Every February 14, students on college campuses across America now gather to celebrate V-Day, the feminist alternative to Valentine's Day. Unlike Valentine's Day, a time for men and women to celebrate their love, V-Day is a time for women to celebrate their sex organs. Instead of sharing heart-shaped gifts with the individuals they love, students are encouraged to offer vagina-shaped gifts to the public.
Behind the celebration of V-Day is a powerful non-profit charity of the same name, which raises money for far-left organizations such as Feminist.com, Planned Parenthood, Girls, Inc., and various gay and lesbian centers.
Some of the trademark activities of V-Day include performances of Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues and public readings of her book A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer. The texts of both works include graphic descriptions of female sexual experiences.
V-Day premiered in 1998 with the ostensible aim of raising awareness and money for female victims of sexual abuse. Inspired by Ensler's 1996 play, which tells both true and fictional stories of women being abused, it claimed to empower women to take control of their sexuality rather than be passive victims of male violence. The subtext is that most women have suffered violence from men and that heterosexual love is normally a gateway to the annihilation of female dignity.
Every year V-Day celebrations flood college campuses with an array of offensive material that appears to have little connection with the prevention of violent crimes against women. For example, Roger Williams University was flooded with signs that read, "My Vagina is Huggable," "My Vagina is Flirty," and "My Vagina is Regal," while students at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill went around in "I ♥ My Vagina" T-shirts. V-Day participants at Boise State University distributed vagina-shaped lollipops, and at Arizona State University they constructed a 40-foot inflatable vagina.
The logic behind V-Day seems strange. If you were really concerned about preventing sexual abuse against women, wouldn't it be more effective to offer women lessons in self-defense rather than encourage them to participate in pornographic readings? And what possible connection can there be between empowering women to resist violence and encouraging them to distribute vagina-shaped lollipops?
While V-Day may seem to make no sense, it is a logical outgrowth of a certain strain of modern feminist ideology. By hijacking a holiday that has historically celebrated love between the sexes and replacing it with a day that encourages women to shamelessly flaunt their sexuality, the feminists behind the movement are making a powerful statement about their true priorities and goals. To see this, consider the history of feminism.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many female thinkers defended their sex precisely by asserting, maintaining, and celebrating appropriate sexual distinctions. For example, the Victorian writer Elizabeth Wordsworth once noted that "in an ideal state of society we never lose sight of the womanliness of women . . . why should it be considered a compliment to any woman to be told she writes, paints, sings, talks, or even thinks, like a man?"
Even more progressive female thinkers who challenged conventional feminine virtues and roles still took it for granted that there was a connection between biological sex and innate gender distinctions, and that such distinctions were a source of one's dignity. For example, Abigail Adams (1744–1818), who is considered a pioneer of early feminism, wrote to her sister praising Thomas Jefferson's daughter for "so womanly a behavior." Similarly, in the works of eighteenth-century female novelists who are now celebrated as proto-feminists, we find examples of women asserting their female dignity precisely by glorying in their inherent womanliness.
The assertion of female dignity also meant opposing such practices as prostitution and sexual slavery, which reduced a woman's value or identity to her sex organs.
Get Rid of Womanliness
More recent feminist writers have seen themselves as defending their sex precisely through their attempts to neutralize the sexual polarity. For them, it is no longer acceptable to emphasize the womanliness of women, as Elizabeth Wordsworth and Abigail Adams did, but neither is it acceptable to praise women for being like men. Feminism of the twentieth-century questioned the very category of womanliness and turned toward androgyny and egalitarianism.
Such a turn was described by Jennifer Reid Maxcy Myhre in an essay in the anthology Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation (2001). She describes how her "feminist rebirth" started when she realized that "femininity isn't inherent, natural or biological." In a symbolic act of shedding the vestiges of womanliness, Myhre shaved her head, commenting, "I chose to call myself androgynous and hoped to destroy the distinction between masculine and feminine, male and female."
In the past, attacks on the womanliness of women would have been seen as misogyny. However, part of the genius of twentieth-century feminism has been its ability to associate the notion of womanliness—and the "gender system" in which it was allegedly embedded—with violence against females! Shelia Ruth summarized the basic concern in her 1998 book Issues in Feminism: An Introduction to Women's Studies, where she wrote, "Feminists generally agree: Women are the victims of male violence. Such violence is an integral part of the gender system." According to this narrative, the only way women can escape the violence is to escape from the binary gender system.
The real victims of this paradigm shift have been girls and women themselves, especially those who still want to pursue activities that embody some degree of womanliness. For instance, in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, Carrie Lukas related how many women are made to feel guilty or marginalized for wanting to embrace the roles of wife and mother. Such women are often demonized in women's studies courses for having fallen victim to "heterosexual bribery." Lukas cites one women's studies textbook that defines "heterosexual bribery" as "the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right man, then you will be allowed to co-exist with patriarchy in relative peace." The point is clear: the only reason some women behave this way is that they are trying to keep aggressive males at bay.
To be sure, the details of what is considered "womanly" may vary from culture to culture. How we perceive our gender and sexuality is supported by cultural nurture. That's unsurprising. Where feminism goes wrong is in claiming that manhood and womanhood are entirely cultural constructions, when they are, in fact, rooted in our innate sexual differences. This error has been at the heart of feminist antipathy to womanliness.
Get Rid of Inequalities
In the mid-twentieth-century, the fear of womanliness found its greatest expression in the campaign to abolish marriage. But the feminist movement soon found that attacking marriage wasn't enough. It was necessary to attack sexual intercourse itself, because when a woman offers herself sexually to a man, even one to whom she is not married, she is practically encouraging him to celebrate that which makes her most womanly.
The problem with sexual intercourse is not simply that it brings to the fore the inequalities (differences) between men and women, but that it does so in a context that is delightful, and in which men and women become most themselves by being most different. (This difference is not merely biological. Studies have shown that men and women respond to sex differently on a neurological and emotional level.) This has led many feminists in the twentieth century to vilify sex itself.
As early as 1934, Naomi Mitchison complained that the feminist movement was creating a generation of women so instilled with a defiant idea of equality that the mere sensation of the male embrace roused an undercurrent of resentment. This prompted C. S. Lewis to observe, in his essay "'Equality' in Present Concerns," that "at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, is an erotic necessity." Lewis went on to speak of the tragic-comedy of the modern woman who is "taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success."
Many feminists since then have argued that the way to avoid this internal surrender of the female to the male is to excise romantic love from sex. Taking love and romance out of the equation seemed a straightforward way to remove the unfortunate residue of patriarchy which emerges every time a woman surrenders herself emotionally to a man. By reducing sex to a purely biological function, the more womanly dimensions of sexuality (e.g., child-bearing, a woman's need for sex to occur within a context of male protection and emotional nourishment, and so forth) could be avoided. A woman should be able to fornicate with as much emotional detachment as Don Juan.
Get Rid of Romantic Love
How is this liberating for women? The answer is purportedly found in such books as Sharon Thompson's Going All the Way: Teenage Girls' Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy and Leora Tanenbaum's Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation. These works argue that the only reason casual sex leaves young girls wounded and vulnerable is that they have made the mistake of fusing sex with love. The solution, Thompson argues, is for girls to stop "condition[ing] sexual consent on romantic expectations." Before the feminist utopia can arrive, love and romance must be excised from sex.
This new model of sexuality was promulgated in Rebecca Walker's contribution to Listen Up. Walker, who coined the term "third-wave feminism," asked, "what do young women need to make sex a dynamic, affirming, safe and pleasurable part of our lives?" Her answer: "Sex could also stand to be liberated from . . . marriage and procreation." Apparently sex must also be liberated from love, for while Walker discusses the importance of sex as an opportunity for personal growth, she says nothing about its role as an expression of love for another person.
This absence is not surprising. In the thought of many modern feminists, romantic love is a sexist hangover from our misogynist past. Influential psychologists Peter Glick and Susan Fiske echoed widespread thought when they suggested, in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that for men to "cherish" women or engage in acts of "intimacy-seeking" with females is right up there with being a gentleman on the index of behaviors that constitute "benevolent sexism." The basic idea is that romance patronizes women by objectifying them.
On the street level, this creates real problems for girls who still cherish romantic ideals. In A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit showed that romantic desire is one of the last castles that modern feminists are out to conquer. "In a different time," Shalit ironically observed, "a young woman had to avoid giving public evidence of sexual desire by living with someone out of wedlock; today she must avoid giving evidence of romantic desire."
Only Lesbianism Viable
But when romance is taken out of sex, women are left vulnerable to sexual exploitation. It is here that the real irony of modern feminism emerges. Feminists used to be content to attack traditional male courtesies—such as opening doors for women or offering to pay on dates—as misogynist at heart and thus as acts that objectify women. But they have now twisted this logic (such as it was) to the point where they regard those things that really do objectify women—such as sleeping with a woman without any thought of her as a person, or pursuing romance-free sexual relationships—as healthy and -affirming.
Emptying sex of relationship, love, romance, personhood, and procreation promised to usher in a feminist utopia by ridding the bedroom of the specter of womanliness. But the fact is that even impersonal sex outside of marriage can tend toward the entrenchment of gender roles by encouraging certain womanly attributes. Thus, some feminists have argued that in order for female sexuality to be truly liberated from the systemic patriarchy of our culture, men must be removed from the equation completely. In other words, the true feminist must be a lesbian.
The notion that only lesbianism is truly liberating has found expression in a voluminous corpus of "women's studies" literature. For instance, in Issues in Feminism, Sheila Ruth suggests that lesbians "are in a special position with regard to liberating female sexuality" and "are more able to discover and express authentic female sexuality than their heterosexual counterparts." More recently, the 2002 feminist book Who's Afraid of Women's Studies? cites Julia Penelope, who has suggested that women need to be more aware of lesbianism and celibacy so that "heterosexuality would not occur to women as a viable way of living!"
These ideas build on the framework pioneered by feminists like Jill Johnson, who in 1973 declared, "Until all women are lesbians, there will be no true political revolution." Johnson was echoed by a host of second-wave -feminists who equated heterosexual sex to rape. For example, in 1996 Catharine MacKinnon wrote, "What in the liberal view looks like love and romance looks a lot like hatred and torture to the feminist. Pleasure and eroticism become violation." Elsewhere she said that "the major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it."
It should come as no surprise that, having eroded all gender distinctions, feminists can now only respond with puritanical outrage against that one activity in which womanliness continually threatens to resurface: sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
Get Rid of Men, the Enemy
By now, you should get the picture. The narrative of modern feminism is that men are the enemy, romantic love is demeaning, and heterosexual love is a gateway to violence. Hence, healthy female sexuality can only be expressed in sexual encounters excised of love and romance, if not completely evacuated of men. V-Day comes to us as the culmination of this long and twisted itinerary, which has been followed by much modern feminism.
The message of V-Day is predicated on the theory that patriarchal culture is at the root of all the problems women face. Ensler's The Vagina Monologues: The V-Day Edition portrays men as sex-obsessed beasts who can never be trusted. Even the problems women face that do not seem to have anything to do with men are caused by the ubiquity of patriarchal culture. As Ensler put it in her book, "Our self-hatred is only the internalized repression and hatred of the patriarchal culture."
If one looks closely at V-Day, it becomes clear that it isn't just patriarchal culture that these women hate, it is men themselves. Indeed, V-Day hijacks a day that has traditionally drawn men and women together and uses it as an occasion to separate them. Significantly, the V-Day website (www.vday.org) features images of women embracing other women, but none of women embracing men.
If the goal of V-Day and The Vagina Monologues were really to help prevent sexual violence against women, one would expect the movement to showcase examples of healthy sexual relationships in marriage. However, all the examples of sex in marriage it presents are dysfunctional. After all, men are the enemy.
Get Rid of Dignity
It is bad enough that V-Day demonizes men. But it also degrades women by encouraging them to flaunt their sexuality and to act out in ways that at one time would only have been championed by misogynist men!
Early feminists opposed prostitution because it reduced a woman's value to her sex organs. V-Day also reduces a woman's value to her body parts; consequently, the architects of the movement have no problem glorifying prostitution. For example, one of the monologues in Ensler's play, "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy," tells of a successful tax attorney who leaves her career to become a lesbian prostitute. She specializes in sexual props (whips, handcuffs, and ropes) that are demeaning to women.
Another monologue cites a "workshop" leader who announces that her sexual organ "was me, the essence of me. It was both the doorbell to my house and the house itself." By reducing a woman to her sexuality and her sexuality to a single body part, V-Day objectifies women in the worst possible way. This mentality increases the likelihood of women being abused, since it encourages them to be perceived as little more than sex objects.
Ironically, V-Day treats sexual abuse as not really so bad—if the abuser is another woman. Another monologue positively recounts the story of a woman raping a 16-year-old girl (in the first edition, she was 13). The victim describes the rape as a "surprising, unexpected, politically incorrect salvation" that "transformed my [sex organ] and raised it up into a kind of heaven." In the original version, the monologue ended with the line: "If it was rape, it was a good rape."
Get Rid of Valentine's Day
While some feminists have spoken out against the crude presentation of female sexuality championed by V-Day, they have failed to appreciate that V-Day is the logical culmination of ideas that have been traveling along the feminist trajectory for decades.
At the heart of modern feminism is a virulent antagonism to romantic love. This antagonism was reflected in Amy Erickson's comment in 1993 that "romantic ideals were simply a means of maintaining male dominance at a time when overt demands of submission were no longer acceptable." Erickson was echoing Andrea Dworkin, who declared, "Romantic love . . . is the mythic celebration of female negation."
Since Valentine's Day is the celebration of romantic love, it was inevitable that feminists would eventually seek to subvert the holiday with one of their own. The replacement of the Valentine's Day heart with the V-Day vagina says it all. Marital love has been rejected. Romantic love, too. And because humanity is both male and female, V-Day's "sex" without men is also fundamentally dehumanizing—and heartless. •
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