In some ways, pop culture is the ultimate change agent. While there still remains a tricky gauntlet of normative Valentine’s Day expectations to run each February — with ads literally demanding “buy her stuff or she won’t sleep with you” — some recent alternative traditions have done an effective job of muddying the pink overload. These are the very serious V-Day and the deliciously absurd “Galentine’s day.”
Much of the contemporary shift in Valentine’s Day tradition is due to Eve Ensler, the activist and playwright (with Jewish heritage) whose “Vagina Monologues” went from subversive art project to expected staple of the college theater calendar. And the play’s parent institution, VDay, during which we’re reminded that love and violence shouldn’t be conflated and that gender-based violence is a worldwide scourge, gets so much media attention that at least in activist-minded circles, it’s become almost as big a deal as that other day for which it is named. I know that every February 14th I will read and think about gendered violence as well as about “ten classic songs poems” or “six things to give her this Valentine’s Day.”
Eve Ensler is working towards nothing short of a non-violent global revolution.
A “Schumpeter” column on February 19 in The Economist (“The Art of Management”) called on managers in the business sector to learn from the art world how to think creatively about markets (Damien Hirst), products (Titian), communications (Orwell) and dealing with prima donna “clevers” in their employ (“Entourage” anyone?). Eve Ensler, talking about her most recent book, “I Am an Emotional Creature” at Jewish Book Week in London was advocating a more radically creative way of thinking about business and governance — the V-Party.
For the past decade there has been an annual V-Day, where Ensler’s famous “Vagina Monologues” has been performed in multiple venues around the world. Every year more places put on performances, most of the proceeds from which go to the local communities for women’s charities. The last couple of years the spotlight has been on the “City of Joy” — a leadership training facility for abused women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Although this is the apotheosis of Ensler’s activism — “vagina warriors” training centrally to end violence, traditions of mutilation and to take up leadership positions in a fragile society — it is by no means the extent of it. Her energy (and that, in itself, is remarkable, not least in the face a serious illness last year) is globally distributed, even as her literary gifts are most impressive when concretely focused. For Ensler her incipient V-Party might just be one way to move people who are committed to ending violence and oppression from informal leadership to elected positions.
I’m feeling protective of my children. Perhaps it’s the fact that my baby, Rockerchik, turned 10 last week, that Girlchik is 11 going on 15, and that my eldest will be 17 this week. Now that his college applications are all in, I’m acutely aware that he will soon be leaving home. And I am very much aware of preparing each of them, as best I can, for the next chapters in their lives.
One of the things I am conscious of trying to give them is something I wasn’t aware even existed until I was much older than they are: a sense of their own agency. I want them to be conscious of the power that each has to make change in their lives and in the lives of others. Two stories in the New York Times this week got me thinking about that empowerment.
The first piece shows how vulnerable we are to marketing and merchandising behemoths, such as Disney, which is trying to reach the only segment of the childhood market that they haven’t yet vanquished: newborns. Now they’re targeting mothers who are still in the hospital immediately after giving birth with freebie onesies, festooned, of course, with Disney characters, to try and get them hooked.
Fourteen years after its first performance, “The Vagina Monologues” has become a February tradition. Eve Ensler’s award-winning play is a series of monologues drawn from interviews with hundreds of women of all ages and nationalities about that most intimate part of themselves — their vaginas. The resulting monologues are funny, angry, triumphant and painful. They represent a wide range of experience including pleasure, shame, abuse and empowerment. Performances are staged around the country, and many Americans find meaning in celebrating V-Day instead its commercialized counterpart, Valentine’s Day.
Eve Ensler, featured in “Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution,” created V-Day to address a number of global issues including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sexual slavery. The money raised from V-Day events is distributed to anti-violence organizations around the world. Since its inception in 1998, V-Day has raised more than $50 million. In 2001, a performance of The Vagina Monologues at New York City’s Madison Square Garden raised $1 million.
But every year, V-Day faces opposition from conservative and religious groups that think it’s vulgar to talk about vaginas.
• “The Good Body,” a follow-up to “The Vagina Monologues” by playwright Eve Ensler, top right, centers on a Jewish woman of a certain age who undergoes surgery to make sex more pleasurable for her husband.
• Rabbi Andrew Sacks thinks more mikvehs should open their doors to non-married women.
• Jeffrey Zaslow, the Forward’s guest Bintel Brief columnist in March, is out with a new book, “The Girls from Ames” (Gotham), about the enduring friendship of 11 women who grew up together in Ames, Iowa.
• The global recession could usher more Haredi women into the workforce.
• What goes on at Israel’s Nude Ladies Parties? One writer finds out.
• Jessica Queller, bottom right, a former “Gossip Girl” writer who had a prophylactic double mastectomy after finding out she had a breast cancer gene common in Ashkenazi Jewish women, discusses her pregnancy triumph.
• Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish woman who has become a prominent New Testament scholar, speaks with The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle about why “churches are increasingly recognizing Jesus’ Judaism.”
• Phyllis Chesler pays tribute to Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler.
• The Jerusalem Post has an essay about women behaving badly on JDate.
• The Chabad-sponsored Annual Jewish Women’s Parenting Conference, to be held May 14 in Westport, Conn., will feature Rebbitzin Esther Jungreis’s daughter Slovi Jungreis Wolff, out with the new book “Raising A Child With Soul” (St. Martin’s Griffin), and Rosalind Wiseman the author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence” (Crown, 2002).
• Israeli filmmaker Nurit Kedar’s new documentary “Chronicle of a Kidnap” focuses on the tireless work Karnit Goldwasser to free her husband, Ehud, who, in 2006, was kidnapped by Hezbollah near Israel’s Lebanese border.