Review: Joy Isi Bewaji’s Story of My Vagina: Socially Conscious Play or Feminist Propaganda?
Story of My Vagina: Socially Conscious Play or Feminist Propaganda?
Story of My Vagina is a forty-something minute play written by Joy Isi Bewaji and presented by the Crown Troupe of Africa. For the truly discerning; if you’re imaginative and you’re familiar with the writer, you know what to expect.
And either you agree with her or not, she meets your expectations.
Due to a confusing sense of direction and an equally confused Google map navigator I missed almost twenty minutes of the showing; however I saw enough to understand the message; the intent of the play.
SOMV is a thematic anthology of sorts that attempts to represent the many trails and travails of the Nigerian Woman. There’s the story of the woman who is sent packing from her husband’s home because the couple cannot have children. There’s the story of the woman who ends up in a cell because she dared report her husband for domestic violence. There’s the story of the woman who is molested by her male colleague and is told there’s nothing she can do about it simply because she is female and he is male; therefore he is superior to her – at least in the office. There’s a story of two female students; one who thinks the word ‘vagina’ is taboo and shouldn’t be mentioned in public, there’s the more self-aware one who doesn’t see anything wrong in calling a body part by its name. Fast-paced, littered with bright dialogue and a strong cast that brings the play alive with sizzling narrative strength, it is an interesting watch.
The play struggles to find a middle ground between painting a somewhat stereotypical (true nonetheless) picture of the Nigerian woman – a picture already popularized by your favorite Nollywood movie(s), and telling a different, often-neglected part of the female plight; women are just as responsible for the situation as are men.
One of the more-resounding parts the play is the vignette in which a woman is thrown out of her matrimonial home for the couple’s failure to conceive. She is not thrown out by the man (who is neither seen nor heard) but by the man’s mother aided by his two sisters. An interesting moment of this scenario is a scene in which the wife asks; “How do you know I’m the problem?” and the sisters respond with indignation. One of them says; “How dare you suggest our brother is the problem? Our brother that has large Cassava” or words to that effect.
I couldn’t help but wonder how she knows her brother has a big – but that is beside the point. And here’s my reason for choosing that particular vignette as my favorite – it brings something fresh to the conversation; how do we treat people of the same gender with us? Is feminism about blaming the other gender for your woes?
In the ultimate scene – the one in which a woman is locked up in a cell for reporting her husband for domestic abuse – a policeman rants about feminism; “You better forget this your feministic nonsense! Your feminism is nothing but a house divided against itself – it cannot stand!”
At the very least, what passes for feminism these days in these parts leaves many a man/woman confused. As I shared in a conversation with renown poet Dami Ajayi after the play, the question I want to ask most is, where does feminism end and misandry begin?
That particular vignette (the one with the thrown-out wife) and Joy’s closing speech emphasized what I believe the entire play should have been more about in the first place; man is NOT the enemy. These things happen, no doubt – but have we taken a moment to truly understand WHY they happen? No matter what you think, both men and women are victims of a construct called society, a construct constructed by both genders. I mean, what do we say about a society that makes it a compliment when a woman grabs a man in a certain way, but makes it molest/assault when a man grabs a woman in the exact same way?
Joy, in closing mentioned the truth that “You won’t hear men insulting other men of having small penises. No, these insults come from women” a hard, uncomfortable and often overlooked truth, something she herself did, either consciously or otherwise, in the play. Therefore, instead of provoking empathy and understanding from the average male, it is more than likely to spark a defensive reaction; “I’m not like that! I don’t grab or beat women anyhow…and this is the issue with feminism!” or similar denial.
However skewed the overall perspective of the play is, it is a strong presentation by a talented cast, a cast that takes everything but itself seriously. They dance through the lines and scenes like a fully-functional human being would dance through a day; normal or otherwise. And I would be remiss to not mention the audience; they were, at least at my viewing, a very quiet and attentive audience, following every scene and word with what I hope was contemplative and not offended silence.
If Story of My Vagina achieves anything, I hope at the very least it sparks a conversation – a much-needed conversation about gender and the things that truly matter.
I can get behind that.