Of Amazons and Ghosts
I have a budding friendship with a Texan lady who’s also a student at BC. That’s quite a thing for a curmudgeon of my caliber; it’s been difficult for me to connect with anyone in BC—an ocean of youthful energy that I have been suspicious of ever since my own long-lost youth. Anyway, said Texan invited me to a play: “The Vagina Monologues,” produced by The V-Day Committee at BC.
I must confess that I was skeptical. I went simply because I enjoy the company of this disorienting lady—think cherub with a caustic tongue; I’ve always been one for dichotomies. But I digress. I was skeptical. You see, I am cynical on a molecular level. I am suspicious of the patrician, middle-class feminism that pervades this, and other campuses. I am suspicious of young people from the bastion of liberalism, NYC, performing a play that highlights gynocentric issues of which they are, in large measure, safe from ever encountering because of the time and space they occupy. That’s not to say that women in NYC don’t face incredulous police officers when they report a rape; that’s not to say that women in NYC don’t have to deal with abusive spouses, living in shelters, single motherhood, etcetera. All of that was simply to say that I’m a misanthrope with a particular dislike for the youth. Besides, let’s face it, as a viewer, the impact of this play would be different if it was performed in Guatemala, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mali etc.
Nevertheless, I went. I learned that V-Day existed on the 22nd of February 2018. Did you know about it? Let me tell you what it is: V-Day is a global activist movement that slaps you into remembering that the ‘fair sex’ is still subject to a disproportionate share of sexual and physical violence. The stories reminded me of the epidemic of femicides in Ciudad Juarez, of the incarceration of women who miscarry in El Salvador, of the hundreds kidnapped and raped in Nigeria. It made me angry. But it also made me laugh. One of the episodes, “The Flood,” performed by the charismatic actress Paige Senk, was laugh-out-loud funny. It is about an older woman who reluctantly talks about a traumatic sexual experience, and her subsequent failed erotic dreams with Burt Reynolds. It was moments like these, moments that captured the wit, humor, and strength of the everyday woman, that were the most moving. They made me nostalgic for the exuberant matriarchs of my family who handled life’s humiliations with strength, grace, and dirty jokes.
Which is why I have a problem with something I read on the playbill, which states, “We cannot, and must not, define ‘being a woman’ with ‘having a vagina.’” This reminded me of a disturbing trend in our culture to disassociate biology from the definition, and therefore the experience, of womanhood. I accept that gender is largely a social construct, one that most of us find a tight fit, even when we identify with our sex. But I also accept that nature is the hardest warden of all, not society. Our male or female bodies remind us daily of which jail we’re in. Each brings its own joys. Its own tortures. For me, my biological sex has been foundational to my experiences as a woman—from having my first period to my first and, hopefully, last abortion. As a woman, these experiences are not all that I am, but they are directly linked to my female physicality. Also, the vagina has been the perennial bugbear of cultures and religions the world over for centuries. There is still such a thing as honor killings, remember? My trans brothers and sisters face enormous challenges too. Some overlap with biological women’s problems, and some don’t. That is not to say we shouldn’t stand together; that is not to say that trans women are not women, but to attempt to erase the vagina from the experience of being a woman is insulting to morality and truth.