Aren’t Latinas Women Too?

“I was drawn to vaginas because of my own personal history, because of sexuality, because women’s empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality. And, I’m obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas.” – Eve Ensler

The Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler, is organized and produced across the U.S. by the V-Day Campaign. Eve Ensler interviewed women to put together monologues which would serve as the vehicle through which their stories would be shared across the world. The monologues vary from talking about sex, childbirth, names for vaginas, rape, and much more. She is said to have interviewed all kinds of women – every age, ethnicity, and race – both in the United States and women abroad. V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls through creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations.

This weekend a production of the Vagina Monologues was put on at Willamette University’s campus and I am on the cast. I have had the privilege to be on the cast all four years of my time as an undergrad student here at WU. My first year I portrayed an escaped sex slave from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second year I did “My Short Skirt”, my third year I did “Vagina Workshop”, and finally this year I am in a monologue called “Rising”. In my fours years of participation, I  have noticed that there is generally a higher rate of non-women of color participating in this event. This may be due to the campus demographics or (as in my case) the different cultural experience surrounding women’s issues and bodies that women of color have experienced in their upbringing.

While I think that The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day Campaign were made and continue to succeed with good intentions to bring awareness and make a change, I find a very troubling ignorance to is as well. The play does a great job of talking about many of the experiences of vaginas, women who have been raped as a form of warfare, and even the experiences of LGBTQ women but race/ethnicity is not something brought up – much less in regards to brown women. There is no discussion of the Women of Juarez. Is that or is that not part of a global women’s issue that involved rape and death? On a less severe note, what about the experiences of undocumented immigrants who experience domestic abuse but have no where to run to for protection because they are not citizens? Are they not women too? Even just the experiences of brown women who never got “the talk” about their vaginas and had to figure out what their menstrual cycle was from the library or friends?

Eve Ensler believes that women’s power lies in their sexuality which is tied to their vaginas. Does this mean that if a woman is not in tune with her vagina or her sexuality, she is powerless? If we think about Cerezita from Heroes & Saints by Cherrie Moraga, who had no vagina but definitely had a sexuality as is evident from her very sexual encounter with Juan regarding la lengua, how then do we explain the power she has with just her tongue? In my experience, not many of me and my Latina friends have ever had a conversation about vaginas or sexuality with our mothers, aunts, or grandmothers. The only talk we ever received was about not engaging in an sexual activity because we are supposed to be chaste and pure like the Virgen de Guadalupe. My grandma constantly told me “No quiero que salgas con tu domingo siete!” which is roughly translated to “don’t get pregnant”! A proper  Latina woman is to remain a virgen until she is married, only then should your vagina be touched and it is only to be used for the purpose of which it was created – procreation.

I do not feel that it is only the monologues that perpetuate a “unracialized woman” image in regards to women’s issues but also that the participants feel the same way. It would be the hope that those women who get involved with The Vagina Monologues would take a second look at the portrayal of women in the monologues and ask about what is missing or why empowerment through these monologues is only given to “first-world women”. As I mentioned above, I was in a monologue called “Rising” this year. This monologue is a call to action for women and men to stand up for all of the women across the world who are raped everyday. At the end of the monologue there are various lines where we say “Raise your arm” in which me and my Latina co-monolguer wanted to put our fists in the air. Our third monolguer and director told us we should not do this because it was “reminiscent of the black panther and black power”. They argued that they were “…all for ethnic pride but we’re talking about women here.”

Are women of color not women?

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2 thoughts on “Aren’t Latinas Women Too?

  1. I really appreciated reading the critique of The Vagina Monologues for its lack of discussion of race/ethnicity. I enjoy The Vagina Monologues, but I have to agree that they do not contain a nuanced presentation of the intersections of identity for women. I’d like to bring up another recent project headed by Eve Ensler, One Billion Rising. One Billion Rising was meant to be connected with The Vagina Monologues this year.

    According to the website, One Billion Rising is:

    A global strike

    An invitation to dance

    A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends

    An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers

    A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given

    A new time and a new way of being

    On February 14th, women and men were encouraged to participate in a global dance. The project was very popular worldwide. It was praised for helping women reclaim bodily autonomy and for raising awareness about sexual violence. I support any action that helps survivors of sexual violence feel listened to and empowered. However, as with The Vagina Monologues, I have some issues with the movement. Similarly to The Vagina Monologues, One Billion Rising asks women to organize around gender, without paying much attention to other social context. Sexual violence might be a systematic manifestation of hegemonic masculinity and rape culture, but it is not a monolithic, simple issue. The sexual violence occurring in Ciudad Juarez cannot be solved in the same way as the sexual violence occurring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or in the same way as the sexual violence occurring at Willamette. Women do not experience the world in the same way, simply because they have vaginas. (This is not even bringing in the important criticism that not all women have vaginas and not everyone with a vagina is a woman.)

    My major objection to One Billion Rising are problems that can be seen clearly in this video, which was intended to be shown at performances of the Vagina Monologues. (Trigger warning: rape, abuse.)

    It’s supposed to be empowering, but it honestly makes me feel sick to watch it. The women in video are shown opening their eyes and solving problems such as exploitative work situations, rape, domestic violence, poverty, female genital cutting, and sexual harassment just by standing up and leaving to dance. It’s frankly offensive to me that the message is that all of the complex issues depicted in the video can be solved through such a simplistic global female solidarity movement. There is systematic violence done against women and girls. But to label all of these situations as the same, with the same solution, lacks any kind of understanding of the effects of intersectional identities. Solidarity movements can be empowering messages that enact real change. But they are only truly effective if they acknowledge and examine the nuances of each situation. I hope that One Billion Rising, despite its problems, inspired people to have effective, nuanced conversations about sexual violence. I also hope that the organizers of projects like One Billion Rising or The Vagina Monologues will realize that without bringing an understanding of intersections into such projects, they do not reflect the lived realities of women and men worldwide.

  2. You both do such a good job mapping the limits of Eve Ensler’s vision. The lack of intersectionality in her vision of women, and the simplistic dividing of the world into First and Third, with the white woman figured as savior, authorize directors to enforce the exclusion of race, class, and queer lifeworlds and politics in the Monologues. If only this person could have understood that black power is not a radical outlier to the problems the play contends with, but a part of our poc and feminist histories, and that prohibiting the raised fist is complicit with the ideologies that maintain the domination of women of color; that including the raised fist would have expanded the vision of the play, introduced histories that are part and parcel of women’s liberation, and that the act could open people’s minds beyond the limits Ensler built into the play. Good work.

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