Well-behaved vaginas rarely make history

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Fourteen years after its first performance, The Vagina Monologues has become a February tradition. Eve Ensler’s award-winning play is a series of monologues drawn from interviews with hundreds of women of all ages and nationalities about that most intimate part of themselves – their vaginas. The resulting monologues are funny, angry, triumphant and painful. They represent a wide range of experience including pleasure, shame, abuse and empowerment.  Performances are staged around the country, and many Americans find meaning in celebrating V-Day instead its commercialized counterpart, Valentine’s Day.

Eve Ensler, featured in Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, created V-Day to address a number of global issues including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sexual slavery. The money raised from V-Day events is distributed to anti-violence organizations around the world. Since its inception in 1998, V-Day has raised more than $50 million. In 2001, a performance of The Vagina Monologues at New York City's Madison Square Garden raised $1 million.

But every year, V-Day faces opposition from conservative and religious groups that think it’s vulgar to talk about vaginas. A friend recently forwarded me an email from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a conservative women's organization, entitled: "The Vagina Monologues EXPOSED." You can view the email here, but this is the jist of it:

We at the Luce Policy Institute believe that The Vagina Monologues trivializes the legacy of women who have achieved great things with their creativity, energy, intellect, and spirit. It glorifies social deviancy and sexual perversion and assaults and condemns men. That's why we created a special program to help you combat the widespread and damaging effects of V-Day. ... Fight back against this vulgar and degrading production by ordering your FREE materials from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute.

As an undergraduate, I was an enthusiastic participant in V-Day celebrations. I attended The Vagina Monologues each year, bought fundraiser vagina lollipops, began sentences with “My vagina feels…” and felt empowered by the whole experience. Needless to say, I was more than a little annoyed by the Institute's accusation that V-Day debased and degraded women. I sent away for my free materials.

I received a pamphlet called "The Vagina Monologues EXPOSED: A Student's Guide to V-Day." The pamphlet "exposes" the play's alleged failure to liberate and empower women, as well as a number of other things. I also received a bonus booklet, "Sense & Sexuality: The college girl's guide to real protection in a hooked up world." If V-Day Unveiled is truly a protest of a supposedly offensive play, then why would it come with a manual on "appropriate" sexuality? It seems as though the Luce Policy Institute's idea of empowerment involves prescribed rules and constraints on female sexuality.

The following is on the “About” page of the Institute’s website.

Thank you for visiting the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute website! You have found the home of conservative women leaders and the leading resource for advice, training, and guidance of young conservative women.

That just about sums it up. The Luce Policy Institute believes in women, but only once they have been properly advised, trained, and guided. That little catch makes it easy to ignore the millions of women who find power in owning, using, loving, and speaking about, their vaginas. (Well-behaved vaginas rarely make history.) Of course the Institute fears the power of The Vagina Monologues because it encourages women to speak from deep inside them, to own their stories, and to derive strength and power from the kinds of experiences that a properly-trained “lady” would never mention.

Life is neither decent nor modest, and to restrict discourse to such “appropriate” subjects is to ignore both the brutality and pleasure that women and their vaginas everywhere experience every day. The point of The Vagina Monologues is to reflect this reality, a point lost on conservative groups like the Luce Policy Institute who perceive the world to be a place that respects and honors women for their “decency, modesty, and intellect.”  My vagina knows better.

If you would like to get involved with V-Day efforts, visit V-Day.org or Jewish Women International’s list of state, national, and international organizations working to end violence against women.

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