The Valentine’s Day edition of the Primary Source had an article by Anna Kim called “A Dissenting Feminist” which I feel requires a response. Firstly, I would like to applaud Miss Kim for being critical of the feminist community. Certainly we can achieve as much progress for our aims of gender equality when we debate internally as when we criticize and seek to change patriarchal institutions. With that said, I firmly disagree with the article’s premise, that The Vagina Monologues and the V-Day celebrations that accompany the performance contribute to the objectification of women.
Anna Kim seems to agree with Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar who is a leading critic of feminisms. I find many of Sommers’ and Kim’s claim problematic, but I will only address Kim’s statement that, “The Vagina Monologues mars the respect that society ought to have for women, much as when the entertainment industry, for example, uses nude women to generate profit, the result is not only an increasing acceptance of scandalous attire, but also an increasing trend of males using females only for sexual gratification.” I think this is a very misguided assertion, which Kim never substantiates. However, she does admit that the monologues make women more comfortable with talking about rape and sexual violence. That alone, I believe, makes the monologues an admirable endeavor, and separates them from the dehumanizing portrayal of women we often see in the media.
Being comfortable with talking about sexual abuse is a big deal. Indeed, this discourse is perhaps one of the most powerful tools for fighting violence against women. When women are not ashamed or afraid to talk with each other about sex and sexual behavior they are empowered because they can learn how to differentiate healthy relationships from abusive ones. Our greatest weapon to stop violence against women is our ability to confidentially say “no,” in sexual situations if we feel uncomfortable. When we treat talking about women’s sexuality as taboo, many women are afraid to question and resist abusive circumstances. Encouraging silence perpetuates abuse.
I would like to go even further, however, and say that there is much more to The Vagina Monologues and the fight to stop violence against women. The Primary Source also included a page entitled “The Penis Monologues,” a parody of The Vagina Monologues, which demonstrates that when you substitute a penis, the effect really isn’t the same. The parody really crystallizes why Kim’s interpretation of the monologues misses the substantive message: they aren’t just about vaginas, they are about women—they are about people.
Thus, the monologues are not responsible for men using women for sex. Furthermore, women’s discourse and attire ought never be blamed for that sort of behavior anyway. The Vagina Monologues portrays many different types sexual roles for women, but never promotes disrespect. This is the exact opposite of many images we see in the media. The campus is certainly addressing this issue. The Tufts Men’s Activist Coalition hosted an event after the Super Bowl to analyze the portrayal of masculinity in advertising and inevitably femininity was addressed in the discussion. It was noted that women are portrayed as objects and body parts, without faces or identities. The Vagina Monologues reverses this picture of women’s sexuality by giving true identities to women and showing that they are more than body parts, and sexual abuse affects more than just their bodies, it affects their humanity.
The Vagina Monologues gives us the ability to talk about rape and sexual violence more freely. They portray women with identities that get hurt when their bodies are objectified. The V-day celebration is centered on the notion that women have voices and dignity, and celebrating that is a way to truly take a stand against violence. For these reasons, every day is V-Day to me.