Though The Human Body Does Not Come With a User’s Manual – Eve Ensler’s Book, The V-Monologues, Makes an Attempt at Being one.
The first time I heard about The V-Monologues, I was in my second year of campus. The short personal stories which are collected, written and first performed by Eve Ensler were being performed in town. That was in 2012. I can’t remember what exactly the professor was saying about the play but in between my high school hangovers and my new found life as a campus girl, I could sense that even the bearded academician had difficulties saying the V- word. He wanted to know if any of us would be attending the play, what we thought about such performances and the whole subject. I do not remember any responses from my classmates either because like me, they had no idea what that man was talking about or they were simply too shy to speak.
First forward to four years later and a more confident me meets that book, The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler and my first thought is to read it and discover why anyone would sit down to write what struck me at the time as a ‘controversial book’.
But it did not take me long to discover why this book is supposed to be studied by women and men alike. It also did not take me long to discover why any form of discussion about and around this book seems to happen in hushed tones. I will explain this shortly. Another note that needs highlighting about this book is that it normalizes so many things that were hitherto labelled ‘mysterious’ and brings with it so much freedom both in conversation and in thought and by the time you turn the last page, you will have a completely new perspective.
The V-Monologues is a collection of intimate stories told by women of various ages – from the very young to the very advanced in age and across the worlds, I mean continents. In her introduction, the brain behind this book, Eve Ensler testifies to not having exactly set out to write about very intimate body parts of women, talk less of intimate experiences that have, over the years, been hushed up. It all began with a conversation she had with an older woman who thought that her vagina was something bad and she spoke very contemptuously about her body and its functions. Eve followed this up by having conversations with her friends about the same subject and she was not only shocked by their openness and willingness to speak about a subject she previously considered totally muted but also shocked at the degree of blissful unawareness with which the women in her circle interacted with their ‘lady parts’. This is what launched the beginnings of what would later turn out to be a collection of stories that would be performed in different parts of the world as The V-Monologues.
The monologues present the real life stories of women who speak about various issues from the functions of the vagina such as birthing, menstruation and pleasure-giving and the complication some of these processes have aroused for some of the women telling their stories. The book also looks at other issues such as rape, an ordeal that completely changes not just the body of a woman but her mental and psychological state as well. The difference between the narration in this book and your regular accounts of rape is that it gives you the perspective of the violated body parts as well as the general story of rape and its mental effect on the victim.
The women stories also explore the attitudes of women towards their bodies based on the way they have been brought up, how they see themselves based on their experiences as young girls or with previous lovers as well as explores other issued such as female genital mutilation and physical abuse of women and this book collection prides itself in bringing to light some of the hidden experiences that women go through but which for a long time, their effects had been kept under wraps.
The book opens with a powerful foreword by one of the earliest feminist writers, Gloria Steinem that introduces us to her own world, to the realities of her time as well as opens our minds to the positive powers that have been associated with the female body in different belief patterns and why there is a need for this power to be reclaimed.
Well, I have a little beef with this book. Perhaps I am a little too reserved but the language used in the book gets a bit too vulgar in certain areas so that it becomes impossible for me to label it a book that can be read by girls as young as fourteen (as should be the case) because the language used in the book makes me afraid to say that. While the issues and concerns it raises are genuine, urgent and ones that need to be presented to the people, the language for me is a bit too ‘scary’. Although again isn’t this language the whole point? To demystify the whole subject of intimate processes and opening the avenue to call them what they really are? Well, I am a bit confused here but I only recommend this book for people who are 21 years of age and over.
The Vagina Monologues have been performed worldwide including in Kenya with the first performance happening in 2003 and have been performed by Mumbi Kaigwa, Angel Waruinge, Muthoni Gathecha and Lorna Irungu. After the stage was set by Eve Ensler, many other women have taken up the performance of these monologues in its various tours and performances across the world. The money raised from these performances is used to help in various courses that fight sexual violence against women.
The V-Monologues was first published in 1998 by Villard Publishers, New York. I got my copy of the book from one of my best friends and I didn’t believe it when she told me that she got it on the streets in Nairobi! So you can begin by combing the streets before checking leading bookshops in town. One more thing, there is a guy next to Tuskys Commercial Opposite Fire Station (where my friend got her copy of The V-Monologues) who sells a lot of academic and intellectual books so if romance books do not tickle your fancy and you are looking for something cheap, that would be a good place to visit.
There is also a V-Day Movement which you can read about on their site.
Here are some reasons why all mature women (and men) should read this book:
a) This book is a revelation, just try it.
b) The book is brutally honest. Well, I do not know if this is a good thing or a bad thing but it is a reason for you to read this book, all the same.
c) Like many good books, Eve Ensler’s collection will definitely teach you a lot of things.
d) For women, the book will be liberating; it will start conversations. Even with men.
e) The book is humorous and very easy to read. You do not need to be a book lover to read this one.