It’s almost impossible to discuss “The Vagina Monologues” without using the clinical word for the female body part. But when actor-feminist Jane Fonda uttered a substitute that you just can’t say over the public airwaves Thursday on the TODAY Show, it caught everyone by surprise.
TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira apologized to viewers on behalf of Fonda and the program a few minutes later in the broadcast.
“We were talking about ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and Jane Fonda inadvertently said a word from the play that you don't say on television,” Vieira said. “It was a slip and obviously she apologizes, and so do we. We would do nothing to offend the audience. So please accept that apology.”
The Oscar winner joined playwright Eve Ensler to commemorate the 10th anniversary of V-Day, an organization combating violence against women that was spun off from Ensler’s popular play “The Vagina Monologues.”
Fonda used the vulgarity — which NBC omitted from its rebroadcasts in other time zones, as well as a clip of the segment on TODAYshow.com — when she uttered part of the title of one of the sections of the play.
The 70-year-old was describing how she was originally reluctant to even see a play with such a controversial title, but also added that it changed her life once she had seen Ensler’s production.
“I was theoretically a feminist,” Fonda told Vieira. “I knew that women have a right to our humanity and bodily integrity. I didn’t always live it behind closed doors.
“But when I saw ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ I never laughed or cried so hard in the theater. I think it was while I was laughing that something happened and I kind of slipped into my body and I really changed.”
The word and the show
“The Vagina Monologues” ran at the off-Broadway Westside Theatre in 1996. Ensler read all of the different narratives of women in the original production before it was recast with monologists.
“It’s all incredibly shocking and wonderful,” Ensler said. “I think at the beginning, my most pressing concern was surviving and getting the word out of my mouth in a little theater way downtown.”
She said one of the biggest struggles of the show was incorporating using the V-word.
“We weren’t allowed to say vagina on television. And CNN did a 10-minute piece on ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and never mentioned the word, which was really a feat,” Ensler said.
Fonda has starred in the play in productions all over the world including Israel, Mexico, India and the United States. Fonda even contributed $1 million to stage the play at Madison Square Garden in 2001.
“The most moving thing is after the play watching the women come up to Eve and talk of their life experience,” Fonda said.
Ensler said the play was originally crafted to celebrate women’s sexuality, but she has been inundated with many sad stories of abuse from women after shows.
She coined the term “femi-cide” to describe “a global pattern that is systematically undermining, undoing and desecrating women.”
In 1998, Ensler launched V-Day, a global nonprofit that has raised more than $50 million for local anti-violence groups and rape crisis centers.
The money, in part, is raised by staged benefit performances of the show worldwide between Feb. 1 and March 8, which is International Women’s Day.
The 10-year anniversary of V-Day will be celebrated with the biggest production of “The Vagina Monologues” in its history. It will take place over two days at the New Orleans Arena and Louisiana Superdome on April 11-12.
Contributors to this adaptation will include Fonda, Salma Hayek, Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Hudson, Glenn Close, Julia Stiles, Ali Larter, Sally Field, Marisa Tomei, Calpernia Addams, Rosario Dawson, Kerry Washington, and musicians Common, Eve and Charmaine Neville.
Discussing the New Orleans production, Ensler said the location is an appropriate venue.
“New Orleans is the vagina of America,” Ensler said.
Fonda grabbed the baton from her friend and ran with it, avoiding a repeat of the vulgarity she used earlier on the show, but nonetheless managing to continue to be provocative.
“Think about it,” she said. “It's moist, it's a wetland, it's a place where people come for fun. And when things go south, forget about it.”