Sisters are doing it for themselves

Georgina Francis reviews Saoirse Anton and Aine Palmer’s production of Eve Ansler’s famous 1996 play

The Vagina Monologues was a profound and intriguing experience which I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life. Directed by Saoirse Anton and Aine Palmer each monologue was witty with a serious message performed by a passionate group of eight women. Every woman left the room feeling taller and for that they deserve high praise. That’s what they are fundamentally about – empowering women.

Eve Ensler took inspiration from interviews of hundreds of women when writing The Vagina Monologues. Each monologue addresses a different issue like lesbianism, menstruation and rape. Ultimately its “anything vagina-related”. Monologues can be added, so while it was written in 1996, there have been ones added focusing on trans issues.

Interestingly, the play was held in the Grand Lodge of Freemasons, notorious for not allowing women to join. Even more intriguing was the performance room. High-ceilinged blue walls with intricate gold decorations were dominated by life-size paintings (of men only), while the space was enclosed by an altar on one end and an organ on the other. It was reminiscent of a church. With a real ambiance of “an old boys club” I half-expected to see Mycroft from Sherlock walk in. Whether this location was a deliberate choice or not it certainly was a contrast.

In total I counted seventeen Monologues. One monologue in particular must have stuck out to the mostly female audience as it told the story of a woman going to a Vagina Workshop because she had no idea where her clitoris was. She had become “terrified I did not have a clitoris”.  She discussed her experience at the workshop and her discovery of her clitoris.

Keeping with the times one monologue discussed the difficulty in being a trans woman: “They beat the girl out of my body.” It was a powerful piece, as evocative sentences like “I ached to be completed” gave a brief glimpse into the terror and difficulties of being a transgender person.

While most pieces held a lot of humour some were ones you could not begin to joke about. When statistics regarding female genital mutilation were announced the audience was silent: “30 million being cut with a glass shard.” It was a reminder of battles still to be fought in the fight for women’s rights and the traumatic experiences millions of girls face around the world being pinned down and cut with a glass shard or razor.

Later we were reminded of the frightening fact that in Ireland “1 in 16 female students will be raped in Ireland”. Coming from a course that has just over fifteen women in it I was particularly struck by this fact. The monologue then went on to recount the story of a girl who was raped in a war-torn country. She described how she felt like there was a “dead animal sewn down there […] its throat was slit”. The language was blunt which made the experience even more heart wrenching as she told us of her 7 days of rape and how she was filled with “rifles […] bottles too” and by the end, how “ one side of the lip is completely gone” due to the violence.

A piece of slam poetry addressed the popular topic of dress codes, chanting “my short skirt is not an indication nor an invitation”. These heavy topics were then uplifted by a humorous story of a once lawyer turned sex worker on how she likes to make women moan. Sitting casually in a chair she imitated the different types of moans different women make and had the audience in bits when imitating an Irish Catholic woman moaning she went silent.

My favourite piece was when the word cunt was reclaimed. Sounding out each syllable she insisted on how lovely the word was. Towards the end of her piece she insisted on the audience shouting out the word, it was amazing to see how after women sat a little taller with their heads raised up.

At the end of the performance the actors marched out of the room to the beat of “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves” by Eurythmics. An accurate and apt ending in my opinion as if the March for Repeal was anything to go by, sisters are really doing it for themselves. And to anyone reading when the Vagina Monologues crops up again: you absolutely must see it.

Georgina Francis

Georgina Francis is a former Managing Editor, Life Editor and Assistant Life Editor of Trinity News.