I’m reprinting here the complete text of the opening remarks I gave at the Davao edition of The Vagina Monologues that ran last 27-28 June at the Philippine Women’s College. I shortened the actual speech that I gave due to time considerations, but the voice, and the message, of my vagina is essentially the same.
One of the more popular monologues in Eve Ensler’s play, which we will all be seeing tonight, is the monologue entitled “My Angry Vagina”. I guess this particular monologue is popular because it is an all-out, no-holds-barred rant of the vagina, against tampons, against thongs, against the invasiveness of objects and people’s judgments about what vaginas should be like and how they should be treated. It’s funny, and we laugh and agree that thongs are in fact the most uncomfortable piece of clothing ever invented, and we realize that our vaginas are indeed angry.
But let’s do Eve Ensler one better. I’d like to think that my anger should be reserved for more serious things, especially if I’m going to rant about it in front of all of you. My vagina is angry, and if I tell you the four reasons why, maybe you’ll find that all your vaginas are angry, too.
First of all, my vagina is angry because it’s hungry. It can’t get enough not to eat. Not with such weak government support for the farmers who feed our country, who have to make do with backward and pre-modern tools and techniques, who continue to till land that isn’t theirs. How can we have enough to eat when the government’s idea of strengthening the agricultural sector is selling out to large multi-nationals who plant cash crops for exports instead of important staple foods?
Second, my vagina is angry because it has no dignified work. In our country, the chances are the kind of work one would find one’s self in will be: “contractual”, “self-employed”, “part-time” employment. Euphemisms all! It’s like how they come up with all sorts of names for the vagina: “flower”, “pi-pi”, “king-king”, like it needs all these disguises. Let’s call it like it is: vagina! In the same way let’s call unemployment like it is: that’s the reality. People aren’t provided “jobs”, they are given extremely short-term and volatile opportunities to just get by, with little hope of self-improvement.
In the same way that we hush-hush matters about the vagina, we hush-hush matters about unemployment. Instead, we banner the stream of job opportunities abroad, especially for women. Unfortunately, for many of them this is but a huge gamble, not only for their vaginas but for all the other parts of their bodies.
Third, my vagina is angry because it can’t get the education, health, warm home environment, and basic services it needs. Don’t we all agree that an unhealthy and un-self-aware vagina is a sad vagina! It deserves to be healthy, it deserves to know about itself and the world, it deserves to be housed and pampered. But this is barely possible with the constant reduction of funds for hospitals, schools, housing. This is barely possible with the skyrocketing cost of water and electricity and other utilities, and all these things that make my vagina not only sad, but impoverished.
Nevertheless, my vagina does not need dole-outs. It is a proud vagina, one that prefers to stand on its own, and to get what it deserves – good opportunities, good jobs and good services – all of which are on the decline as it receives less and less governmental support.
Why? Where does the money go? Apparently our government prefers to pay debts more than to provide services. Now that makes my vagina angry because, quite frankly, my vagina owes no one! If at all, it is the government that owes my vagina, for the honest work it renders, for being strong in the face of every day indignities, for overcoming the various obstacles society throws in the way of my vagina.
And this is the last reason why my vagina is angry. The Philippines is quite simply not a good place for a vagina, with the continuous assaults on our environment, our patrimony and sovereignty, perpetrated by foreign entities in collusion with our own government. Mining companies penetrate our mountains, logging companies invade our forests. Foreign troops make their way into all corners of our country, causing fear and distress, leaving behind disease and disaster. Their local counterparts do the same, encamping in schools and hospitals and health centers, places where my vagina should feel safe, though no longer. If there is one thing that makes my vagina really angry, it is when someone, or something, tries to enter without my permission.
So, my vagina is angry, but it isn’t just angry about tampons and thongs. It is angry because of the injustices we face every day. It is angry because the mouth can’t eat, the brain can’t learn, the limbs can’t have invigorating work and rest calmly at the end of the day. So let our vaginas take the lead: let it unite the mouth, the brain, the limbs, as we unite ourselves with other sectors. Our vaginas are angry, and they will fight.
I’m grateful to the play’s director, BJ Absin, and Glades Maglunsod, who got me involved in the first place, for this opportunity to speak my own words, as a small addition to the already-set, well-wrought words of this iconic play. It was Glades who suggested that it should be anchored in the experiences of the majority of Filipino women, and this recommendation was spot-on when you take into consideration the contents of the monologues.
Each monologue is anchored in the experiences of an individual, as subjective narratives of pleasure, confusion, and pain. The more powerful monologues are those that deal with abuse, especially rape, highlighting the vulnerability of women to this especially heinous act of violence. Rape, incest, beatings, and emotional and mental abuse are examples of what philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls “subjective” violence: these are obvious, highly visible, and with a clear idea whom the perpetrator/s is/are. The play deals with this quite intensively; for many, when they hear “violence against women”, these are the examples that would probably first come to mind.
But Zizek goes on with a second type of violence: objective, or systemic, violence – the “catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems”, where the categories of “haves” and “have-nots” are firmly entrenched. What does this mean? Well, wouldn’t we consider lack of access to education, housing and health care as violence, violence against our individual and collective minds and bodies? But the mechanisms that prevent access to these basic services are precisely the policies that the government (and its foreign partners) says are needed to develop the country: public-private partnerships, the K-12 overhauling of the education system, deregulation and liberalization policies, opening of our resources to foreign ownership.
The resulting violence is undeniable: six out of ten Filipinos die without ever seeing a doctor, only one schoolchild in ten will ever finish college, and half of the total number of Filipino families does not own the houses in which they live. One in four Filipinos lives on one dollar a day; if you raise that to two dollars a day you’re talking about forty percent of the population – hardly an improvement, and more appalling in the face of steadily rising prices of utilities and commodities. And in the Philippines, as with many “developing” countries where the burden of having children and raising families frequently falls upon women, it is this gender that bears the brunt of this situation.
Objective violence is more insidious because they aren’t obvious, they don’t make sensational headlines, and because they seem to be part of the natural, and even necessary, conditions of our way of life. The harm these inflict is, to use another violence-laden term, a slow war of attrition, grounding out the life of the poor, especially poor women, until they die.
Rape and abuse strip women of dignity in swift, horrifying episodes; hunger, ignorance, disease and homelessness strip women of dignity in a slow, ignominious pace. Advocating women’s rights isn’t just a matter of saying no to the former – it is saying no to the former in the inextricable context of the latter. This is the stance we must take if we are to genuinely uphold the equality of all genders.
I would like to again congratulate everyone involved in The Vagina Monologues-Davao Edition: Director Absin, fellow Davao Today Columnist Don Pagusara who translated the play into Bisaya, and the wonderful cast and staff, all of whom worked not for pay, but out of the goodness of their hearts and vaginas. Though the Davao City run is over, we are hoping to bring this play to other cities in Mindanao to continue to spread the message. So, for those who were not able to catch it, we may yet still see each other in the not-so-distant future.