Behind Enemy Lines: A man set adrift on a sea of estrogen

The Vagina Monologues Review by Chris Baker

Final performances, Today 2 pm / 8pm Hendricks Chapel

Editor's note: The review may contain offensive subject matter, read with maturity.

It goes by many names, but on Friday night I had only one thing on my mind:vaginas.

It was the first time I’d ever seen The Vagina Monologues.

The play boils down to a poetry slam about pussy. Students Advocating Sexual Safety and Empowerment sponsored the evening of vulgar sensuality and erotic femininity at (of all places) Hendrick’s Chapel at Syracuse University—the irony of holding a play littered with obscenities and orgasmic screaming at a church seemed lost on most. About two-dozen young women took the stage (altar) and spent 90 minutes soliloquizing all aspects of female genitalia, from pubic hair and maintenance to menstruation and tampons to abuse and rape.

As a man, I approached the play apprehensively, as if I were a spy marooned behind enemy lines. I tried not to draw attention to myself as I intently scribbled notes about the performance. Not until afterward did I realize the subtle creepiness of a man sitting alone taking notes at a play about vaginas.

The play itself is in its 16th year of production—writer Eve Ensler first ran the show off Broadway in 1996. It has become a cultural icon and is often pigeonholed as a man-hating feminist tirade. In some ways, it is exactly that—one brief excerpt alerts the audience the clitoris has far more nerve endings than the penis and is the “ultimate” pleasure center. But even I, a door-holding, check-paying, jar-opening chauvinist (gentleman), found myself unknowingly nodding in agreement for most of the show.

It became clear right off the bat that I was not the play’s target audience (as if the title hadn’t tipped me off). But the monologues were delivered passionately enough for me to relate to each woman, even when I had no clue what she was talking about (why are pads so funny?)

Nakisa Nassersharif opened my eyes to the embarrassment a young woman feels the first time her panties flood with excitement and Laura Hollahan followed with an equally quirky account of the shame and pride associated with a vagina. Brittany Brathwaite’s deliverance of “Say It,” a monologue about Japanese rape victims during WWII, was the standout performance of the evening. She stunned the chapel with her chilling recitation of the horrors of sexual abuse at the hands of countless soldiers.

Despite a few minor technical difficulties (there was probably a man working the sound board...KIDDING!) the play flowed seamlessly. The audience laughed, chatted and even cried along with the lively performances onstage.

So what did I take out of the experience? First off, I learned the sign language gesture for “vagina” (I counted the word's use 126 times throughout the play so the signers had their hands full.) Second, I realized I’ll never know what it’s like to have a triple orgasm. And third, I witnessed firsthand the drastic generation differences between how (and whether) women should display and flaunt their sexuality.

The play suggests that women are defined by what lurks between their legs (welcome to our world ladies!) But it approaches the breadth and complexity of a woman through the critical lens of that body part. The Vagina Monologues aggressively told me that there is little I can do (or feel) that a woman cannot.

If I’ve got one thing going for me, however, it’s knowing that at least I can still pee standing up.