Male perspective on Vagina Monologues

Male co-director a first for 9-year-old production

John Taggart, left, and Ainsley Brittain were hired as co-directors of the Vagina Monologues.
John Taggart, left, and Ainsley Brittain were hired as co-directors of the Vagina Monologues.

Since 1999, Feb. 14 has been about more than just cinnamon hearts and teddy bears. For the last nine years, V-day, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls, has been celebrated on Valentine’s day, with Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues as V-day’s centerpiece in the fight for gender equality and female empowerment.

The day has become known as a day for women to reclaim control and autonomy over themselves,
their bodies and their femininities. But what about men? Where do they fit in?

For the first time in its nine-year history at Queen’s, the Vagina Monologues will be co-directed by a man.

Along with Ainsley Brittain, John Taggart, an exchange student from Glasgow, Scotland, was selected to direct the performance. “Being a foreigner and a man, I was honoured to be offered this position,” Taggart said. “I was aware of the controversy that may have occurred when I received this position, but I decided I was not going to let that stop me. I think a man can be involved in these issues.”

Women’s Empowerment Committee co-chairs and Vagina Monologues producers Julia Chanter and Laura Sobel agreed, and said they chose Taggart simply because they thought he was the right person for the job.

“We hired him because he was one of the strongest candidates with the most experience directing,”
Chanter said.

“[The performance] will be different, but not worse off. So much of this is about listening to women, and he’s done a great job of that.” Co-director Ainsley Brittain, ArtSci ’08, admits to sometimes
having her doubts about having a guy around. “I like the idea of having men involved, [but] it’s counterintuitive to have a man direct women to tell women’s stories,” she said.

“I don’t know if any guy on the planet could be perfect [in this position] because they don’t have vaginas.” Nonetheless, Brittain said she feels it’s been valuable to have Taggart, ArtSci ’08, involved, and thinks that more men should be. “It’s awkward to preach to the converted,” she said. “Men should come because they’ll laugh and cry and learn a lot, and they won’t leave without an understanding of why feminism exists. They’ll gain a perspective that will affect their relationships with women.”

Dina Georgis, a women’s studies professor, said the assumption that women are all they same because they have a vagina leaves out an important discourse. “Is it a vagina that determines
a woman? If that’s the case then transsexual women are not women, and I don’t believe that,” she said. “Being a woman is a deeper identification with a particular gender. I’d hate to think that we include or exclude based on whether or not we have a vagina.” Georgis said men’s experiences can never be exactly that of women’s because of their biological makeup.

It can be just as dangerous to assume that each woman experiences the same things in her life. “None of us can speak for each other,” she said. “All kinds of individual differences happen across women, and that’s been the problem with women’s-only spaces, because we always assume that we have the same experiences, and we don’t. “Having a man in what was originally a women’s-only space
has the potential to shine a light on some of the aspects of this type of congregation that women themselves often overlook. “Likely [Taggart] might be more in tune with this given that he is a man and knows that his experience is going to be different than others,” Georgis said.

Although their experiences may not have been the same, the women acting in the production said they were all alright with having Taggart direct them.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable; I think it’s great,” said Jessie Hale, ArtSci ’08, who is performing in the monologue “Smell.” “I never thought it only applied to women; men can contribute to feminist discussion, too.”

Hale said the production team made it clear from the start that if any of the women felt uncomfortable having a man present, they should feel free to talk about it to keep the space safe. “I wanted to create a space where everyone was able to contribute and express themselves in an environment where they would not be judged,” Taggart said.

“Hopefully, as a man, that would apply to me as well.” He added that perhaps a lot of the stigma surrounding his involvement in the production results from not having enough exposure to this type of experiment. “Most often, the things that people feel uncomfortable with are things that they are most ignorant about and this play has a lot to teach people,” he said.

Georgis said we need to realize that feminism is not just about women, but men, too, because it’s
not just about our bodies but about ideas and politics.

“The feminist agenda is to change the world, so we have to assume that it’s not only women who can change, but men as well,” she said, adding that a lot of women aren’t ready to see men join the ranks as empowered feminists. “We’re in this transitional space where a lot of men are becoming feminists and women might not be ready to actually see them as feminists,” she said.

“We want men to be feminists but we’re also ambivalent about it.”

Ultimately, Taggart said he doesn’t want the controversial aspects of his involvement to overshadow the purpose and poignancy of the production. “We’ve worked very hard and I want that to be the legacy that’s left, rather than the fact that a guy directed the Vagina Monologues.”

Performances of The Vagina Monologues take place this Sunday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Monday at 8 p.m at Grant Hall. Tickets are $12 at Destinations or $15 at the door.

Ticket sales from this weekend’s three performances will raise money for two local women’s shelters—Kingston Interval House and Dawn’s House—and the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston.

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