This is a guest post by Echo Zen. Echo is a feminist filmmaker, blogger, speaker and sexual health advocate, currently deployed in the States to counter the influence of Tea Party moppets. When ze’s not doing ad consulting for birth control, ze tries to blog semi-regularly for Feministe (partly to set a good example for zir sister).
“Why are you doing Vagina Monologues?”
It’s a common question, even (and especially) among feminists, who may share common goals but different motives. Dispense with the details and specifics, and VM boils down to creating a safe space for women to voice their experiences – because we sure as hell don’t have many of those right now, certainly not in the world’s beacon of “democracy.” In the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, women’s representation on Capitol Hill – already at a paltry 17 percent, in a nation where 51 percent are female – fell for the first time in history. In the media sphere, women continue to be seen but not heard, with less than a third of U.S. films featuring women protagonists, and only a third of that number even being directed by women. And in a society that consistently scrubs and dismisses half the population’s stories and voices from public discourse, it comes as no surprise that the extremists in the other half of the population feel entitled to squeeze their boots even harder on the necks of women, to choke away the few stories women do tell about their lives and experiences – unless it toes the (Tea) Party line about how women are happiest when they have no aspirations or lives outside serving their husbands and children.
Of course one needn’t look to policy or institutions to see how society strives to silence the voices of women. Whether it’s the way women in online spaces are swamped with violent threats when they dare to voice their opinions, or the way girls who speak openly about their sexuality are shouted down for being “dirty whores,” or the belief that rape survivors with the audacity to “dare to take pleasure in their bodies and live their lives on their own terms deserve whatever they get,” sexism is just too stupidly obvious for any conscious person to ignore. And for the people who participate in V-Day, the desire to craft a safe, concrete space – albeit temporary – for women’s voices is usually a sufficient motive. Mine is slightly different.
“Why are you doing the Monologues?”
“Well, mostly because I support affordable childcare, equal pay for women and contraception access.”
Not the most conventional reason, sure, but let’s not kid ourselves. The thousands of policy assaults our so-called representatives have launched against women since the 2010 elections may be dressed in the language of “pro-life,” “fiscal responsibility” and “limited government.” But for uninformed observers late to the Tea Party, all these (overwhelmingly Christian) attacks are rooted in one fundamental phobia – the Religious Right’s fear of vaginas, their fanatical belief that the ability to control one’s vaginas in order to pursue an education and career is directly responsible for “America’s decline as a world power,” and their conviction that women’s ability to have sex without reproduction is the greatest threat to America’s economic future (along with gay people). After all, only Communist Nazis would possibly think corporate greed, corruption or income inequality had anything at all to do with what’s endangering Middle America today.
This isn’t news to anyone with even a cursory background in feminist advocacy. Fringe extremists have long promoted this ideology of vaginal contempt for decades – the Tea Party simply brought misogyny’s fringe elements into the mainstream, hidden in their Trojan horse of smaller government. And the media continues to fail at connecting the dots unifying the extremists’ relentless assaults on contraception, affordable childcare, collective bargaining rights and healthcare reform. All these are issues that disproportionately affect women’s ability to pursue education and careers like their male counterparts – because last time anyone checked, cisgender men don’t have to worry about pregnancy threatening their health and employability.
The singular motive behind these attacks is simple – to choke women out of the public sphere by stripping them of their rights, forcing them to accept lower wages and poorer work conditions, until they have no choice but to subordinate themselves to their husbands for their basic financial and healthcare needs. Only then can women’s voices be once again erased from the public sphere and the U.S. restored to its former glory, as in the good ol’ days before women’s independence ruined the moral foundation that made America great.
If there’s one silver lining to last year’s masturbatory carnival of legislative contempt for women, it’s that the misogynists who occupy seats of institutional power in the States have become so emboldened by their dominance that they’ve begun dispensing with the formality of feigning concern for protecting women from themselves – and have instead made plain their belief that women who dare to deviate from their proper role as submissive housewives are responsible for destroying America. And their honesty sure is refreshing. When high-profile figures like Santorum advocate for criminalising birth control because it grants to women “a license to do things,” and when half of Congress oversteps its arrogance by trying to strip rape survivors of their reproductive rights in full public view, it makes difficult the usual attempts to dismiss feminists as hysterical ladies who exaggerate extremist threats to contraception, domestic violence laws and equal pay for women.
There’s no hyperbole in classifying these attacks not just as equivalent to violence against women, but as violence against women, period. When legislators endanger women’s lives by forcing fraudulent abstinence-only education on teen girls or by stripping women of their right to life-saving contraception, they are by definition waging war on women. These legislators have carte blanche to violently pursue their goal of expelling women’s voices from the public sphere – not because women aren’t speaking up or fighting back, but because existing institutions have zero interest in representing women’s independent voices. That would require forcing apart the male, reactionary monopoly that today’s institutions wield over the megaphones of society – which would obviously threaten America’s moral fabric, or something.
That’s why we need V-Day more than ever now, 15 years after the Vagina Monologues premiered in 1996. We need these safe spaces for women, because not enough of them exist – and because the few that exist have come under repeated attack from who despise giving voice to women about their experiences with rape, incest and prejudice. These are the charlatans who claim giving a space to women where they can celebrate sexuality on their own terms – not as adjuncts to male, heterosexual partners – is “physical, selfish” and “devoid of God,” and that the way to “defend women’s dignity” is by lecturing women on how “sexual modesty” will keep men from raping them.
The idea of women speaking openly and candidly about their experiences of menstruation, war rape and female empowerment must scare the hell out of institutional misogynists. And in an era where attacks on women’s voices are coming more furiously than ever, we need these stories more than ever.
Addendum: If you’re producing, directing or otherwise doing Vagina Monologues right now, at some point you may realise you’re a masochist for even attempting this, and despair over how you’ll have everything ready by your performance date. Know that thousands of your allies know exactly how you feel, and that even if we’ve never met, you are my sister-soldier and I know you’ll make it to the end. Kick arse out there – we have big, meaty fish to fry afterward, like Boehner and his boner-killing gang of thugs in November!
(And as always, this piece is dedicated to Aiyana and Tisha. I love you both.)
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