On Feb. 14, women on campuses around the country will be celebrating “V-Day.” To the uninitiated, this might sound like an abbreviation for Valentine’s Day. But to “vagina warriors” at more than 1,000 universities in the United States, it stands for “Victory, Valentine and Vagina.”
UNCA is one of 19 universities in the state, including Western Carolina and Appalachian State, that are hosting feminist playwright Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues or other V-Day-related events on or around Valentine’s Day.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of V-Day. To observe the occasion, students are performing either the original monologues or a new collection edited by Ensler, titled A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Writings to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls. At some North Carolina schools, students are showing the documentary Until the Violence Stops, which gives an overview of the V-Day movement.
Unfortunately, V-Day’s outrageous tactics make a mockery of the serious issues facing women around the world. Armed with the knowledge that “sex sells,” V-Day raises money—but not respect—for women’s issues.
High jinks aside, V-Day’s mission is laudable. Violence against women does occur, even in the United States. Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation and sexual slavery are all serious issues. Ending violence against women is a worthy goal.
But instead of action, the V-Day campaign is about awareness. This would not be bad if the activities were designed to educate audiences about serious threats to safety. But V-Day and The Vagina Monologues are more a glorification of female sexuality and a rejection of traditional values than either useful information or action. In fact, their most visible aim seems to be promoting alternative lifestyles and promiscuity.
Consider The Vagina Monologues, V-Day’s signature event. This is not about combating violence; in fact, it’s exactly what the title implies: women waxing philosophical about their private parts before a paying audience. Random House, the play’s publisher, describes it as a compendium of women’s stories of “intimacy, vulnerability and sexual self-discovery.” It features women—representing vaginas—who speak out from the stage about their experiences and preferences. The stories explore sexual fantasies, fears and experimentation. Of all the sexual encounters described in Ensler’s book and on the stage, only two involve intimacy with men. One grateful actress concludes, “I’ll never need to rely on a man.”
But instead of embracing the play as “emancipating,” feminists should be horrified over this sexual objectification of women. The play strips away any modesty, mystery, or dignity from sexual acts, just as it severs the connection between emotional and physical love. The Vagina Monologues represents sexual objectification—of women, by women.
Feminist student groups and women’s centers, and even health centers, are sponsoring the event at universities across the state. And in most cases, the common thread among the sponsors is commitment to a feminist agenda.
Those truly interested in ending violence against women have other, more serious options. Since 2004, Amnesty International has sponsored a Stop Violence Against Women campaign whose efforts help victims of domestic violence in 16 countries across the globe. The National Organization for Women sponsors annual “Take Back the Night” marches in cities and towns nationwide. NOW advocates for new state laws—outlawing stalking, making it easier to get restraining orders, and providing funding for hot lines and shelters. These groups and others devoted to women’s issues focus on the problem of violence against women and on tangible solutions.
In contrast, V-Day’s treatment of women as sexual objects undermines anything its fund raising might accomplish. V-Day alienates and ridicules where it should inform.
[Jenna Ashley Robinson is campus outreach coordinator for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, based in Raleigh.]