The Magazine

Hurricane Eve Hits New Orleans

Celebrating a decade of those revolting monologues.

May 5, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 32 • By MATT LABASH
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New Orleans

Each of us had his own reason for coming to the Superdome on April 11-12. Renamed "Super Love," the stadium that became a national symbol for violence and neglect during Katrina was now hosting the 10-year anniversary extravaganza of V-Day, the annual vagina-themed observance to end abuse against women, the capstone of which features Eve Ensler's ubiquitous play, The Vagina Monologues.

Some of us probably came after we heard the ruckus that resulted when Monologues regular Jane Fonda dropped the c-bomb while publicizing the event on the Today Show. -Others might have been drawn by Mayor Ray Nagin, ever game to embarrass his city, who welcomed Ensler and company by christening himself a "vagina-friendly mayor. I am in!" Still others just wanted to see Oprah, even if Oprah ended up bagging the event, leaving attendees settling for Oprah's best friend, Gayle.

But if there's one reason we all came, it was to celebrate our vaginas. Not me, necessarily. I don't have one, strictly speaking. But I know a lot of people who do. And I came to celebrate theirs.

While The Vagina Monologues and all its attendant hoopla is nominally about eradicating violence against women (a worthy cause, even if there's not a lot of pushback from interest groups espousing violence against women), its stated macropurpose is to reclaim the word "vagina." From whom is anyone's guess. The cult of The Vagina Monologues congratulates itself for erasing taboos, though anybody who's watched television in the last 15 years might fairly assume that there weren't any left. And it endeavors to transform a body part into a badge, not just something you possess, but a political proclamation.

Since the play debuted a little over a decade ago, having now been translated into 24 languages and performed in thousands of colleges and cities the world over, it has become a near article of faith among its enthusiasts that the more brusquely, frequently, and inappropriately you say "vagina," the more pro-woman you are. This weekend in New Orleans would prove no exception.

Entering the Super Love through a tunnel, you were greeted by a giant vagina. At least that's what the welcome-wagon Vagina Honor Guard--a group of lovely young ladies adorned with flowers and cowries and looking like the stars of a hippie Massengill commercial--told me that the pink backlit hulk of plastic suspended from the ceiling over the entrance was supposed to resemble. I puzzled over it a long time. Not to brag, but I've seen my fair share of vaginas. Some of them in person, even. And this didn't look familiar. I hauled out an anatomy chart from my reporter's bag. Knowing in advance that the Superdome would be transformed into a vagina, I'd brought it along in case I needed to find my way to the snack bar: Stay straight till you get past the mons pubis, then take a left at the labia majora. But the installation didn't have any of my favorite landmarks. It looked like something from a botched operation.

A Superdome employee, an older black gentleman, and I put our heads together, commencing a penis dialogue of sorts. I told him what we were supposed to be looking at. He cocked his head, flipping through his own mental Rolodex. "What in the hell?" he said. A member of the Vagina Honor Guard named Deborah Justice helped us out. The entire facility was supposed to be the womb, she said. And I was on the inside looking out. "Kind of like when you were born," she said. "You probably just don't remember."

There was no time to revert back to childbirth, however, as Ensler took the stage with a slew of celebrities to declare that they had "Vagina-ized the Superdome." Wearing her Linda Ronstadt pageboy, a black lacy getup, and an armor-like silver necklace that made her look like she was anticipating a battle-axe duel in a Parisian bordello, Ensler screamed this to the point of sounding as though she were about to cry. In fact, she screams/cries most things, in keeping with the shrillness of her prose style. It comes as little surprise that she once told People that she allows herself "grieving days," in which she can spend up to five hours sobbing in bed.

Initially, the floor was packed with African-American women, some of them toting kids, who'd been bused home for the event from places like Houston and Memphis, where much of the New Orleanian diaspora resides. Ensler welcomed them warmly, and related to them all the donated services from massages to juice bars to beauty makeovers to yoga instruction that were available to them in upper-level lounges. God knows the women needed it. Most of them had been to hell and back on crowded Greyhounds. One of these women told me she and her three children have lived in eight places in three states since being wiped out in the storm two and a half years ago.