Mount Holyoke College student group ditches ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ saying play excludes transgender experience



Last modified: Sunday, January 18, 2015

SOUTH HADLEY — Breaking a decade-long tradition, the student-run Project Theatre group at all-women’s Mount Holyoke College will not stage “The Vagina Monologues,” stating the play is not inclusive enough.

Instead, the group will produce its own student-written play about gender, according to Mount Holyoke senior Erin Murphy, who had the college’s dean of students send an email announcing the decision to all students Wednesday. The play, called “The Student Body,” will be performed Feb. 12, 13 and 14, the days that had originally been reserved for “The Vagina Monologues,” she said.

Murphy said a major component of the decision was that Eve Ensler’s play tended to exclude transgender women without vaginas, and that Project Theatre also wanted to give Mount Holyoke students a chance to create a new show themselves.

“It is a 20-year-old show,” Murphy said Sunday of “The Vagina Monologues,” first produced in 1996. She added that the result of a campus-wide student discussion was that, “it was time to hear some new perspectives, and if that included transgender perspectives, that was great.”

Murphy declined to share the email sent to students, but an article written by Mount Holyoke freshman Yvonne Dean-Bailey, published Thursday in Campus Reform, an online publication produced by the conservative Leadership Institute, included an excerpt. In days since, the article has ignited a firestorm of media coverage.

“At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” Dean-Bailey reported the email as saying. “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.”

Murphy verified the quote was accurate Sunday.

Dean-Bailey’s article was quoted by the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and Rush Limbaugh among others. It also inspired a reaction from Ensler, which is set to be published Monday in Time magazine, according to a recent post by theater blogger Howard Sherman.

Dean-Bailey said Sunday that though she has not seen “The Vagina Monologues” in its entirety, she has seen bits and pieces of it on YouTube.

“I was just kind of surprised about it,” Dean-Bailey said of the end of Mount Holyoke’s tradition of putting on the play.

She said she was happy to have Campus Reform as an outlet, which encourages its writers to look for bias on campuses.

Ensler, who could not be reached for comment Sunday, was quoted in The Guardian on Friday saying that she wrote the play for women to be able to talk about their vaginas.

“I never intended to write a play about what it means to be a woman; that was not what ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ever intended to be,” Ensler told the Guardian. “It was a play about what it means to have a vagina. It never said, for example, the definition of a woman is someone who has a vagina.”

“The Vagina Monologues” is updated each year with a new story. In 2005, Ensler included a monologue called “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy,” written from the perspective of a transgender person, according to the Guardian.

Mount Holyoke College, which last year expanded its admissions policy to include transgender individuals, released a statement in reaction to Dean-Bailey’s article, saying it contained “inaccurate and incomplete information.”

College spokeswoman Julia Ferrante said Dean-Bailey’s article did not mention that Murphy is a student and that Project Theatre is a student-run group.

The college administration wanted to make it clear that it was not involved in the decision, and that the decision did not have anything to do with Mount Holyoke’s new admissions policy.

“We encourage students to be the leaders of their own organizations and to make their own decisions,” Ferrante said Sunday.

Murphy said she did not expect the wide media coverage her group’s decision received, and said the theater group was focused on producing its new play, which will consist of 5-to-8-minute monologues written anonymously by students and performed by other students.

Ensler herself appeared to support the move, though she denied that her play was outdated or irrelevant.

“I celebrate people writing their own plays that unveil and undress sexuality and the dimensions of gender,” Ensler told the Guardian. “I think there should be more and more and more plays written about that.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 


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