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February 19, 2006

Vulva diary – musing on holy icons, vagina ownership and questions of when all this went from amusing to insane

Georgia O'KeefeThere is a scene near the end of Animal House where a young, adolescent male is sitting alone in his room when suddenly a nubile college coed, clad only in bra and panties, comes crashing through the roof into his bed. A stunned moment and he looks up in rapture crying “thank you, God” and flings himself on the bed as the scene cuts away.

Now, remember that, because I’ll come back to it.

Valentine’s Day came and went with little comment from me because I’m tired that this most innocent and gentle of holidays has become a bone of political contention. Some sneer at the commercialization, some ban it as a tool of Western Debauchery and Immorality, and on American college campuses some have used it for “V-Day” activities. “V”, in this case standing for “vagina”, not valentine. “V-Day” is ostensibly an anti-violence-against-woman day where demonstrations, flyers, t-shirts and anatomically correct candy are passed out, surrounding a performance of Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues.

And this is where things start going a little crazy.

First off, there is no question that the play has proved “popular”. There is no question that Ensler, the person, has done extraordinary good in both highlighting the undeniable problem of violence against women and girls and is a very successful humanitarian in raising extraordinary sums of money to combat violence around the world. From safe houses in Africa for girls threatened with moslem-belief-based genital mutilation to Middle East organizations dedicated to stopping “honor” killings, Ensler’s dedication to charity is unquestioned.

But she is a very poor playwright. And to say so is to mark one Enemy of the Vagina.

How much of a holy icon The Vagina Monologues has become is to view the point/counterpoint arguments surrounding it. Random House’s puffery on their author includes:

Eve Ensler is a force of nature, a woman alive with passion and conviction. "You don't just hook up with Eve," Glenn Close has said, "You become part of her crusade. There's a core of us who are Eve's army." "Eve Ensler can soar to Rabelesian heights or move us with quiet compassion," writes Time. "She may not save the world, but what other playwrights even think of trying."
The Vagina Monologues is a crusade where Eve's Army of Vagina Warriors go out and do battle against The Patriarchy. It has taken on an evangelical patina and The Vagina Monologues is tent revivalism at its most fervent. Audiences are encouraged to chant "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" in order to "take back" the word.

As pro-sex feminist, Betty Dodson remarks:

She has become an evangelical minister shouting and gesturing and admonishing us to demand an end to violence against women as the crowd roars in agreement. Toward the end of the evening Eve asked everyone who'd ever been raped to stand up. Only a smattering of women stood. Then she asked for those women who had been beaten to stand. Many more stood. Finally she asked all those to stand who knew any woman who'd been raped or beaten which included most of the audience. I refused to stand as an insignificant protest knowing she would never ask those of us who had never been raped or beaten and who enjoyed our sexuality to stand.
The holiness of the play allows all critics to be portrayed as not offering their criticism in good faith.

Karin Agness took the tact in her column that Vagina Warriors have become what they claim to hate, reducing women to a body part. Agness' political criticism didn't sit well with young Jill at Feministe who started with a snark aimed right between Karin's legs.

Karin Agness, ... who I suspect is pissed off because her vagina never taught her how to write effectively
Of course, fisking is a time-honored tradition of the blogsphere and no one is immune. That Jill never squarely addresses Agness' political point is her call, but it is part of a usual schtick that those that disagree with Jill do not do so on good faith grounds.

Little Miss Attila points out the reception that Jeff Goldstein got for having the termerity to ask for a discussion on an egregious case of falsely reporting a rape. Jill took an oblique swipe at Jeff and her thread commenters were even more specific in calling him a misogynist and rape-supporter.

Such are the politics of Vagina Warriors.

And it's not just political criticism, but even if one (like me) criticizes The Vagina Monologues on an artistic basis.

I haven't seen the play performed, but I have read it. The writing is tedious, sophmoric and causes one to laugh in places I don't think the author intended. One of the monologues is based on workshops that Betty Dodson used to hold, though Ensler let her 'artistic license' to fictionalize it to Dodson's shock. Here is some of Ensler's breathless, "empowering" scripture

"My vagina amazed me. I couldn’t speak when it came my turn in the workshop. I was speechless. I had awakened to what the woman who ran the workshop called 'vaginal wonder.'”

"The woman who ran the workshop told me my clitoris was not something I could lose. It was me, the essence of me. It was both the doorbell to my house and the house itself. I didn’t have to find it. I had to be it. Be it. Be my clitoris."

"My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny. I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me."

When an actor of Glenn Close's stature is swooning over lines like, My vagina, my vagina, me!" you realize you are in the presence of religious fervor and faith, not reason. Save yourself 90 minutes of tedium and don't see it.

In Jill's thread I offered an artistic criticism based solely on the play's writing. Regardless of it's "popularity", I argue, it doesn't make it "art". Deep Throat is an international success, but sensational is not synonomous with art. Regardless of the money it has raised, it doesn't make it sacrosanct and beyond criticism. But the money angle gives cover to the terminally angry about the motives of anyone that finds The Vagina Monologues less than Revealed Truth.

But even that line of reasoning is forbidden when it comes to The Vagina Monologues. In the presence Revealed Truth, all blasphemers are to be marginalized.

It remained, then, that my artistic criticism was met with ever increasing hostility until such time it was revealed that I didn't own my own vagina. I let men own it. I was "anti-female-sexuality."

It's at that time one fully realizes the depth of self-delusion and, dare I say it, self-hate of the people one is debating with.

Yes, I snarked back in one of those "fuck THIS shit" moments. Bad form as blasphemers are never allowed to react in kind.

The Vagina Monologues is a reductive play. It eschews the classic feminist goals of women as whole and equal beings with men. It has a very 70's sensibility of shock for its own sake and proving how hip, chic and free a female can be by shouting and sharing her vagina because she is her vagina.

Little Miss Attila in the link describes the myopia of a woman in a writer's workshop she attended who heard LMA's autobiographical piece describing her first sexual experience as forced on her by her boyfriend:

One of the women in the group was profoundly shocked at all this, and simply could not believe that the people who knew about it didn't do more to help me.

"You know," I responded, "that was pretty small potatoes compared to all the other things that were going on when I was a teenager."

This woman had heard enough from my autobiographical pieces to know that I was homeless multiple times during that era, not to mention getting attacked with a club by a close family member. Etc.

And yet, in the tradition of extreme feminists everywhere, she regarded me as simply a walking vagina with arms and legs attached to it.

Which brings me back to my opening paragraph. The nature of all adolescents is to be obsessed with their genitalia. Hormones surge, even the mundane can be erotic, and fantasies over when do I get to do it and what will it be like, can cause arousal even at the most inopportune time. Young males often see females as little more than walking vaginas with arms and legs attached.

Ok. Add boobs. Vaginas topped with breasts and having arms and legs.

The Vagina Monologues encourages women and girls to believe that of themselves. The author claims she wants to demystify vaginas, but V-Day is about reducing female sexuality to one particular body part effectively tossing this female through the roof into an adolescent boy's fantasy. Yes, baby, I'm a Vagina Warrior, too! Now, let's fuck.

LMA again:

How did sexual politics come to this? When did we get this far off-course?
I wish I knew. Ensler, 52, is still in the 70's fighting the 50's.

All those young adults in American colleges today deserve a hell of a lot better than cunt-workshops and vulva lollipops.

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Posted by Darleen at February 19, 2006 09:45 AM


this most innocent and gentle of holidays

Innocent and gentle? Saint Valentine became a saint because he was imprisoned and martyred, probably tortured. The only other major event associated with the holiday is the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Posted by: zuzu at February 19, 2006 05:53 PM

For heaven's sake, Zuzu!

Regardless of his martyrdom, he is remembered, first and primarily, as the monk who married sweethearts. And I grew up with it, like Halloween, as primarily one of those fun holidays where, as a schoolchild, you got to do crafts and hand out little cards to all your classmates. A holiday of simple, romantic love. For adults there were no lavish gifts, no pressure to spend. Love notes and maybe a flower. Or maybe it was the day to become engaged.

True to "V-Day" you associate Valentine's day with violence, death and sorrow.

How sad

Posted by: Darleen at February 19, 2006 06:12 PM

It's probably got something to do with the humiliation of being one of the kids with few Valentines in the bag at school, not to mention the fact that I'm a distant relative of one of the gangsters involved in the Massacre.

Which, incidentally, was the reason Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis were on the run in one of my favorite movies.

See, unless kids are made to give out cards to everyone, the kids will give out cards to those they like. And that means that some kids will get a lot of cards, and some kids will get few, and everyone will know the difference. I was one of the kids who got few, and it was really fucking humiliating at a very young age. So, yes, I associate the holiday with sorrow and anger. It's not all hearts and flowers for everyone.

But back to the Vagina Monologues -- you appreciate Eve Ensler's activism, but have you considered for a moment that the reason she has the resources to do positive things in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World is that her play -- whatever its artistic merits -- has touched a nerve among women in the First World.

But your criticism always focuses on the reactions to the play, not the play itself. It might be the most maudlin piece of dreck (and I'm not particularly fond of it as art), but you can't deny that it's had a profound effect on a hell of a lot of women.

Posted by: zuzu at February 19, 2006 06:25 PM


I'm sure Larry Flynt, by way of the popularity of Hustler, raises lots of money for charity. His magazine has had a profound effect on society too.

I don't take away anyone's right to either porn or The Vagina Monologues. But can't we do better? Can't young women and young men be inspired to treat each other with respect without reducing one party to a body part and the other party to an evil or indifferent predator?

An aside... Valentines day for me as a kid, and when my own kids were little, involved a teacher sending home a class list and MY insisting that my girls make a card for everyone on it. I'm sorry your teachers and your classmates parents weren't as responsible.

On my 13th birthday the Israeli 6 day war began, on my 14th, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. But I don't associate my birthday with death and sorrow.

Posted by: Darleen at February 19, 2006 06:38 PM

On my 13th birthday the Israeli 6 day war began, on my 14th, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. But I don't associate my birthday with death and sorrow.

Tell me, do you associate September 11th with death and sorrow? Because I know you do, and you dont' even live in NYC or DC. I can give you all kinds of stories about how clear deep blue September skies remind me of 9/11 and the fusellage parts that landed on my office building and broke my office windows, as well as the ghost people covered with dust. And conservatives are still working this, five years later, when they were adults the whole time.

But you belittle my kindergarten experiences. How sweet. I'm sure RFK (as if you really gave a crap about him) or the 6-Day War (BTW, I know people who lost family members in it) didn't affect you quite as profoundly at the time as personal rejections.

In fact, you probably wouldn't have told the daughters that you're so willing to haul out as examples that they should just ignore the slings and arrows of their childhoods because their mother ignored world happenings that really didn't have anything to do with her.

I don't take away anyone's right to either porn or The Vagina Monologues. But can't we do better? Can't young women and young men be inspired to treat each other with respect without reducing one party to a body part and the other party to an evil or indifferent predator?

I really don't understand where you're getting all that from, in particular from the Vagina Monologues. Can you cite chapter and verse from the play itself where young women are reduced to a body part and men are reduced to an evil or indifferent predator?

Posted by: zuzu at February 19, 2006 07:53 PM


Why are you working so hard to pick a fight? I did NOT "belittle" your childhood.

I recall 9/11 as my parents recall Pearl Harbor. One does NOT have to have personally been on scene to have been effected. And why are you so sure of what I was thinking or involved in when I was younger? Stop trying to do a variation of the "chickenhawk" meme here. It's insulting and beneath you.

Tell me. In VM give me one positive male. A loving husband, a concerned boyfriend, a supportive friend.

I grew up a tomboy, outside playing hard and unafraid on a block of kids where there were 3 girls. Including me and my sister. I've a great relationship with my father and adored my uncle who I lost last September. Men have been some of my best friends through the years. Yes, there have been shitheads...my ex comes immediately to mind ... but I even had many many good years of marriage with my ex before it went to hell. I just don't consider "penis-people" my natural enemy and the core of All Evil in the World.

Posted by: Darleen at February 19, 2006 08:10 PM

A thought

VM is like diagnosing a disease. Taking an MRI of suffering (violence, rape, disassociation) and sticking it up on the lightboard to review.

Then never moving on. No comparisons to healthy people, no treatment suggested.

It's quasi-group therapy of 30+ years ago with gurus and communes and sitting in a circle naked under the stars to have a "religious" experience (then do a lot of fucking).

I understand that sort of woohoo aint we defying mommy and daddy appeal of VM. But for god's sake, when does Ensler grow up?

Posted by: Darleen at February 19, 2006 08:20 PM

- Posted this over at the "Men are pigs" castle of the fem Dracs:

Maybe a little anger management might help….btw…I rewrote the entire nova as a musical. Lots of supportive slippery libia and upbeat lyrical passages, while retaining all the sonorous vapors of appropriate angst. To get a taste of the basic theme, think “Springtime for Hitler and Germany”…..

Pretty sure that will bring out the shards of bloody glass. Funniest part is they won't believe I'm serious.. *snort*

Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 19, 2006 11:16 PM

- Darleen. Isn't that sort of the point. Aside from the laudable campaign for anti-victimization, it would seem to be the dodage laden and over-educated, yet emotional arrested, gang of eternaly unhappyists. That one line about feminist males had me in stitches. I have a great deal of experience with all shades of girley-men, and believe me their so called "respect for women" is somewhere between unspoken fear, and not so hidden clit envy. Respect for that particular nitch of society is out where the buses don't run. But then anyone grinding so hard for "recognition", such as the author of "VM", always tends to mistake ubsequious grovling for admiration.

Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 19, 2006 11:41 PM

The Vagina Monologues is simple immature shock, that's it.

Anyone who feels empowered by saying "I own my vagina" (as if it isn't even part of them) is a damn twit. I own my penis and have always realized that. The fact it took a play with a previously viewed vulgar word -- by society and general politeness terms -- in it's title, just shows the lack of self-esteem these women have in themselves.

There's no "The Female Brain Monologues" because that just wouldn't get attention without having things like Cunt and Twat screamed in the middle of it.

While I support their right to do what they want, I also wish they'd just face up to the truth that they got noticed because they were vulgar and stop trying to make themselves look like some prophet or person who came up with something unique.

Flame away all you sick low self-esteem feminists!

Posted by: Digger at February 20, 2006 05:02 AM

"Unhappyist?" That's a new one on me.

What's an unhappyist, as opposed to (say) a happyist?

Posted by: Carl W. Goss at February 20, 2006 08:19 AM

- Someone who raises unhappiness to an art form. You might call it "missing hap-penis syndrome".

Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 20, 2006 08:34 AM


Dontcha hate it when it seems like everyone is devoted to one idea as if it is a religion - even if it is your own religion - and you're like this is a tad creepy? Why all the flutterings and rufflings over criticism of a play, any play? Am I less in touch, so to speak, with my vulva, if I disdain the organic, unbleached tampon? I cannot afford the goddamn thing. Isn't that a rather stale attitude?

You keep saying what you gotta say. In women's college we heard theories about men feeling like they were extensions of their dicks. I, for one, never contemplated being an extension of my vulva. It's a good vulva, but I'll accept it as part of my overall package.

I haven't seen Vagina Monologues - I might love it, who knows - but there was a mirror for me to look in when I gave birth to my first child. I had no idea the mirror was there. I looked down and saw something reddish, twisted and shiny. "What's that?" I asked, fearfully.
"A mirror!" someone answered.
"Move that move that!" I hollered. It wasn't vulva, it was inside-out-alien-flesh. But I'd had no medication, so it was natural, and the hemorrhoid was a purplish golf ball.

Back to you, Darleen: Be one with your vulva, but be open with your thoughts. (Of course, you may want to be open with your vulva, too, but that's your own business.) Otherwise, we're doomed to a world of uniform thinking and vaginal dryness.

Posted by: Lucy at February 20, 2006 09:56 AM


You're overreacting to the fact you didn't get a lot of Valentines as a kid. Stop it, and accept the fact that some us really love the holiday of love, despite the fact of St. Valentine's bloody death, the Valentine's Day Massacre and the fact that we didn't always get as many Valentines as we wanted, or from the person we wanted one from. . .

Zuzu's attitude does bring out a point though, which is that there does seem to be an intellectual movement abroad in the country to stamp out all holidays---not just the usual targets such as Christmas, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, etc. This is always touted as being a high-minded effort to spare other's pain, and be "sensitive" to them, but I suspect the real reason is the perpetrator's own hurt feelings, a desire to see themselves as victims---and the fact they didn't get enough Valentines as a kid.

Posted by: TalkinKamel at February 20, 2006 10:59 AM

An "unhappyist" could be someone who always sees themself as a victim.

Posted by: TalkinKamel at February 20, 2006 11:20 AM


Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 20, 2006 11:23 AM

Well, guess I'm not an unhappyist.

I've only been victimized by auto-body repair shops.

That made me unhappy, but it passed.....

Posted by: Carl W. Goss at February 20, 2006 01:13 PM

I have to say, I'm not that into the "Hallmark" holidays, like Mother's Day--and like what Valentine's Day has turned into--but it's kind of a personal choice. And it seems a bit absurd that we're now supposed to have national holidays devoted to our genitals.

I mean, proud owner, and all that . . . but really. I guess the next step is for men to have a National Penis Day. Maybe that should be President's Day, since it already starts with the correct letter (apparently a requirement).

There's nothing wrong with college kids acting like college kids. But when people in their 30s and 40s do it, they tend to look pathetic.

Posted by: Attila Girl at February 20, 2006 05:43 PM

"National Penis Day"---LOL!

That appeals to my warped sense of humor!

Posted by: TalkinKamel at February 20, 2006 06:15 PM

-Actually Atilla Girl we already have one. Its cleverly disguised as "National pickle day", but everyone who loves gerkins knows thats just a cover. Every year I take the opportunity to have a special lunch with my g/f, and like any gentleman, I always offer her my pickle.

Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 20, 2006 07:00 PM

National Penis Day would never go over because it would be instantly branded as sexist, unlike anything female related.

Men are a minority in this country (isn't it 55% women right now?) yet we are treated like we have a 90 to 10% majority.

Men: a dying breed.

Posted by: Digger at February 20, 2006 10:47 PM

I'd ask someone to explain why apparently intelligent, thinking women would want to objectify themselves in a manner worthy of rude and crude men but I'm afraid the answer would make my head spin around and explode.

In women's college we heard theories about men feeling like they were extensions of their dicks. I, for one, never contemplated being an extension of my vulva.

Sounds to me you didn't buy into the theories. Good for you. I'll tell you, as much as I like my penis, it doesn't own me. And as advancing age has turned into something resembling wisdom, I've learned that keeping my zipper up and mouth shut can be very good things.

But what the eff do I know? I'm just an effin' dangler, ya know?

Posted by: I R A Darth Aggie at February 21, 2006 11:49 AM

I was speechless. I had awakened to what the woman who ran the workshop called 'vaginal wonder.'”

Wow!!! I know just what she means. I remember the first time I was struck with "vaginal wonder" (as a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever gotten over it, only the last 20 years, my "wonder" has been focused on ony one vagina (that belonging to my lovely wife).

By the way, that picture is stunning. What sort of flower is that? An iris?

Posted by: Tony at February 21, 2006 08:53 PM


That's a Georgia O'Keefe painting of the flower cannas. O'Keefe did absolutely stunning and sensual studies of several flowers, most notably the canna, lily, and orchids.

Congrats to you and your wife on 20 years!

Posted by: Darleen at February 22, 2006 07:18 AM

- Hmmmm.... Didn't know it was spelled canna-liguist... live and learn....

Posted by: Big Bang Hunter at February 22, 2006 06:03 PM