Each year around Valentine’s Day hundreds of college campuses across the country put on benefit productions of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler’s famous play about our. . . . ahem.
The Vagina Monologues has become the Lion King of feminism. It is performed to large audiences on campus after campus. The show’s popularity also underpins the organizational success of Ensler’s V-Day campaign, the national structure that organizes all the local benefit productions of the show.
I’m no prude. I’ve produced the play on my campus, which raised $10,000 for local charities.
But I have a problem with V-Day. The V-Day campaign has raised tens of millions of dollars to stop violence against women. But has it actually stopped violence against women? And should that be the sole target of the money raised by a play about vaginas?
If a vagina could speak it might ask to put some money into stopping sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, cervical cancer, or infant mortality. I’m pretty sure mine would.
Why the sole connection between vaginas and violence against women? Does having a vagina automatically make women vulnerable? Is a vagina an opening to oppression?
Ensler’s play’s has a great monologue called “My Vagina is Angry. ” But the broader organizing and fundraising structure of V-Day equates vaginas and women with victimhood, not ferocity. No wonder V-Day discourages donations to self-defense training for women.
When I produced the show, V-Day headquarters dissuaded me from donating the money from ticket sales to an organization dedicated to women’s self-defense on the grounds that self-defense uses violence and so is not truly anti-gender violence work.
V-Day encourages producers of the play to donate money instead to help women who are recovering from sexual violence and domestic abuse, build coalitions, and end violence and oppression. Most of the millions of dollars raised have gone to battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers. In a few cases, money has been donated to Planned Parenthood offices and even a college Women’s Studies Program.
I have personally trained in both women’s studies and in self-defense, and I promise you that a good testicle twist is far more effective for thwarting an attack than even the smartest feminist literary criticism.
Counseling, hotlines, task forces, and even performance art pieces are legitimate and effective ways to end violence against women. But not without also training women to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. Self-defense must be a key part of our efforts to stop rape and battery. Besides, women tend to find self-defense training incredibly empowering and transformative, which helps transform our rape culture.
I love the The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day campaign. But I’m sad that this theatrical tour de force never touts the effectiveness of self-defense training or names any of the many nonprofit self-defense organizations in the U.S. as legitimate beneficiaries of V-Day fundraising efforts.
It’s time to rescript the female body, to think of our bodies not as vulnerable victims but as strong, resisting bodies. And it would be nice to see some of the proceeds in the V-Day campaign going to help train women in the empowering tactics of self-defense.
When women need help and shelter I’m all for providing it. But my vagina has a dream.
The special issue of VAW is out!
View the Table of Contents online at:
The full Editors’ Introduction–by Martha McCaughey and Jill Cermele, the guest editors for the special issue–is online.