Playwright Eve Ensler was in New York on Monday night. And you know what that means.
Yup. The vaginas were flying.
The word, which Ensler has spent six years rehabilitating through her oft-performed show "The Vagina Monologues" and her V-Day campaign to end violence against women, traditionally centered around Valentine's Day, was plastered all over the Culture Project theater in Manhattan. It adorned posters and pamphlets and buttons and T-shirts worn by the hundred or so women who had gathered to help Ensler and her V-Day squad launch a "V Is for Vote" campaign. Their hope is to mobilize young women off of their Marc-Jacobs-encased butts and into the polling booths. And on Monday, the day after the 60th anniversary of D-Day, they were officially launching the program. If D-Day and V-Day got together, would we call it V-D Day?
Alliterative signs such as "Value Your Vagina: Vote" and "Vote to End Violence Against Women" adorned the stage, and a diverse group of young women milled around in "Value Your Vagina. Vote" T-shirts that had a list of words on the back: "Vulnerable Vintage Vision Vote Voluptuous Vibrant Velvet Vote Visceral Viva Vagina Vote Velocity Vehement Voice Vote Vessel Vexed Voice Vote Versatile Values Valid Vote Volcano Vent Verve Vote Volunteer Vigorous Village Vote Visible Vamp Variety Vote Voracious Verbal Vast Vote Venus Victory." It looked as if a concert T-shirt had mated with a game of Scattergories.
As the crowd settled into their seats (one of them marked with a hand-printed sign that said "Reserved: R. Goddess") a woman with a lilting Caribbean accent explained to a friend, "This is about valuing your vagina, making it powerful and praising its power to make a difference." I considered the fact that Ensler's campaign to get these women to vote might fall into the category of "preaching to the choir."
The program began with a brief video of young women talking about why voting is important. At one point, Ensler was shown urging a group of college students to shout, "with your heart and with your vaginas and with yourselves, 'V is for vote!'" The women did as instructed, complete with jazz hands.
Ensler took the stage and thanked all the "fierce, incredible vagina warriors here tonight. I feel like we are about to take off in this big vagina plane." (I wondered briefly: If a vagina were a plane, where would the wings be?) Ensler admitted that she had failed to vote in several elections, but that at some point she realized that "the only vote I could ever really wrap myself around was the vagina vote." It could only be her natural timidity that prevented Ensler from saying "wrap my vagina around."
She went on to exhort the crowd to get their friends to the polls, arguing that this election will be the most important in any of our lifetimes. "This war is about taking and seizing and acting and doing and not asking for consent," she said of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "This is a climate, culture, and theater of rape licensed by an administration." In addition to what's happening in the Middle East, Ensler claimed that one out of three women will be raped or beaten at some point in their lives. Ensler thanked V-Day supporters George Soros, designer Eileen Fisher, Jane Fonda, and the Barbara Lee Foundation and then introduced three teenage girls who performed "The Vagina Vote" -- by Eve Ensler.
The spoken-word exhortation made vagina-licious demands of the current administration, urging women to use their electoral power to ensure that the United States government abides by the Geneva Conventions, protects its shelters and hot lines, "condemns rapists and gropers whether they be celebrities or politicians," protects women in the military, and fights AIDS, homelessness and poverty. The crowd murmured their assent as the young women read Ensler's words about women who self-immolate, are gang-raped, trafficked and acid-burned. "Vagina power!" the women shouted in unison to conclude.
Then Ensler, with her trademark Bettie Page bob, was back onstage, making an astute observation about why America's 22 million unregistered women may not be so keen on pulling a lever. "Women tend to think about things and have an idea about what they want them to be," she said. "Like, these are not the exact shoes I wanted. They have a little gold on them and I don't like gold. Or this guy doesn't really match my idea of what I want so I don't think I want to go out with him." Ensler paused. "We really can't afford to do that in this election." She urged her flock to take to the polls in "vagina posses." "In some quarters they call them 'pussy posses,' but that's OK," said Ensler. Voting, said Ensler, "takes five minutes and is easier than finding your G-Spot."
On Sept. 13, there will be an official kickoff for V-Day (the voting with your vagina thing, not the Valentine's thing), with a big concert that Ensler referred to as "vaginas vote, chicks rock." (How would a vagina vote in a polling booth without a lever? Does it have anything to do with hanging chads?) At the event, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Jesse Jackson will all be celebrating their enfranchised vaginas. Or whatever.
Next, a group called Rha Goddess performed segments of a piece called "We Got Issues." Sample lines: "V is for vote because I love with the ferocity of my heart." "Where has my language gone?" "Haiti is not Chechnya, over and over I am told." "V is for vote because I watched my president give the finger to the United Nations and the world." "V is for vote because my womb is aching for peace."
"Time has sort of sped by over these vagina years," Ensler said, taking the stage to introduce a woman she said has been there since the beginning. Yes, it was Kathy Najimy, the former star of "Veronica's Closet" who has mysteriously become a feminist shaman.
Najimy had just flown in from Los Angeles, and said that the instant she arrived in New York she had a message to join Ensler for "some kind of vagina is for vote, value your vagina, vagina vote vote vagina event." She said that six years ago she would not have dropped the anatomical word in conversation. "But now it's like, 'I'm going to order a vagina latte at Vaginabucks. I want a vagina and fries, I'm going to go get my kid a toy at F.A.O. Vagina or maybe Vaginas-R-Us. It was Eve Ensler who has made that change."
Najimy then offered to pay for a rental car for anybody in the audience who promised to put 10 people in it and take them to vote on Election Day. I wondered briefly: If I promised to vote, would Kathy Najimy pay for the rental car I need to reserve for my summer vacation to the Maine coast?
Ensler concluded by affirming that V-Day was created to "encourage all young women to step forward and speak with their hearts and their vaginas."
My vagina just doesn't know what to say.