V-Day is not Just a Valentine for your Sweetheart!

1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime

Note: This piece has been sent to the local newspaper, Newport News Times, which is not a shadow of a shadow at once a week hard copy. Imagine that, no? Death of newspapers because? Social Media? Internet? No more readers? Bad management? Gutting of newspapers for stock holders? What the heck?

Valentines Day, for me, is that Vagina Monologues. Sure, we are on the brink of nuclear disaster with this great Grand Old Flag land pushing and pulling for Russia responses for all that shaking going on in Ukraine and Russia.

Published in over 48 languages, performed in over 140 countries and recently heralded by The New York Times as one of the most important plays of the past 25 years: Ensler’s hilarious, eye-opening tour into the last frontier, the forbidden zone at the heart of every woman. A show that’s rocked audiences around the world, this groundbreaking piece gives voice to a chorus of lusty, outrageous, poignant, and thoroughly human stories, transforming the question mark hovering over the anatomy into a permanent victory sign. With laughter and compassion, Ensler transports her audiences to a world we’ve never dared to know, guaranteeing that no one who reads The Vagina Monologues will ever look at a woman’s body the same way again.

Performing The Vagina Monologues inspired her to create V-Day, the 22-year-old global activist movement to end violence against all women (cisgender and transgender), those who hold fluid identities, nonbinary people, girls and the planet.

The movement has grown, unfortunately, since violence against girls and women continues. Acid throwing freaks. Rapists that get off scott free. The dirty Netflix shows of sex-ploitation and exploitation. It is a seesaw world, with more and more women excelling in college/university, in sciences, in other arenas, some not so hunkydory:

From the executive leadership of top weapons-makers, to the senior government officials designing and purchasing the nation’s military arsenal, the United States’ national defense hierarchy is, for the first time, largely run by women.

As of Jan. 1, the CEOs of four of the nation’s five biggest defense contractors — Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and the defense arm of Boeing — are now women. And across the negotiating table, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer and the chief overseer of the nation’s nuclear stockpile now join other women in some of the most influential national security posts, such as the nation’s top arms control negotiator and the secretary of the Air Force.

It’s a watershed for what has always been a male-dominated bastion, the culmination of decades of women entering science and engineering fields and knocking down barriers as government agencies and the private sector increasingly weigh merit over machismo.

And, as Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson told POLITICO, it’s also the result of “quieting that little voice in your head that doubts whether you can do that next job or take on that special assignment.”

“I think there’s critical mass, where you have enough women that they’re getting noticed,” said Rachel McCaffrey, a retired Air Force colonel and executive director of Women in Defense, a career development and networking organization affiliated with the National Defense Industrial Association, a leading industry group.

Nearly a dozen female executives and defense leaders who spoke to POLITICO said having more women at the top affects companies and defense agencies in ways large and small — from questioning stale assumptions about the smartest way to develop weapons and provide services for the military; to negotiating better deals for the taxpayers when buying airplanes, tanks, rockets and ships; to recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest engineers and policy wonks. (source)

In 2011, City of Joy opened its doors in Eastern Congo with the goal of building a peaceful and transformational community for women survivors of violence.

V-Day is not Just a Valentine for your Sweetheart

Okay, so this newspaper is almost down for the count, limited to a once-a-week hard copy publication. Therefore, I know my viewpoints better be good, hard hitting and relevant.

Not all topics are going to be warm and fuzzy. On this Valentine’s day, attempt to think about violence against women. The significance of V-Day is a response against violence toward women, girls and the planet. Here in Lincoln County women and girls face all levels of violence.

The V-Day movement is tied a 1996 one-woman play written by Eve Ensler, called the Vagina Monologues. She interviewed more than 200 women from a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds, whereupon so many of them opened up, baring their souls tied to sexual violence.

One key question was, “What would your vagina say if it could talk?” Over the years, V-Day has become a catalyst promoting creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations.

The Monologues also generates broader attention to stop violence against women and girls.

So what’s a white male writer stepping his toes into these waters? First, let me say that if you read the police blotter in this county, or if you attend public criminal hearings at the courthouse, you will see the level of violence in the household in general is skyrocketing.

Police calls cover the gamut, but one ugly reality is the number of spousal violence calls, especially violence against wives and girlfriends. My own early roots as a reporter in Tucson were ensconced into the music scene and the police beat. That entailed covering a special rape squad set up by Linda Ronstadt’s brother Peter who was the Tucson police chief for more than 10 years.

I was 19 covering a lot of sexual violence against both students and young/old women living around the University of Arizona campus. I covered Take Back the Night rallies – started in the early 1970s in Belgium, but quickly spreading to college campuses and across global communities: from remote Canadian towns to bustling Calcutta streets, from Ivy Leagues to military bases.

While doing my judo and scuba diving thing, I also took a few feminist literature classes, volunteered with Rape Crisis organization, and assisted my sensei with grappling classes, as in self-defense for women.

Fast forward to Spokane, Washington: I was teaching at many venues as a composition and writing instructor, to include Gonzaga University. There, a Vagina Monologues rendition was being rehearsed by various students, including those in the Women’s Studies Club.

That was 21 years ago, and the president of the Jesuit University banned college sponsorship of the “Monologues,” citing Christian values and supposed pushback. One of my cohorts, philosophy professor Mark Alfino, argued against the banishment, telling a standing-room-only crowd of 200 people the ban was a threat to academic freedom.

“It’s a weak faith that doesn’t welcome challenges,” Alfino said. “Academic freedom is not an open-ended license to say anything without impunity. Academic freedom is an openness to the responsible expression of ideas.”

Here’s the deal – some of my students asked me to pen an opinion piece supporting the Vagina Monologues held on campus, as a way to bring in the Gonzaga community and public in by both attending the play but also opening up dialogue around campus rape.

That same semester one of my students (she told me in an office visit) had been the victim of campus rape, unfortunately, the type of violence seen on many campuses: fraternity parties, lots of booze and frequent spiking of women’s drinks with “roofies” (Rohypnol, a clear liquid 10 times stronger than Valium).

I also had a weekly hour-long radio show covering public affairs where I interviewed many heavy hitters in the sciences, publishing, arts, and social justice fields. I didn’t get Eve Ensler on the show, but I had two guests talking about sexual violence and the power of the Monologues, as well as one woman from Somalia who talked about her own forced female genital mutilation.

I discussed both in a written Op-Ed and on my radio show my own issues with the clergy. I had come from El Paso, and there as a reporter, I covered two cases of Catholic priests charged with child rape. These fellows from the Spokane Diocese were accused there, so both were sent south to the border;  back then I didn’t know Spokane from Shinola.

I went on to discuss the Catholic Church’s “penis problem,” getting into some of the history (in the thousands) of priests around the US and Canada and world with multiple accusations each of sexual assault. I brought up the Indian Boarding Schools, too, where sexual assault was occurring.

I took the banishment of the Monologues on campus seriously, and I even questioned the president’s claim that “many boosters and supporters” had spoken to him about their concerns with the play being performed on campus.

Oh the irony: the Gonzaga students put on a wonderful performance, and the public, the GU community, including staff, faculty and some priests, were just a few hundred yards off campus at a hotel ballroom for these young women’s performances which helped as a fund-raiser for the V-Day nonprofit that works to stop rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and other violence against women.

I am a better person for doing my little part – a published viewpoint and radio rant. Not so ironically, thought, I was told (off the record) by my department chair I would not be hired to teach at GU, per the “upper administration’s orders.”

V-Day for me also means Cancel Culture Day.

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.