So, the famed/notorious (depending on your p.o.v) V-Monologues FINALLY arrived in Lagos yesterday. For a few months, I had read posts about the writing process and also seen photos from the rehearsals. After reading and hearing a lot of differing opinions about it, I was curious to see it and make-up my own mind.
I was looking forward to it, because after seeing the production of the Vagina Monologues two years ago, while I enjoyed it immensely, I felt that it would have so much more significance to Nigerian women if it were rooted in a more familiar cultural context. Besides, we have so many of our own issues that women in Nigeria are dealing with that I felt that would offer such a rich palette of experiences to draw from.
The first thing I noticed was how the title of the show had been modified from the Vagina Monologues to the V-Monologues. Hmmmm, was this some form of prudery and trying to avoid using the word “vagina”? I sincerely hoped not. Maybe it had its reasons in something legal? Or an attempt to indicate that this was an adaptation? Anyway, let’s move on.
Overall, I enjoyed many of the monologues. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the experiences appeared to be drawn largely from the experiences of women in the southern part of Nigeria. The realities of women from the north were not really present (aside from one monologue centered on a child bride and VVF; and another on wife-sharing in the middle-belt).
Many of the monologues were sad. This was necessary to portray the reality of many women’s lives. Many of them were poignant and kept you thinking back and reflecting on them hours after the show had ended. Not a lot were celebratory (I can only think of three or maybe four that were intended to be); however even in some of the more painful ones, there were flashes of biting humour, reminding you that life can be like that sometimes.
In some of the monologues, women were identified as the main culprits in causing or aggravating another woman’s pain, in selling her out and letting her down at the worst possible time (The Black Widow, Women Trafficking). Women were shown sometimes to be pawns of men in perpetuating hurtful cultural traditions (the monologue on FGM). In some cases, women were portrayed as being too helpless to take a stand. All of which can imply that women are weak, spineless, witless or cruel. “Yes, you see! You women are your own worst enemies.”
In all this, patriarchy continues to rear its ugly, multi-hydra’ed head, although that might not be the message that many would take away from this.
The last monologue recounts many great women from times gone past and is, I imagine, intended to be a rousing call to arms. It states how patriarchy came with the white man and how the existence of the ‘great women of yore’ (e.g. Queen Amina, Moremi, Emotan, Efunsetan Aniwura) proved that historically there existed no form of discrimination based on gender. Now, I don’t believe that is correct at all! I believe that these women were the exception rather than the rule. Yes, we have had, and still have, families with strong mother figures, but they have tended to ‘know their place’ within the power structure of the family.
Women were reminded that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” While this is true on some levels, it does not account for the women who are not sufficiently knowledgeable about their rights (this is not just in a legal context) or empowered enough to fight their way out of the box that culture, society, tradition, religion, etc has put them in. So that statement, to me, was akin to belittling their pain and suffering.
Like I mentioned though, I enjoyed many of the monologues. I appreciate the phenomenal amount of work that went into writing and producing them. I was in awe of the actresses, particularly Omonor Imobhio and Bimbo Akintola. I also enjoyed Kemi Akindoju from Theatre @ Terra (Wow! She can SING!).
I think this was a good start in telling Nigerian women’s stories, but I would love to see a wider range of experiences represented; perhaps more monologues offering some hope or glimmer at the end of a very dark tunnel (or is there none?). Yes, we know that women can be cruel to other women, but let’s also not kid ourselves in believing that Nigeria is not patriarchal society. It is very much so and that needs to be re-enforced. Also, next year, let’s do without the male narrator and drummers.
- Funmi Iyanda
- When I moved back to Naija