(CNSNews.com) - For the last 10 years, the controversial Eve Ensler play, "The Vagina Monologues," has annually played at hundreds of colleges and theaters nationwide. And while feminists have hailed it as a critical contribution to American culture, conservatives have decried it as a crude production that degrades women -- the exact opposite of what Ensler intended.
Ensler originally wrote and initially performed the play in 1996 in New York City. The off-Broadway production later won an Obie Award, and HBO produced a televised version of it in 2002.
Since 1998, the play has become an institutional ritual on hundreds of college campuses when "V-day - Until the Violence Stops" was instituted -- the V standing for "Valentine, Vagina, and Victory."
Traditionally, "The Vagina Monologues" is performed in the winter from early February to International Women's Day on March 8. The monologues are derived from a series of interviews that Ensler held with over 200 women and cover a range of topics, including rape, incest, domestic battery, lesbianism, transgenderism and discovering one's sexuality.
Dr. Bonnie Morris, a women's studies professor at George Washington University and Georgetown University, told Cybercast News Service that "it's unusual for an audience to hear a really varied range of women's perspectives on naming their most intimate body part, coming of age, arousal, and abuse."
"Most of the time, these are controversial issues that are discussed without going into the woman's vagina. Just the fact that the play has made saying the word sort of mainstream is a real breakthrough ..." Morris added.
Celia Taylor, who performed "The C--- Monologue" in 2007, concurred, saying that "[The play has] given women an opening to speak about the things that they haven't been able to say before."
Morris, who called Ensler a "genius," thinks the play's prolific use of the c-word could constitute a case of "reclaiming nasty language by using it. That's been done by gay people who have reclaimed or used words like f----- or d---, and of course the n-word in black culture when expressed in friendship."
Conservative women, however, have been critical of Ensler's production. In an interview with Cybercast News Service, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said that the play "is meant to be offensive. It is intended to push the envelope, and the way it pushes the envelope is by degrading women."
"That's one of the odd ironies of the radical feminist movement," said Wright. "It has championed this play, which degrades and demeans women, even while the feminist movement claims to want to exalt women.
"The role of the feminist movement was to ensure that women were judged by their merits, their capabilities, their experience. Yet 'The Vagina Monologues' reduces women to their private parts, as if that's the only thing that matters," she added.
Allison Kasic, director of collegiate studies at the Independent Women's Forum, was equally critical, telling Cybercast News Service that "a lot of people are taken aback by the vulgarity of the play. It's a bit shocking to see someone on stage yelling 'c--- over and over again.
"But once you get past that initial shock, the content is even more disturbing," said Kasic. "The play is blatantly anti-male [and] glorifies promiscuous behavior ... [This] is not empowering but actually demeans women."
And the controversy goes beyond the play itself, she said, noting that there are often flyers for the play on campuses asking what a woman's sexual organs smell like and feminists selling t-shirts with slogans praising their privates.
"At some schools, supporters of the play sell vagina-shaped lollipops and chocolates," said Kasic. "If men were doing these activities, they'd be called sexist and kicked off campus, but when women do it, it's supposed to be empowering.
"The play is yet another sign of the coarsening of American culture," she said.
Productions of the play have been used to raise money for anti-women's violence causes. Though she admitted this is "a noble cause," Kasic said she thinks alternative fundraising would be more fruitful.
"The play itself has little to do with violence against women," she said. "A more direct focus might be more productive: teaching women on campus self-defense or focusing more on education and outreach, for example. ... That approach seems far more constructive than V-Day's tactics."
Make media inquiries or request an interview about this article
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Evan Moore.