Late last year, Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, redefined the admissions policy for the traditionally all-female school to include any academically qualified students — regardless of their anatomy or gender identity.
The only caveat was that prospective attendees could not be biologically male and still identify as male if they wanted to enroll. The move was applauded as a welcoming and inclusive gesture by transgender students on campus, some of whom became trans men while enrolled at the school.
But what do you do when the time rolls around for your annual production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” (pictured, above) in support of the Valentine’s Day-pegged V-Day campaign to end violence against women and girls? What if some of your students feel like the play marginalizes them?
In Mount Holyoke’s case, you retire the “Monologues” and replace it with a home-brewed version that will be more trans-inclusive, according to Campus Reform.
This troubles me. The last people who said it wasn't right to talk about vaginas were republicans trying to control them. #VaginaMonologues
— Jen Richards (@SmartAssJen) January 16, 2015
“At it’s core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. … Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive,” read a school-wide email drafted by the Mount Holyoke Project Theater board’s Erin Murphy, and obtained by Reform.
Murphy added that the replacement performance — comprised of student monologues delivered in a similar fashion as the original — will fix the “problems” that the Theater board believes are inherent in Ensler’s widely performed 1996 play, including what Murphy described as issues regarding its handling of race, class and “other identities.” Ensler’s stage work was intended to celebrate women’s sexuality.
Not everyone was on board with the decision.
worst part of Vagina Monologues being pulled is ppl saying students wanted it. so many students spoke out against banning it. #MountHolyoke
— Ash (@armsofmoss) January 16, 2015
you don't get to shut women up by banning their art then get to call yourself a feminist. doesn't work that way. #VaginaMonologues
— Ash (@armsofmoss) January 16, 2015
if I talk about my vagina and you don't have one, I'm not excluding you. I'm talking about my vagina. #vaginamonologues
— Fenyw flin (@CorineJN) January 16, 2015
Ensler and a spokesperson for Mount Holyoke could not be reached for comment at press time.
According to Campus Reform, some students took to the school’s Holyoke Confessional message board (open only to students and former students), to weigh in on the change. “I love how people who have never been able to discuss or embrace their vaj-wahs aren’t going to find an avenue here, either, since female-validating talk about vaginas is now forbidden. That’s so misogynistic under the guise of ‘progress,’” one wrote.
Another added, “But we can’t present a show that is blatantly transphobic and treats race and homosexuality questionably, when one of the conditions of getting the rights to the show is that you can’t critique it or alter it.”
Back in February of last year, Ensler spoke at the university about her battle with cancer in what the school newspaper described as an address, “tinged with humor, passion and often pain, her words came out of her own experience but were essentially a testament to the transformative, universal power of love and hope.”