In the studios of Efua Sutherland, the “abominable” word Vagina was said a zillion times this night unapologetically with no fear of authority, patriarchy or the scorn of parents. Theater Art majors from our dear University of Ghana described the sacred female organ in the most colorful of words with the ferocity of a Civil Rights March organizer. Stereotypes were dispelled, sexcapades were narrated and a thousand and one synonyms for Vagina were spewed out. But beyond the talks of masturbation, the sexual innuendos and the guffaws from a largely thirsty and curious crowd was a layer of hot issues scalding a large portion of society but largely ignored by the powers that be for the steam it produces.
The Vagina Monologues is a collection of stories (more appropriately, monologues) which depicts the struggles of everyday women from all works of life but resonates with females from different races, varied economic classes and multifarious ethnicities. It largely has feminist undertones which seeks to advance the sexual liberation of women and the reclaiming of the narrative about women’s bodies. The moans and salacious literature in the drama does elicit a thunderous response from the crowd but when “My Vagina My Village” comes on, a significant number of the audience can be found fidgeting with their phones. Some of those who still have their eyes on the stage end up laughing when the actress talks about “….pieces of my vagina were in my hand”. This betrays our general lack of understanding of the culture of rape and sexual harassment.
Rape undeniably is one of the most despicable acts anyone can perpetuate. Worse than murder, rape eats away at the soul of the victim and has the potential of destroying the fabric of the person raped. Our society does see rape as horrifying but so long as the victim is not a close relative, we come up with as many excuses as possible to rationalize the actions of the perpetrator and blame the victim. We say “she was wearing short skirts and asked for it” but “…short skirts are not an invitation”. I do subscribe to a moral code which standardizes the dressing of people. It makes a whole lot of sense to me and we can have an exposition another day when need be. But nowhere in our ethos does it make rape a punishment or natural consequence of provocative dressing. Lowering of the Gaze is!
Because we rarely talk about sex and think sex education is simply about “…telling young people to abstain”, we do not factor sexual harassment into the realities of our society. The catcalls women are subjected to are seen as mere jokes, if the boss taps a lady on the butt and says “…good job” we say he is just being friendly. I knew a teacher back in junior high who smooched the breasts of girls with wanton abandon and the girls never bothered to report. Maybe they got a kick from it that no 14 year old boy in our class could give them. But it is highly likely that they understood the repercussions of telling on a man of authority. Because patriarchy is so deep in our society, men can do no wrong especially when it comes to young girls coming of age. Reporting on a teacher might have seen these girls being grilled like 13th century women at the inquisition.”…what were you doing in his office after school”, “…why were you not home helping your mother with chores” yadda yadda yadda.
It is past time we started re-scripting the rhetoric on rape, sexual harassment and sex trafficking. We might not see the young girls being bused from Walewale and Somanya to brothels in Accra, Abidjan and the bright lighted streets of Europe, but they are very present in our societies. They are the cousins we bring from the hinterlands, the orphans hustling for a cedi and the widows facing the scorn of society.
The Vagina Monologues is definitely a good place to start this movement for change in the narrative on such issues. But maybe that could be better achieved if we paid as much attention to My Vagina My Village and Say It as we seem enraptured by the denouement filled with risque moaning.