozen or so gents and have a private reading just to see what the effect would be. it'd have to be a sooper-secret, knock-three-times-at-the-window, say "the monkey ate the chicken" kind of thing to get in the door and we'd probably get spanked by eve herself for doing it but...anyone game?

rather than argue for men to be able to perform in them for real, why not create a new, more interesting piece of art that tackles issues of sexual violence in a less precious and didactic way. one of the things that has always bugged me about TVM is that the piece as a whole and the individual monologues seem to require a uniform response from the audience.


While the discussion of gender bending TVM is very interesting (I too did not know about the gender rules) the bigger question is; why should it be done?

I am not exactly a fan of the show, but understand that its weight lies in the fact that these are stories about and spoken by women. Just as A Raisin in the Sun is about the African American perpective and
The Diary of Ann Frank is about a young girl's perspective.

I have no qualms with men doing TVM and indeed, wish them well, but does it serve to enrich the piece? Would we serve the story if we cast caucasians in roles written for African American's? Would Ann Frank be brought to light by casting a boy in the title role? Maybe, but it seems like its reaching more for shock value than theatrical experience.


...and now I read all the comment thread and see that LS asked this very question at the beginning. Ha cha cha.

Lucky Spinster

see, i keep mulling this over. because i can't quite figure out the locus of my issues with this.

here's the thing--the entire play is about sexual violence towards women. and that is not to say that sexual violence is not sometimes perpetuated BY women nor that it is not sometimes directed TOWARDS men. (hm. a quadruple negative.) it is not about sexual violence in general. it is about sexual violence towards women and girls. (and one-third of rape victims are under 18.) and sexual violence MOSTLY occurs at the hands of men. and sexual violence towards women is still going on. to the tune of 400,000 crimes annually in the US alone.* that's over a thousand A DAY.

SO, if i may try this angle...

IF a black american had interviewed other black americans about their experiences of violence at the hands of white americans, and IF the interviews had been turned into a show that was performed every year for 10 years to raise awareness and money to stop this violence, would we really expect it to be okay for white american actors, no matter how talented or sensitive they were to lobby for the ability to tell these stories on stage? would we think they had a valid argument?

maybe some of you are still saying yes.

i would argue that that would be pointless and insensitive. black americans, even though they are no longer legally enslaved, even though they have the right to vote, many still have to deal daily with the repercussions of historical and ongoing racial violence.

women, even though they are no longer legal property of men, even though they have the right to vote, many still have to deal daily with the repercussions of historical and ongoing gender violence.

i don't think a man can fully understand how women live in constant, instinctual threat assessment mode...

does a man think travelling alone abroad is an unsafe idea because of the potential of sexual violence? do men usually try to organize their day so that they're not riding the metro alone late at night? do men know that having long hair is a liability and can be used to grab you and hold you down during an attack? does a man sometimes decide not to go into the 7-11 late at night because they don't like the way the guy in the truck next to him is smiling at him? does a man know that it's not smart to wear skirts if you're walking alone at night because a rapist at least has to struggle a bit with pants?

do men need to call someone when they get home just to reassure someone that nothing happened to them?

many women live their lives feeling like targets because we are. we are raised to be vigilant because the reality is bad shit is done to us. those of us who have been attacked feel this way, and those of us who have girlfriends and sisters who have been attacked feel this way.

sexual violence towards women and girls is something that is happening RIGHT NOW. it is a fight that is not over. while i have an open mind and can entertain the thought of men reading these pieces in private as a sort of experiment to see what epiphanies might occur, it would probably not be the healing opportunity it is for many audience members were these stories told to them by members of the gender that perpetrates the vast majority of these crimes toward women.

so that's why i'm strident on this and why i feel like even entertaining the idea diminishes women in the first place. it just feels like arguing for arguing's sake.

*nearly 200,000 rapes and sexual assaults were reported in the US in 2005 according to the US Bureau of Justice, and it is thought that the number of actual rapes is twice that.

Kathleen A.

Well I promise you I'm not arguing just to argue, but if it feels that way I'll make this last posting and then sit on down!

I'm thinking about CLOUD 9. As I understand the way you're supposed to cast those roles, a white actor in the first act plays a black house servant. It's supposed to set us (and the actor) to a furious meditation on race, I think, and I don't recall when Catalyst did it a few seasons ago that anyone said it was pointless or insensitive. Instead, running on the very energy that is also fueling this thread, it drives home points about race and subjugation.

Without a personal example I suppose my argument fails and I'm not offering up personal examples here. But I believe this more than rationally or even Buddhistly: that powerful people learning the meaning of, speaking the language of and internalizing the images of their (or any) victims would not be trivial or re-victimizing. And, apropos of the VMonos, it could also make for meaningful theater.

I guess if epiphanies could occur in private readings I think it WOULD be healing to a larger audience -- all that catharsis whatnot we learned about Greek theater. So maybe Spinster and I are just differing about what is supposed to happen in the room during performance: safety to grieve the issues without toxic interlopers for her, as many people included, questioned and perspectives viewed as possible for me? Not to put words in your fine mouth, m'dear.

Off to rehearse a broad Scottish comedy. Ahhh, disorientation.


Thanks, Spinster, for taking time to comment over at Rat Sass. It’s really valuable to hear a perspective from within the machine. I have been following everyone's comments here at Tboy. I am pulling what you said over at Rat Sass, attempting to tie it into the discussion here:

"i think the vagina monologues themselves are not worth heavy dissection either as Art or as Feminist Theory–it’s really neither, just a fundraising machine."

I think you are correct in classifying TVM (but only in its V-Day manifestations) as fundraising machine. We can distinguish these special royalty-free V-Day productions from other productions of the play.

I think that as fundraising theatre event for feminist social action, TVM could almost be seen as exemplar of Brechtian theatre.

What kind of actor do you attempt to cast in Brechtian theatre? There should be a unique gauge for talent in such casting. Looking at the Vulva Choir we would surmise that the prime attribute for membership is “celebrity.” I imagine local producers of V-Day productions also cast TVM with celebrity as a principal criteria.

Story more than character is important in TVM. Oprah and Jane Fonda are both actors, each with some ability to inhabit character roles, but TVM will primarily use their talents as celebrity, feminist, and storyteller in creating its theatre. Never once does the audience forget that it is Oprah and Jane on stage.

I would agree you that when TVM is produced outside of V-Day’s Worldwide Campaign, it loses most of its value as art and feminist theory. It had its day as that a decade ago when Eve Ensler performed it solo. One would need a radical approach and exploration of the text (document) to reinvent that value again. That’s why I am game for the proposal you presented over at Tboy. I’m in Brooklyn but I’d definitely be down for a ride to DC for the day to play with you. I realize you and Kathleen A. are at odds here on a public exploration, but it would be interesting if the two of you actualized your arguments in a private reading/discussion with a group of “collaborators” (full definition). Soapstone, a theatre I know in SF, began as documentary theatre of victims of violence. They then went into prisons to work with perpetrators of violence, realizing that the perpetrators often were also victims. Soapstone is a much more frightening and amazing exploration than is being proposed here, but offers an interesting parallel I think.

Lucky Spinster said:
“i think it’d be a really cool experiment for some of us to gather a dozen or so gents and have a private reading just to see what the effect would be. it’d have to be a sooper-secret, knock-three-times-at-the-window, say “the monkey ate the chicken” kind of thing to get in the door and we’d probably get spanked by eve herself for doing it but…anyone game?

rather than argue for men to be able to perform in them for real, why not create a new, more interesting piece of art that tackles issues of sexual violence in a less precious and didactic way.”

Lucky Spinster

hey nick,

sorry it's taken me so long to reply. this entire week was made up of 15-hour days i kid you not.

i am game in theory but am completely overstretched schedule-wise. the soonest i could make something like that happen would be april and maybe not even then. i'll put it on the back burner. i do think it would be an interesting experiment. maybe someone else can organize it?

and it may look that way from time to time, but i never think of kathleen and i as being at odds, at least not in a directly oppositional way--we just have different thinking processes. i always find her take on things incredibly interesting. one of the things i treasure about her as an artist and a friend is her stunningly unique viewpoint. i always learn something from hanging out with her.

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