The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1996 and won an Obie Award. She originally starred in it, playing all the various women who share their views about their vaginas with the audience; when she left the play it was recast with three celebrity monologists. The production has been staged internationally, and a television version featuring Ensler was produced by cable TV channel HBO.
The Vagina Monologues is made up of a varying number of monologues read by a varying number of women (initially, Eve Ensler performed every monologue herself, with subsequent performances featuring three actresses, and more recent versions featuring a different actress for every role). Every monologue somehow relates to the vagina, be it through sex, love, rape, menstruation, mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm, the variety of names for the vagina, or simply as a physical aspect of the female body. A recurring theme throughout the piece is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment, and the ultimate embodiment of individuality. Some monologues include:
Every year a new monologue is added to highlight a current issue affecting women around the world. In 2003, for example, a skit was made concerning the plight of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Eve Ensler wrote the first draft of the monologues in 1996 (there have been several revisions since) following interviews she conducted with 200 women about their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. The interviews began as casual conversations with her friends, who then brought up anecdotes they themselves had been told by other friends; this began a continuing chain of referrals. In an interview with women.com, Ensler said that her fascination with vaginas began because of "growing up in a violent society."  "Women's empowerment is deeply connected to their sexuality." She also stated, "I'm obsessed with women being violated and raped, and with incest. All of these things are deeply connected to our vaginas."
Ensler wrote the piece to "celebrate the vagina," which is described in one monologue as being superior to the penis because it contains the clitoris, which the monologues describe as the only body part in existence that has the sole purpose of giving pleasure. Ensler sees the vagina as being a tool of empowerment through which women can achieve total femininity and individuality. She claims inspiration for the piece came from Tina Turner: "I love Tina Turner. She's a woman who fully inhabits her vagina."  Ensler states that in 1998, the purpose of the piece changed from a celebration of vaginas and femininity to a movement to stop violence against women.
The first performance of the play was in the basement of the Cornelia Street Café in New York, New York in 1996. The play gained popularity through a word of mouth campaign that culminated with a performance at Madison Square Garden in 2001, which featured Melissa Etheridge and Whoopi Goldberg performing segments of the play.
The Vagina Monologues are the cornerstone of the V-Day movement, whose participants stage benefit performances of the show worldwide each Valentine's Day. The "V" in V-Day stands for Valentine, Vagina, Victory, and Violence, linking love and respect for women to ending violence against women and girls. The proceeds from these performances go to programs that assist victims of domestic violence.
V-Day has raised (and donated) over $30 million dollars and exists in 81 different countries. The organization has worked directly with women in regions like Cairo, Kenya and the Pine Ridge Reservation to build safe houses and support political resistance.
Camille Paglia has criticized V-Day as "turning Valentine's Day, the one holiday celebrating romantic harmony between the sexes, into a grisly memento mori of violence against women". 
Criticism of The Vagina Monologues
The Vagina Monologues has been criticized by a number of people in the pro-sex feminist, gender egalitarian, and individualist feminist movements. Pro-sex feminist Betty Dodson, author of several books about female sexuality, saw the play as having a negative and restrictive view of sexuality and an anti-male bias . She called the play a blast of hatred at men and heterosexuality. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy shared many of Dodson's views  .
Contentious elements of the play include:
Social conservative criticism
The play has also been criticized by social conservatives, such as the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property. The ASDTFP denounced it as "a piece replete with sexual encounters, lust, graphic descriptions of masturbation and lesbian behavior" , urging students and parents to protest. As a result of ASDTFP protests, performances were canceled at sixteen Catholic colleges.
Several performances of the play had also been banned by municipal authorities within the People's Republic of China.
The Case of Robert Swope
In 2000, Robert Swope, a conservative contributor to the Georgetown university newspaper, The Hoya, wrote an article critical of the play. He pointed out the contradiction between V-Day promoting awareness of rape, while using scenes such as "The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could", where a young woman describes a "good rape" by an older woman. Outcry from the play's supporters resulted in Swope's being fired from the staff of the Hoya, before the piece was even run. Swope had previously criticized the play in an article he wrote entitled "Georgetown Women's Center: Indispensable Asset or Improper Expenditure?". His termination received editorial coverage in The Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, National Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Times, and the Weekly Standard.  Due to the ensuing outcry Eve Ensler's "V-Day" organization has not allowed the monologue depicting the 13-year old girl's encounter as a "good rape" to be performed and has threatened to sue student groups that did so.
The Vagina Monologues is performed annually to bring attention to V-Day at many community centers and colleges. Small colleges such as Winthrop University, SUNY Oswego, Bryn Mawr College, Furman University, Eckerd College, Austin College, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M International University, Brandeis University, Davidson College, the University of West Florida, Colorado College, The Claremont Colleges, North Central College, Ferris State University, Southwestern University, the University of Texas at Dallas, Utah Valley State College, The College of New Jersey, Springfield College, and Transylvania University, as well as larger universities such as Rutgers University (Douglass College), the University of California, University of Cincinnati,University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, Boston University, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, the University of Delaware, Georgia Institute of Technology, The Evergreen State College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology make it a practice to perform a production of the Monologues every year. Student involvement and awareness are key to making this a success. The performances generally benefit rape crisis centers and similar resource centers for women.
The Vagina Monologues has been performed in 76 countries. The authorities in China are reported to have shut down one performance.
In the summer of 2006, the first performances were run in Japan; the three actresses were Syungiku Uchida (novelist, known for her sensational novel Fatherfucker), Naoko Nozawa (former comedian, known for her eccentricity; now married to an American man and mostly living in New York, and Chizuru Azuma (actress, once reputed as a candidate for Japanese national election under the auspices of LDP).
A production in Ottawa in 2006 included Senators Lillian Dyck and Nancy Ruth in the cast.
Directed by *Fanny Mikey