The Feminist War on Valentine's Day
By: Jon Sanders
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 14, 2005
"According to the legend, St. Valentine was beheaded on Feb. 14, at Rome, under Claudius. The old notion was that birds began to couple on that day, and hence arose the custom of young persons of both sexes choosing each other as 'Valentines' for the ensuing year by a species of lottery, and of sending love missives to each other."
That was the description of Valentine's Day given by Collier's New Encyclopedia in 1928. One legend runs that Claudius II, believing that single men were better soldiers, forbid young men from marriage -- a decree that Valentine flouted by continuing to marry young lovers. Another version has Valentine rescuing Christians from Roman prisons, getting caught, falling in love with the jailer's daughter, and before being executed, sending her a love letter "from your Valentine."
Either way, the namesake of the holiday has long stood for selfless service and romantic love. Amor vincit omnia.
So why do American universities choose to celebrate this holiday by ritualistic chanting of "vagina," the sale of "vulva cookies," "Period Party" bags, "Vagina Warrior" T-shirts and other merchandise, and discussions of rape and sexual violence?
The answer is, they're American universities, and the peddler of those ideas, Eve Ensler, knew her audience well and crafted a marketing plan for them that was nothing short of brilliant. Those of us in what students call "the real world," of course, necessarily think it's stark lunacy.
Those things mentioned above are all part of the growing marketing package for "The Vagina Monologues" (TVM). Several years ago Ensler thought that a one-woman play about talking vaginas would be great, and the cognoscenti at American universities, being what they are, agreed. Feminists, being feminists, parroted Ensler's theory that men conspire to prevent women from talking about their vaginas and lauded as revolutionary Ensler's encouragement for audiences to chant words for vagina. Given such a setup, when any man laughs off the idea as "the stupidest thing I've ever heard," it's treated as confirmation of the alleged conspiracy, and he is of course set upon. Similarly, a female scoffer proves the conspiracy's terrible range.
TVM proved to be such a hit that Ensler was encouraged to market more along those lines. Thus "V-Day" was born. "The 'V' in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine, and Vagina," Ensler's press kit helpfully explains. And just as Christians supplanted the pagan Lupercalia festival of fertility with Valentine's Day's celebration of romantic love, the Puritans of academe now use V-Day to supplant that "heterosexist," "patriarchal" holiday. But they're too busy being good Puritans to notice that they're being scammed. Think "PTL" for feminists ("PTV").
The V-Day Press Kit urges you to "Take Action to Help Stop Violence Against Women and Girls." What action? She lists them. First is "Sponsor an Event." The event is, of course, presenting TVM; she says it will "mobiliz[e] communities to stop violence against women" and "raise awareness and money to stop violence against women and girls." Next is "Host an Event in Honor of V-Day." This is for non-TVM events, for which "[t]here are specific guidelines" so contact V-day.org. Third is "Spread the Word," which involves marking "communities as 'Rape-Free Zones'" and buying "'Rape-Free Zone' ribbons, buttons, temporary tattoos and other 'Rape-Free Zone' items at the V-Day online store." Last is, redundantly, "Take Action," which means "Volunteer" (your time or resources, just contact V-Day), "Donate" (by money or check to V-Day), and "Shop" (at the V-Day Store).
So much self-promotion, so little in the way of solving the problem. ("Take Action" listed as a step under "Take Action"?) Ensler's V-Day apparatus has the vaguely unsettling feel of an Amway pitch. Friends, do you want to make a lot of money/end violence against women? Well, join Amway/V-Day! Now, the first step to making money/ending violence against women is buying Amway/V-Day products! Then, host an event/TVM in your community!
If pressed for a solution, as she was by Salon.com in November 2001, Ensler resorts to reflexive leftist sloganeering: "we are living in a paradigm of escalating violence -- based, in my opinion, on corporate greed and the emerging globalization of the world." Then, despite the fact that she's the one being asked "So, what's your solution?", she concludes with very basic questions: "What is violence towards women, the mechanics of it, the trajectory of it? And then, what are we going to do to stop it?"
This is no solution. This is an amalgam of bumper-sticker quotations (globalization -- and "of the world," no less!) followed by a challenge to "be setting out to think about" (emphasis added) a solution.
Like any good scam, V-Day accomplishes some good among all the profiteering, just to keep up appearances. Writing for The Nation Dec. 2, 2002, Jennifer Baumgardner stated, "The salient question is, 'Is V-Day effective in liberating women and ending violence?'" Her answer was affirmative: "V-Day boasts 1,281 events around the world and $14 million raised in the past few years. It grants more money to antiviolence initiatives than the UN Development Fund for Women...." It has established a "safe house" in Narok, Kenya, for girls fleeing female genital mutilation, and another one in Rapid City, South Dakota, to serve as a shelter for Sioux women fleeing from domestic violence. It donates to local agencies fighting sexual assault, rape and domestic violence, and to international groups fighting those and other things, including bride burnings, female genital mutilation, honor killings, incest, and sexual slavery.
Nevertheless, Baumgardner states a few paragraphs later (emphasis added): "The most profound contribution of V-Day, though, might be simply saying the word and performing the piece." The piece is TVM, of course, and the word is "vagina."
Just taken at face value, Eve Ensler wants violence against women across the world to end. Credit her with noble intentions -- intentions and concerns that are hardly unique and are shared by well-meaning individuals worldwide. What sets Ensler apart is not her intentions or concerns, but her approach -- which is so profoundly trivial, silly, weird and off-putting that she alienates nigh on all of her potential allies.
But she's making a mint in the meantime. Plus, she's adding to her profitable repertory of talking body parts. She's written a play about her stomach entitled "The Good Body." Turns out there's not only a conspiracy to keep women silent about their vaginas, but also one to make them hate their stomachs, too.
Ensler told the Times (U.K.) of Oct. 2, 2004, that "I have been in a dialogue with my stomach for the past three years. I have entered my belly -- the dark wet underworld -- to get at the secrets there." Now that is navel-gazing!
Remembering the marketing lessons she learned from TVM, Ensler already has an accompanying project to go along with TGB. It's called the "Love Your Tree" project. Environmentalists be still, it's not about tree-hugging. It takes its name from dialogue in TGB in which Eve narrates: "Turns out I¹m a tree. Love my tree. I¹m all tree. My partner¹s been worried and he surprises me in Africa. We spend the night in a hut in a netted bed in a safari park. The sound of wild hyenas in the dark. I¹m all tree. I¹m all naked, dancing tree. I¹m all tree inside me."
Readers will be forgiven if they think Ensler is, to borrow a euphemism, completely out of her tree. They aren't her target audience. But if academics and feminists react as they still do to TVM, Ensler will have every excuse to love her new money tree.
Jon Sanders, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a writer in Raleigh, N.C.
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