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Double Standard in The Vagina Monologues

disparities in ways African and U.S. genital cuttings are described

Forum: ButchDykeBoy Productions
Date: 12/31/2001

<< I think one problem with The Vagina Monologues becoming this huge cultural phenomenon is the fact that people begin to assume that it encompasses the experiences of all women, when the fact is that it not only doesn't but can't. >>

I would not have organized a response if it was just a "cultural phenomenon." But it is not just a play, or a "cultural phenomenon" - it is produced at 500 schools across the country through the non- profit organization, V-Day, which is a political movement. The web site of V-Day states that "V-Day is a global movement to stop violence against women and girls." As a political movement, it needs to be held accountable for the damages it causes.

Yes, the damages - not omissions, but damages, multiplied by 500. It is one thing to simply not have a monologue about intersex people; it is entirely different when you make suffering of intersex people into a joke, calling it a "wonderful vagina fairy tale," without addressing what results of it. There is a *huge* difference between how she depicts cutting of genitals in Africa and cutting of genitals in Oklahoma City: in the chapter about FGMs in Africa, the play gives out many horrifying "vagina facts" about damages it causes - while genital mutilations in the U.S. are written off as a "fairy tale" and a story about "love." Because V-Day is a political organization whose goal is to stop violence against women and girls, it needs to be held accountable for this contradiction.

<< it isn't true that "this is only part (sic) of the play where you hear only a man's voice." I can think of at least two instances when men are quoted >>

In these two instances, these men's voices are not the only voices in the same monologue, nor are they presented as the proof of their love toward the women. In the V-Day 2002 College Campaign script, there is *no* quote from the woman who was born without a vagina. None, except her father's voice telling her that he will make her a vagina for the sake of her future husband (in the older script, the father says that the vagina was made "just" for him; the V-Day 2002 script was modified to say it was "especially" for him).

<< More importantly, I think that the flyer kind of misses the spirit of the show >>

I don't think that it is the flier that "misses the spirit of the show," but it is Eve Ensler's depiction of intersex genital mutilation as a funny "fairy tale" and a familial love story (here, I use the word "mutilation" here under the same standard Eve uses in calling all African female genital cuttings "FGM").

I'd also comment that Butchies' reason for not speaking out against the anti-trans policy at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is pretty much the same as your reason for not liking the flier: they might not necessarily support the anti-trans policy per se, but they don't feel that it is appropriate to protest it because they have respect toward the spirit of the festival. In fact, this is the same mechanism under which women of color, working class women, etc. have been discredited or isolated for speaking out against racism, classism, etc. within women's communities.

----- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

Forum: ButchDykeBoy Productions
Date: 01/01/2002

<< The reason for this is that there is in fact a big difference between the two, just in view of the fact that they arose out of completely different cultural contexts. >>

Right, and that is why we should attack ritualistic genital cuttings that arose out of African cultures, while celebrating ritualistic genital cuttings in Oklahoma City? That doesn't make any sense. If anything, it should be the opposite, in order to avoid enacting cultural imperialism.

<< I don't think that the term "genital mutilation" should be bandied about lightly. Because if you argue that any cutting of genitals is horrible and constitutes mutilation, then you have to also argue that transsexuals who undergo operative procedures related to their genitals are mutilating themselves. >>

It is not I, but Eve who used the word "mutilation" to mean any cutting of genitals in *Africa* regardless of how the women feel about it; I am only going by her definition, as I explained (I wrote "I use the word "mutilation" here under the same standard Eve uses in calling all African female genital cuttings "FGM"). Did you not read this explanation, or understand the reason for doing so?

She could have written a comic episode about an African woman who was happy to have received genital cutting and called it "a wonderful vagina fairy tale," but she didn't. Of course not - many people, including many African women, would be rightfully very angry if she did (especially so if that was the sole depiction of African female genital cuttings). Instead, she cited the number of female genital cuttings in Africa as the number of "mutilations" - regardless of what these women actually felt about them - and listed all kinds of damages that are caused by these cuttings.

On the other hand, she did not call intersex genital cuttings "mutilation" under the same standard she used to label all African female genital cuttings "mutilation," but instead called it "a wonderful vagina fairy tale." Do you seriously believe that this has nothing to do with (a) cultural imperialism, and/or (b) ignorance about the extent of violence against intersex people?

Both African female genital cutting and Western intersex genital cutting are done ritually, often without giving the people receiving them realistic choices or alternatives. Some African women feel happy about it, as do some (supposedly) intersex people; some African women feel unhappy about it, as do some intersex people. Yet "The Vagina Monologues" insists on calling one "mutilation" regardless of how the person feels about it, while the other is celebrated as a "wonderful vagina fairy tale." Do you not see any disparities at all?

Your criticism ("then you have to also argue that transsexuals who undergo operative procedures related to their genitals are mutilating themselves") should be addressed to Eve, because she is the one who insists on calling all genital cuttings in Africa "mutilation" regardless of how the people who received them feel about them. I am simply using the same standard she used in order to show the contradiction in her script.

<< I agree that it's a glaring ommision that Ensler doesn't talk about intersex issues specifically, especially genital surgeries of young children >>

I don't know what you are agreeing to because I did not mention "genital surgeries of young children"; as I said, I am not criticizing the omission here, but the disparities between ways she depicts genital cuttings in Africa versus genital cuttings in the United States.


----- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.