Dick Jokes for Women

Written by Lionel Tiger on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

One of the most dolorous
public features of the breakdown of the Giuliani-Hanover marriage was the mayoral
wife’s decision to take her earnest turn in the lineup of female actors
reading The Vagina Monologues. It was clearly an aggressive and explicit
act of revenge. However understandable it might have been, Hanover was willing
to associate herself with a bizarrely self-righteous
whiny production that has now achieved iconic status–despite its scene
of statutory rape, about which more later.

Finally the violence of
her decision was abated when the Mayor’s prostate cancer became public
knowledge and the association of private parts–the bodily bits that are
designed to fit together–with a theatrical event almost obsessed with private
parts clearly became an unendurable burden to all concerned. So she dropped
her plan.

Meanwhile, the show is a
large national event. It has been performed at countless colleges, often as
part of the yearly "take back the night" seances that are now common
features of the collegiate feminist calendar. For a while it was linked, through
the capital letter V, with Valentine’s Day. Presumably it was supposed
to serve as a political antidote to the sentimental heterosexual romanticism
associated with Feb. 14.

Now it has moved on to more
poignant matters. The V is attached to Violence. The show is heralded as a feature
of efforts to end violence against women. Who can be against that? Evidently
no one, because the latest incarnation of the presentation is weirdly called
"Take Back the Garden"–an evening at Madison Square Garden this
Saturday, Feb. 10. At least 70 actors ranging from Oprah to Calista Flockhart,
all with vaginas and all relatively well-known, will be present and perform
the piece and music in some fashion or another. The evening is underwritten
by the usual array of companies and funds collected will "benefit programs
to end violence toward women and girls."

Other groups have also piggybacked
on the success of the play. Because I’ve contributed to it, I was on a
Planned Parenthood list advising me with great pleasure that the organization
will be staging the play for fundraising–a bitterly wrongheaded decision,
since many potential male contributors will find the entire adventure dispiriting
or at least confusing. But this is par for the Planned Parenthood course of
paying hardly any attention to the males who are directly part of the problem
it seeks to address. Now it is also running the risk of alienating them rather
than just ignoring them.

But what are the monologues
about? As nearly everyone knows by now, author Eve Ensler interviewed a number
of women on the subject of their genitalia, with responses from thwarted resistance
to discussing the matter to outbursts of warm relief at finally having been
asked about the subject. She decided to collect an array of comments, as well
as existing literary material, and had the effective idea of inviting changing
casts of well-known women to read the words.

When I saw it, the largely
female audience responded with whoops of joy and applause for broken taboos.
Clearly the piece resonated with many women and offered a legitimate opportunity
to engage in candid discussion of matters that many had presumably felt unable
to do in the past. That in my opinion it lacked art and heart seemed to have
no effect on its reception. The fact that had men created it it would have almost
surely been vilified as a sexist affront appeared to have no relevance whatever.
It was a female dick joke instead. Evidently, that was and is okay. And Donna
Hanover had thought until medical decency intervened that a public person with
some broad responsibility could be associated in public with a self-satisfied
cavalcade of revelation about matters of high privacy.

There was one especially
troubling bit. It was read by the formidable singer Audra McDonald, who shouldn’t
waste her talent on this sort of thing. It was about an older woman, who from
the text and its reader seemed to have dark skin. She is well-off, has a car,
a fine apartment, a sleek selection of grownup drinks. The story is told from
the point of view of a young girl she befriends, who is happily astonished to
see a woman of her group with such clear signs of prosperity and personal pleasure.
Not only that, but she and the woman engage in sweet and agreeable interaction
with the body parts that are the subject of the evening.

The girl seemed to be about
15. The description was of formal statutory rape. Did anyone protest? Was there
any scrutiny of the matter by anyone? Evidently not. Political sentimentality
overrides all, even lubricious violence against a girl.

The entire episode of the
Monologues is intriguing. It appears to foreshadow an increasingly normalized
and acceptable sexual apartheid in this society. While Madison Square Garden
has been by no means a gender-equal venue, given what remains disproportionately
male attendance at sporting events, I cannot recall an event there in which
there was an explicit emphasis on male sexuality. Certainly not one in which
more than six dozen of the participants were men of public note. The personal
has clearly become political, and appears to have sharply changed the rules
of public discourse for women and about women.

While there are a few wan
men’s studies programs at universities, it is women’s studies that
has carried the pedagogical and administrative day, and it also appears to be
the working rule that members of women’s studies programs will be women.
Certainly nearly all the students are female, and the salience of the kind of
attention to women the Monologues reflects may in part account for the
increase in female enrollment in universities, up to more than half the overall
student population–56 percent to be exact.

Of course, much of this
turnabout is fair play. Men used to be the majority of students, and at some
good institutions the only students. Curricula certainly provided wholly inadequate
attention to the behavior of women, while their concerns were regarded as soft.
Little effort was made to accommodate childbearing to the successful career,
and there were informal barriers to female entry to a host of professional schools.
It’s time such inequities disappear, both for equity itself and because
women have the same need to prepare themselves to earn a living as men do–perhaps
even a greater need, since so many of them will become mothers without husbands.

Nevertheless, the kind of
segregationist sexual narcissism implied by the Monologues may well have
odd costs. If nothing else, many women still associate with many men, who may
be bewildered by their partners. Half the children women have will be boys.
There are no separate countries to which the combatants in the sex war can return
when it is over.

Advertisements for the play
contain the bathroom-humor tag line "Spread the Word." Maybe don’t.
A monologue is one thing, a dialogue quite another.