Ah, Valentine's Day. A day of flowers, crowded restaurants, and single people deciding whether or not they're feeling bitter. It's also a day when anti-feminists sound the alarm about the frightening feminist takeover of college campuses everywhere. The feminist crime? Alerting the world about the existence of two things anti-feminists believe would be better ignored in hopes they'll go away: vaginas and violence against women.
Now I know what you're thinking: But those two things are very different! It's true, they are. Vaginas do so much good for the world and violence against women doesn't do much good at all. Vaginas give pleasure and give birth, and violence against women is about punishing women for just that. Oh wait, that's the connection. Vaginas (and reproductive and sexual capacity in general) make society want to control women, and violence is the tool often used in service of that agenda. Playwright Eve Ensler made this connection many years ago after writing her famous and quite frankly funny play "The Vagina Monologues". The rampant misogyny that drives people to be afraid to discuss female bits without fear and shame also drives violence against women. So why not use the play's popularity to raise money to fight violence against women, and simultaneously educate people about these connections? And do it on Valentine's Day, to keep the "V" thing going and because people are surrounded by reminders of ladyparts everywhere they turn by the red and pink hearts that proliferate on Valentine's Day. Who could object to fighting rampant misogyny?
Well, it turns out that rampant misogynists object. Which makes sense–you can't really have rampant misogyny without the misogynists, and nor can you expect them to give up their worldview that easily. Anti-feminist women's organizations (Yes, you'd think that's a contradiction in terms, but some women find sister-bashing quite the profitable enterprise.) have made a sport out of protesting the various campus productions of "The Vagina Monologues" that help raise money and awareness every year.
The Independent Women's Forum, along with Concerned Women for America, takes the lead, and has established a "Take Back The Date" counter-event, based on the argument that admitting one has a vagina and attracting dates are mutually exclusive activities. They have some success with this argument, though it's hard to say where they're finding women who think men would rather ask them out if they believe a) you don't have a vagina to speak of or at least b) they'll never have to see the foul thing. Perhaps if you pick up all your dates at "ex-gay" events, then the promise of a future together with all roses, no nudity does work as a pick-up line.
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Unfortunately, the hostility towards raising women's self-esteem and fighting violence through this play hasn't stopped at just establishing pouty counter-events advocating that self-esteem and opposition to violence are unromantic. This year at St. Louis University, campus feminists found that the university not only wouldn't permit the play on campus, they tried to shut down another Ensler play, having already refused to approve "The Vagina Monologues", all in order to appease funders who don't approve of women's autonomy.
Critics of V-Day performances of "The Vagina Monologues" would have you believe that they're just motivated by a squeamishness about ladyparts, and not that they're necessarily opposed to women's right not to be beaten or raped. But I am more suspicious. Not that anyone is like, "Yea, wife-beating!", but advocacy against violence against women necessarily fits into a pantheon of beliefs centered around the belief that women are full human beings deserving of their full rights. Which means reproductive rights, the right to non-traditional family choices, the right to dignity within the family, and the right to feel good about yourself as a woman, all things that set social conservatives on edge. In short, you can't stop rape and domestic violence without curtailing male dominance, and social conservatives support male dominance.
And they're quite aware of how you can't have a male dominance omelet without cracking some rape and wife-beating eggs. Take the situation in South Carolina, for example. When feminists protested the fact that wife-beating is a misdeameanor, even though cock-fighting is about to become a felony, legislators dismissed the protesters by questioning their intelligence and suggesting that cock-fighting is indeed brutal in a way that beating the tar out of your supposed loved one is not.
In Tenneesse, a state senator gruffed during abortion law hearings about how the rape laws protect all women, instead of a man's virgin daughter property alone, stating:
"Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it's simply, ‘Let's don't go forward with this act.' "
In this case, the outrageous quote was directly in service of another part of the anti-feminist agenda. Democratic legislators in the state are using women's basic rights as a political football to score points against Republicans in a gamble that might not win for them and certainly not for women.
In all the pearl-clutching about the word "vagina", it's important not to miss the forest for the trees. Are social conservatives just easily offended babies who faint at hearing that women actually have genitals? (What do they think the precious babies emerge from, anyway?) Or do they oppose the actual message of V-Day and "The Vagina Monologues"—that women are full human beings, equal to men, and deserving of full autonomy and self-determination. Considering all the hostility towards not just the play, but the day, I'm firmly convinced that it's the latter.