Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" has dominated college campuses across America, primarily around Valentine’s Day, since its 1998 debut. Mr. Jefferson’s hallowed Grounds at the University of Virginia was peppered with fliers bearing famous slogans from the play, such as “I longed to moan,” “Liked putting my fingers up there,” and “Vagina Wonder” in anticipation for the annual performance.
This year, however, some determined young women at UVA decided to challenge the eager consumption of this radical, leftist screed. The Network of Enlightened Women (NEW), a conservative women’s group, elected to host Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers on UVA's campus a few days before the performance. Sommers is the author of several books critical of leftwing feminism, including Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys.
The dyspeptic response of campus leftists to Dr. Sommers’ scheduled appearance revealed that, while many at UVA may claim to be committed to tolerance, that commitment does not extend to views that diverge from leftist orthodoxy. One might logically expect "liberal" feminists to openly embrace a dialogue on a topic that visibly affects women. However, Sommers’ lecture was shunned, condemned and ridiculed by these same diversity loving feminists, who called her and members of the NEW as "intolerant."
Even the NEW's efforts to advertise Sommers' lecture were met with derision, resistance and even outright confrontation. On one occasion, the group was passing out flyers to the lecture while other girls were selling tickets to “The Vagina Monologues” nearby. Members of the NEW were berated with jeers such as, “They don’t think women have rights; don’t support them;” “Enlighten your vagina,” “Come see what they are warning you about;” “Don’t be a witch with a "B" like them.'" Yet another taunt was, “Got to love your vagina before you can end sexual assault.”
Still, over 200 people filled the hall when Hoff Summers arrived on Feb. 10, though most of them were eager to paint the lecturer as a heartless, intolerant anti-feminist who was in favor of ignoring the victims of sexual assault. This despite the fact that Dr. Sommers prefaced her critiques with the following: “I want to acknowledge that The Vagina Monologues has made one valuable contribution to society. Ensler has used it to raise vast sums of money toward the cause of fighting violence against women, both in the United States and throughout the world. Nothing I say here today should be taken as criticism of her humanitarian work, which is vitally needed and admirable.”
Sommers focused on three main criticisms of "The Vagina Monologues:" “1) It is atrociously written. 2) It is viciously anti-male; and 3) and, most importantly, it claims to empower women, when in fact it makes us seem desperate and pathetic.” During the question-and-answer period following the speech, Dr. Sommers fielded a barrage of hostile questions and comments from leftwing faculty of UVA's Women's Studies department, actors who took part in UVA’s production of the play and antagonistic students. Argumentative statements ranged from criticism of the delivery of the speech to Dr. Sommers’ censoring of certain inappropriate words, to what some critics claimed was her shame about the human body. While the critics’ assertions were either obscure or ridiculous, all shared one common element: none of the criticisms of Dr. Sommers’ speech even attempted to deconstruct her compelling and well-substantiated case against “The Vagina Monologues.”
This unreflective response sheds light onto a larger problem across the country’s campuses. The fierce opposition to a speaker like Christina Hoff Sommers demonstrates what leftwing college campuses have become. Dr. Sommers' views are by no mean radical, and they are shared by a significant percentage of women in this country. Yet they were completely foreign to her predominantly leftwing audience.
Despite the disdain with which it was greeted by UVA’s leftwing feminist contingent (members of NEW have received numerous pieces of hate mail), Dr. Sommers appearance is a welcome development. After all, it signals the commencement of an open dialogue. The student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, printed several columns and letters to the editor concerning the event and discussions in various SWAG classes were launched. By inviting a dissenting voice to present her views, the Network of Enlightened Women, with support from the UVA College Republicans and the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, succeeded in shaking up the status quo. Beliefs previously thought by many at UVA to be indisputable facts are now actively being challenged.
As for those leftwing critics who rage against this new multiplicity of viewpoints, they should pause to consider what they are truly advocating: a discriminatory ideology that makes the university a less inclusive experience for all.