Viewpoint: The unbearable whiteness of V-Day

BY EMILY SQUIRES

Published November 10, 2005

For those of you who missed or ignored the '70s Second Wave Feminism, allow me to fill you in briefly. I'm not exaggerating history when I say that the movement was run by white, middle-class, heterosexual women; their politics were steeped in privilege. Although really well meaning and passionate, my mom and her friends didn't do such a great job of making space - either literally or politically - for those who knew different experiences of what it meant to be a woman in the United States. If you look around our campus, it feels like not much has changed. Most student groups that work with broadly defined "women's issues" are as white as those mythic consciousness-raising groups.

And then there is V-Day. Organized around Eve Ensler's popular "The Vagina Monologues," the V-Day College Campaign is a "global movement to stop violence against women and girls" that allows students free access to the play's script if they commit to raising awareness and money through productions of "The Vagina Monologues." On our campus, the V-Day movement has been just as predominantly white - I'm talking about the organizers, cast, community and audience - as any other feminist agenda within the last 30 years. I like to think of V-Day as Second Wave feminism for the 21st century.

This year, I hope it will be different. The student directors and producers of "The Vagina Monologues" are trying to confront the deeply rooted whitewashing of V-Day. This year, they aspire to create a show with a cast of women of color. Many white women are immediately crying out that we are excluded, that we are silenced, that we have no role. For the white women out there that are upset, I would like to outline a few reasons why I, as a white woman, I support the vision of this year's V-Day organizers.

I am disturbed by the hypocrisy lacing these accusations of exclusion. I hear white women ask, "How will I be able to identify with the performers if all of them are women of color?" And yet, women of color are expected to identify with white women as the predominant representation of womanhood every day. Recognizing and taking responsibility for the invisibility and privilege of our whiteness is hard, and I know as well as any other white person that it can be painful. However, as white women, it's crucial that we struggle through our initial reactions and honestly examine the entitlement we've had in "The Vagina Monologues." Asking white women to explore women's issues through an all-women-of-color cast will force us to listen to the monologues and engage with feminism in ways we haven't done before.

Furthermore, this year's goal isn't just about reversing the paradigm. Within the larger context of U.S. feminism, producing a show with an all-women-of-color cast is as political as it is personal. I'm not even going to get into the statistics that demonstrate that communities of color are far more vulnerable to violence than their white counterparts. This year represents a challenge to reclaim agency and voice for women of color within a movement that usually settles for tokenization (I, for one, am tired of seeing a woman of color only performing "My Angry Vagina," and not just because my white vagina can be pissed off as well.)

Despite the marginalization of women of color in the theory and practice of feminism, leaders on this campus are still willing to engage with the V-Day feminist movement; for this, white women should be grateful. Some of our most brilliant and vocal feminist leaders are women of color. "Colorblind" feminism asks women of color to choose between being women and being of color. We can never ask this. We should instead be asking ourselves why we would so badly like to be women without color.

I also want to make it clear that white women are NOT excluded. V-Day is not just the production that everyone buys a ticket for and goes to see; it is a week-long series of activities that address violence against women. Anyone who has ever done any organizing knows that every visible high-profile event is supported by crucial behind-the-scenes commitment. There is no shortage of work to do in order to make V-Day happen.

On the V-Day website, Ensler asks that students organizing productions "strive for diversity" within their casting. Striving isn't good enough anymore. This year's production team is demanding change. It's about time.

 

Squires is an Art and Design senior and a former producer of "The Vagina Monologues."