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Mainstreaming The V Word

Mainstreaming The V Word

Attention Jewish women: Eve Ensler thinks you’re hot.
"Jewish women are really sexy," said the creator of "The Vagina Monologues" this week, after shooting publicity photos for an upcoming benefit performance of her hit show.
Proceeds from the Feb. 12 performance, being presented at Town Hall by the women of UJA-Federation of New York, will aid Jewish victims of domestic violence.
It’s one of 1,050 benefit readings of the play that will take place around Valentines Day, which Ensler has reclaimed as "V-Day." The "V" means victory over violence and, of course, as her Web site enthusiastically puts it, "vagina!"
"The Vagina Monologues" gives voice to a range of women’s attitudes toward their most private part and includes orgasms in a Berlitz-worthy range of dialects, including the rock singer Grace Slick moan, the elegant moan and, of course, the Jewish moan.
"I’ve told all my friends to come witness me making a fool out of myself for a good cause," says writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the 29 New Yorkers who will perform in the UJA production. Among the others are Barbara Dobkin, Marlene Post, Frances Brandt, Susan Stern, and Arlene Wittles.
Ensler’s "Monologues" message is clear: "My work is about ending violence, but also about women having agency to enjoy themselves and their sexuality," she said this week.
The Scarsdale native is just back from a trip to Israel with her kibbutz-born partner, Ariel Jordan, and actress Jane Fonda, where they visited victims of violence on both sides of the conflict.
Ensler often speaks about sexual and physical abuse she suffered as a child at her father’s hands and says she hopes this benefit will change the Jewish community’s consciousness.
"My Jewish father was the perpetrator, but I couldn’t speak about it in the community because ‘Jews didn’t perpetrate,’ " she said. "When I began breaking my own shame and talking about my father, a lot of neighbors and friends were angry at me for being "a bad Jew," she said. "Somehow it’s un-Jewish to talk about it. We have to change that."
In part because of The Vagina Monologues’ success, the zeitgeist has changed since Ensler, disturbed by a friend’s self-deprecating reference to her sexual organ, interviewed 200 women about their vaginas in 1996 and wrote the play.
Theaters refused to stage it. The New York Times balked at running an ad. And after it was selling out off-Broadway, TV networks didn’t want to use the V-word when reporting the show’s success.
Today the word vagina is, even if not everywhere, exactly, much more "normal" than it was before Ensler made it part of polite dinner-party conversation.
And that as mainstream an organization as UJA-Federation is putting on "The Monologues" ("the quintessential feminist event meeting the quintessential Jewish organization," said Pogrebin) "shows me that I’m not such a freak after all."
And yet. Municipal bond baroness Alexandra Lebenthal, head of Lebenthal and Company, is also in the benefit cast. Though slated to be part of pre-show publicity, she backed out.
Why? Business reasons.
For more on the benefit production of "The Vagina Monologues" call: (212) 836-1554.

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