According to one legend, after realizing that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and children, Emperor Claudius II ordered that no young men (therefore all potential soldiers) could marry.
Finding this to be unjust, Valentine continued to perform secret marriages for young lovers. When he was discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Later in 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day, perhaps to counteract the lack of dignity shown in the Roman Lupercalia festival, an integral part of which was a “lottery” for women. All the young women of the city would put their names into an urn from which the city’s bachelors would pick a woman.
Valentine’s Day is not just a celebration of girlish romance or even heated passion—all the stories of its origin (not just the aforementioned legend of St. Valentine) point to a deeper, more substantial meaning. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love between two people, a love which requires sacrifice and is directed toward a lasting union.
Given this original significance of Valentine’s Day, it is ironic to see people celebrating a completely different “V-Day” on and around February 14. As a “global activist movement” which seeks to end violence against women, V-Day claims to stand for women around the world, fighting for greater protection against violence such as rape, battery, sex slavery, and female genital mutilation.
An integral component of V-Day is the widespread performance of the Vagina Monologues, a series of monologues written by activist Eve Ensler. After its first performance in 1994, the *Monologues surged in popularity among feminist groups. Four years later, on Valentine’s Day, Ensler officially established V-Day with the “V” standing for Valentine’s Day, Victory, and of course, Vagina. *
Based on a series of interviews Ensler conducted with dozens of women, the Monologues are hailed by many feminists and celebrities as a “work of art,” which addresses the “social stigma surrounding rape and abuse.” V-Day has already made its way onto the Stanford campus, with sales of chocolate vaginas around Valentine’s Day and annual performances of the Vagina Monologues.
What many *Monologues *fans fail to realize is that this “artistic work” *severely *undermines the dignity of a woman and thus works against the noble effort to end violence against women. I try to find the virtues in many activist movements that I may not agree with, but I do not exaggerate when I say that I can find none in the Vagina**Monologues, at least with regards to how the *Monologues *attempts to pursue the goal of ending the degradation of women.
First of all, true to its name, the *Vagina Monologues *chronicles women’s various experiences with their respective vaginas. Some of these experiences include menstruation, birth, lesbian encounters, masturbation, and orgasm. The idea behind the explicit focus on the vagina is to empower women by removing whatever taboo is associated with talking about the most private part of the female body. Supporters of the *Monologues *associate this taboo with a sense of inferiority and therefore vulnerability to abuse. Simply put, a frank portrayal of a woman and her vaginal experiences is meant to “celebrate the vagina” – a supposedly effective departure from its all-too-common degradation.
Given the overall purpose to “celebrate the vagina,” I find it highly contradictory that the most personal experiences are described in a highly explicit—sometimes even humorous—manner. If the purpose of the *Vagina Monologues *is to “celebrate” and “empower” the vagina, the lack of discretion with which these experiences are described renders the vagina as something banal, rather than something of great importance.
But an even greater problem with this explicit focus on the vagina is that it fails to capture the dignity of the *entire *woman, whose feminine experiences are not purely vaginal. Monologues with titles like “My Angry Vagina” to “The Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy,” essentially reduce the woman’s femininity, from which she derives her female dignity, to a mere body part, just another thing.
True, a very powerful thing, but nevertheless, a thing.
Do not get me wrong: the vagina is an integral part of a woman’s dignity, but it is not where this dignity comes from. In fact, the vagina possesses an inviolability which stems from the dignity of the woman herself. The Vagina Monologues’ failure to recognize this is not unlike the objectification that results (though not physical or as grave) when a woman is raped or abused. Perpetrators of these crimes do not see the woman for who she is as a person but as a body part from which momentary pleasure can be derived.
Yet the emphasis of the vagina as just another pleasure-giving body part is a common theme throughout the play, from its emphasis of orgasm to an explicit lesbian pedophiliac encounter, in which a 13-year-old abuse victim (a later version portrays her as a 16-year-old girl) finds healing in a sexual experience with a 24-year-old woman. In this original version, she concludes the scene with the line, “Well I say if it was rape, it was a good rape.” As one can imagine, this stirred quite a bit of controversy, so the later version now ends with “She was my surprising, unexpected, politically incorrect salvation.” Funny how the purpose of this play is to empower women against rape. Politically incorrect indeed.
It is with these considerations that I, as a woman and passionate advocate of the effort to end violence against fellow women, call upon the Stanford intellectual community to re-evaluate its notion of what constitutes an *effective *and *rational *effort to fight rape, abuse, and sex slavery. I am confident that with further reflection, we will want to reclaim the original V-Day, a day which is supposed to celebrate the love between two people—a love which requires sacrifice and respects the dignity of those in love.
I conclude with the following quote from American science fiction writer Robert Heinlein: “Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Therein lies the solution to the problem of the degradation of women, not in the Vagina Monologues.