What does it take to be an ally to women?
“It’s 10 o’clock. Have you made a vagina happy today?”
The flyers plastered each bulletin board around campus, naked porn stars with their legs contorted, breasts and vaginas barely covered by the show time and a not so subtle announcement for our upcoming student-led performance of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” on V-Day. It was my idea to be daring with our advertisements, to be controversial. I cut out money shots of women directly from a dirty magazine, pasted them to another sheet, and Xeroxed them into a more female-friendly territory. If we used porn stars’ likenesses for a feminist event, we weren’t objectifying them, right?
Like the “Vagina Monologues” themselves, our group would use shock value to lure people in. Alternately, it gave me an excuse to buy a copy of Hustler without incurring the wrath of my then-girlfriend, who was a jealous and aggressive Women’s Studies major and had criticized my pornography habits more than once.
In my first year at university, my ex and I co-organized “The Vagina Monologues”. My leadership position with the event reinforced my feelings of masculinity and dominance. I was surrounded by vaginas, but always detached from them. I suppose I felt that my involvement excused my arrogance. The lingerie I wore onstage during our performance was boxers and a ribbed tank top. The majority of girls performing, on the other hand, had all bought their costumes from a local sex boutique. For the weeks before and following the performance, I wore a shirt that said “I support your vagina.”
We baked vagina-shaped cookies, decorating the lips and clits with candy beads and icing. We decorated a chair to look like a puffy vulva. I loved talking about vaginas. Often I made sexist jokes out of it.
If your vagina could talk, what would it say?
“You like that, don’t you?”
If your vagina got dressed, what would it wear?
In the time between first rehearsals and the curtain call, I had been physically intimate with four of the girls in our show. I enjoyed the chase, and some cocky part of me thought that my involvement in the play—in a leadership position—gave me free reign over the vaginas involved in the play. As if by playing feminism as an act and paying my pro-woman dues, I was entitled to as much “pussy” as I wanted. Even as I championed women’s rights by fundraising, I whittled those good deeds away with my hypocrisy.
No wonder so many women are pissed off at men. How was this not objectification, to say I love vaginas? Not women, not women and their vaginas, just vaginas. The saddest part is that this all happened only three years ago. Reflecting on that point in my life is difficult because I’m forced to admit several uncomfortable facts.
One, that I hated my body. I was born with a vagina that, in my opinion, didn’t belong to me. I thought of vaginas as one physical characteristic of a woman, so on a man a vagina was out of place. I willfully ignored my own vagina while targeting others.
Two, that while I love the women in my life, I am also terrified of them. Writer and activist Kate Millett once talked about the notion of “fucking as conquest”, men using sex to affirm their masculinity, to feel powerful. The more I could objectify women, the more I could separate myself from them.
Three, that I took unfair advantage of the slightest touch of power. As a college freshman, I had few ways to control other people. “The Vagina Monologues” was my first taste of control, and I abused it.
Today, I do not support vaginas. I support the women and men who are attached to them.
Read more on Gender & Sexuality.
Image credit: doberes/Flickr