Brooks: A Controversial Monologue
By David Brooks, Contributing Columnist
Published on Monday, February 13, 2012
February is to full swing, and at college campuses across America, the festivities of V-Day are set to begin. Multiple groups across Dartmouth have planned myriad events for V-Week, which will culminate in performances of “The Vagina Monologues.” Here at Dartmouth, the performances are produced at the behest of students with help from the Center for Women and Gender. However, one particular monologue in the play seems to be at odds with the goals of the students and groups involved in the production.
“The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could” is centered on the true story of a woman who, throughout her youth, suffers many traumatic experiences involving her vagina. She is violently raped at the age of 10 and later comes to view her vagina negatively. In the original version of the play, the girl is befriended at the age of 13 by a 24-year-old woman who convinces the girl’s mother to allow her daughter to spend the night. Back at her apartment, the woman plies the girl with alcohol, and the girl says, “The alcohol has gone to my head, and I’m loose and ready.” The woman proceeds to sexually assault her — performing oral sex on her and making her “play with herself.” Reflecting on what happened to her, the girl later says, “If it was a rape, it was a good rape.”
The initial backlash at the sexual assault of a young girl and the idea of a “good rape” eventually lead the author, Eve Enlser, to make some changes in the monologue. The line about a “good rape” was removed and the girl’s age was raised to 16. However, the use of alcohol in the monologue was left intact. Also left intact was the celebratory and justified tone of the assault.
The events described in “The Coochi Snorcher” — even the new version — are at odds with V-Day’s stated goals of ending violence against women and girls. Often the people most involved in sexual assault education and in providing support for victims are the ones most involved in the production of the play. Too often, these people feel the need to defend the show as a whole, and either ignore the problematic elements of “The Coochi Snorcher” or outright defend the issues. I am happy to say that as far as Dartmouth is concerned, those I talked to in CWG and SAAP see the same problems in this monologue, and indeed, mentioned other aspects of “The Vagina Monologues” that they found problematic. There will be a “Vagina Controversies” discussion during V-Week that will address these issues and receptions after the performances to highlight any concerns.
However, while CWG and SAAP are receptive to problems with “The Vagina Monologues”, I found the reaction of some of the students involved to be problematic. In an interview with Dartbeat, the actress performing “The Coochi Snorcher” said of the girl who is raped, “When she meets the woman at the end of the monologue and becomes a sexual being willingly, it’s the first time that her ‘Coochi Snorcher’ becomes a beautiful thing — she makes it her own.” To view this as a willing sexual experience is to ignore the law and the perpetrator’s coercive use of alcohol. Multiple students with whom I spoke have stressed that, although the experience isn’t politically correct, the girl is able to define it for herself. However, the problem with the scene isn’t political correctness. This isn’t the story of an interracial lesbian couple applying for a marriage license in Mississippi. The problem is that the experience meets the legal parameters for sexual assault.
Victims of sexual violence can view their assaults in many different ways, and some argue that this monologue reflects a victim’s point of view. However, the diversity of victims’ experiences is not what is stressed and celebrated in “The Coochi Snorcher.” The defense of the sexual assault by some of those involved in the monologue doesn’t coincide with this interpretation.
The conversations I had with women involved with the production highlighted many positive facets of performing the play, which include sparking conversation about female sexuality, celebrating women’s bodies, providing an outlet for victims of sexual assault and raising money to end violence against women. The “Vagina Controversies” discussion represents a positive development for V-Week as it provides an opportunity to talk about the problems with this monologue. The negative aspects and subsequent defenses of a small part of a generally positive program harm the positive whole of V-Day and damage the credibility of those people and groups that defend the monologue.