In a series of disjointed narratives concerning the female experience, “The Vagina Monologues” is set to spark the dialogue at Bowdoin about what it means to be a woman, how to deconstruct the stigma around the word “vagina” and, ultimately, empower women through diversity of experience. 

At Bowdoin, this year’s annual performance of the play is sponsored by the College’s chapter of V-Day, a global organization dedicated to combating violence against women and girls worldwide. 

“The Vagina Monologues” has not been met without criticism, however, its performance having been discontinued at Mount Holyoke College and Wellesley College for being exclusive in its representations of womanhood.

“I think that’s a very real critique,” co-director Erin McKissick ’16 said. “I’m very comfortable directing this play and having issues with it. If you’re going to direct a show and think it’s perfect and be totally immune to criticism, that’s not a very thoughtful way to go about it.”

Written by feminist Eve Ensler in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” is a play that, through the exploration of a variety of female experiences—from the often undiscussed topic of pubic hair to the very real phenomenon of sexual assault—aims to provide a venue for honest discourse.

Although the play has evolved in recent years to include the experiences of transgender women and women of color, it’s still regarded by some as a vestige of second-wave, upper-middle-class white feminism—a breed of feminism that, by glossing over intersectional identities of race, ethnicity, race and class, also assumes the idea of womanhood as one intrinsically linked to the biological marker of having a vagina. 

“We’ve focused a lot on getting people to think critically about the show and whose stories are being told and whose stories are being left out,” McKissick said. “If you want to read the monologues as all being told from the perspective of a white woman, that wouldn’t be that hard, but at the same time there are plenty of monologues that could also be read from someone else’s perspective… most of these are fairly race and class neutral. I don’t think it’s a perfect script, but I don’t agree with the idea that it only represents one way of being a woman. It shows a pretty wide range of sexual experiences.”

In addition to receiving criticism for equating femininity with having a vagina, “The Vagina Monologues” has also been critiqued by Bowdoin students in recent years for acting as a replacement for feminist political action. Although the play does open up a certain dialogue about women’s rights, critics argue that it has not incited much more than that at Bowdoin. 

“I think there’s an acknowledgement that it’s pretty outdated and has elements of exclusivity,” said Uma Blanchard ’17, who co-wrote an op-ed on the show last year for the Orient. “While I do think it’s an empowering thing to participate in, I wouldn’t call it political action. We can’t substitute it for a whole other aspect of political work that we aren’t doing. It just needs to be acknowledged that it’s not enough.”

“I think it’s definitely just one small part of all the work that’s happening on campus,” associate director of Gender Violence Prevention and Education Lisa Peterson said. “There’s always room for more work.” 

In an effort to cultivate a more inclusive voice, colleges such as Wellesley and Mount Holyoke have replaced the traditional performance of “The Vagina Monologues” with their own spin-offs, collecting and displaying the stories of students and community members instead. While this weekend’s performance has been adapted to include an introduction that draws upon stories from the Bowdoin community, there remains controversy over whether the play should be traditionally performed or revised to more strongly feature the voices of the student body.

“You’re still going to be missing a lot of stories,” Associate Director of the play Leah Alper ’17 said. “There isn’t an easy solution to this. It’s important to perform [“The Vagina Monologues”] because they connect people all around the world. That connection is important for us to keep and to realize that this is a fight that goes well beyond Bowdoin.” 

“I hope that people walk away from it feeling like if they have a story about their sexuality or their life as a woman or their vagina that they thought was weird or unusual or not OK, that they would feel like their story has a place—that it can be told and it’s OK,” McKissick said. “Whatever their experience was, they’re not abnormal for having it and they shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”