The V Word

The Vagina Monologues copy

There’s nothing quite like it. Being in a room with other actresses giggling over the various names for our most intimate body parts. There’s nothing quite like being in a room with other actresses full stop. But add to the mix a very female subject matter, the fact that most of us have children and therefore have either had to take time out from our careers or have a constant struggle to manage both and some fairly dark Northern Irish humour and you’ve got a recipe for sheer joy.

I didn’t know many of our team of actresses well before this project but what I can tell you is that they are all great and their commitment is second to none (don’t forget, this is all voluntary, no one’s getting paid). Having had limited female camaraderie in recent months since our move, this feels like a warm bath at the end of a very long day. I’m the newbie, the unknown entity but I’ve been welcomed and accepted as one of the tribe and that has been every bit as special as getting the play on its feet.

The V word. It’s been fascinating jumping in the deep end and delving into the text. It’s at once hilarious, outrageous, informative and desperately, desperately sad. It’s a very strong reminder that for many women around the world, their bodies are not their own. Women have been conditioned to consider their bodies dirty, defiled and disposable and the very idea of a woman having bodily autonomy is taboo in many cultures.

The V word. Standing up on a stage and talking about vaginas is of course empowering but there’s something else going on just below the surface and that is vulnerability. It’s an act of courage to speak about these things in a public space and why indeed shouldn’t we talk about our bodies and the joy we can derive from them, the sadness that we’re made to feel because of them. We all carry our own unspoken shames and fears about our bodies, our disappointments and our scars and, I know for me personally, I’m grateful to have someone else’s words to give voice to some of my feelings.

I’m not yet at that glorious nirvana of complete comfort in my own skin. There’s still the young woman in me desperately comparing my body shape with others and finding it wanting. There’s the anxiety over the changes that are happening as my body ages. In a culture where women’s bodies are still commodified and objectified, it’s an act of defiance to speak the female truth about the female body in a female voice. It’s a reclaiming of the autonomy and modelling a different way of existing in the world.

This becomes especially important to those of us who are raising daughters and find ourselves reinforcing the old conditioning, however unconsciously – be quiet, be nice, stand back, bow down. In order that my daughter be free to be her true self, she needs to see me model it. She needs to see me embrace my own self, to get up off my knees, shake off the old ways, to strut and to bellow.

I look back at the women in my family, my maternal heritage and see all the ways we’ve been kept down and held back. I’ve seen my mother’s generation push back and move beyond the tightly formed boundaries. And now there’s my generation, my cousins and I who get to take another step forward. I can’t wait to see the leaps my daughter and my nieces make. I feel proud to lay the groundwork for them.

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Sign up for my newsletter for news about an upcoming version of The Vagina Monologues that I’m involved with. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. If you’re looking for an inspiring conversation with a leading Irish feminist activist, check out the episode where I chat to Lian Bell, founder of the Waking the Feminist movement. 

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