Saturday, January 17, 2015

Eve Ensler’s 20-year reign coming to a silly end?

Back in August, I wrote a piece for Catholic Stand titled “The Identity of a Woman”, the springboard of which was an article in New Yorker concerning the growing struggle between feminists and the transgendered. Allow me the egotistical courtesy of quoting myself at length:

The problem for radical feminists is that men who claim to be women, even those who undergo “gender-reassignment surgery”, aren’t really women.

Not because the transgendered don’t have the right parts, or because the parts have been artificially implanted; oh no, that would simply be common sense, and who wants that?(“Common sense,” Stuart Chase once sniffed, “is that which tells us the earth is flat.”) No, the radical feminist objection is that the transgendered haven’t been raised with the suffering and victimization inherent in a paternalist society, and that transgenderism represents a kind of male-imperialist encroachment on uniquely female territory.

To make matters worse (?), radical feminists seem to be losing the fight. The universities and PACs, which once hosted — or at least suffered — their message of male oppression, are now starting to push back wherever that message conflicts with transgender rights. Says Rachel Ivey, “If I were to say in a typical women’s-studies class today, ‘Female people are oppressed on the basis of reproduction,’ I would get called out.” Other students, she adds, would ask, “What about women who are male?”

Well, now the inner logic of “inclusiveness” — if we can call it that with a straight face — has created a new casualty of this internecine shindy: Mount Holyoke, a women’s college in Massachusetts, has cancelled its annual production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it lacks transgender roles.

As you can imagine, this rather Kafkaesque development has got social conservatives laughing; read Elizabeth Scalia’s rollicking “Twilight of the Vaginas”, in which she skewers the third wave’s obsession with their birth canals. (I stumbled into it on Facebook; Simcha Fisher and her friends were having way too much fun with the bit about vaginal knitting. And you think men are gross?)

I have no criticism of VM to offer, because I’ve never had cause or opportunity to see it, and most likely never will; nor have I heard from any of my feminist contacts as to whether they ever felt themselves empowered or affirmed by it. As far as I know, none of the women in my life have ever felt their femaleness needed validation, let alone by talking about their gonads. For all I know, it’s feminism’s Rocky Horror Picture Show or Monty Python and the Holy Grail: a cult classic that you either get or you don't.

But what do I know? I’m a man. More to the point, I’m a man not saddled with the need to insist that genetics makes no difference when it comes to sexual identity but every bit of difference when it comes to sexual orientation.

Quoting myself again:

Radical feminists are reluctant to admit to different mental makeups. As Pelle Billing explains, “… if there are biological differences in the brains of men and women, isn’t that then an argument to preserve stereotypes?” However, this doesn’t stop them from doing and saying things that pay implicit homage to an intrinsic difference. As an example, the founder of the “womyn-born womyn only” event Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, Lisa Vogel, describes the “governing ethos” of Michfest as, “How would a town look if we [women] got to decide what was important?”

This reluctance shows up again in Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s irony-laden commentary in Reason. Brown wants desperately to be LGBT-friendly, inclusive, and all that; so she’s not willing to question the theoretical basis of the transgender position (and anyway, “it doesn’t matter if I’m cool with it, because how other people define their genders/bodies/sexualities is none of my concern”). But she’s troubled by the argument that VM is “transphobic”:

Yet I am a woman with a vagina, and this becomes an area of my concern when people start saying that I shouldn’t reference or acknowlege that — that it’s in fact bad and intolerant so 20th century to even speak about it. The fact that some trans women don’t have vaginas doesn’t negate the fact that the vast majority of women do. And now, in the name of feminism, “female-validating talk about vaginas is now forbidden,” as one anonymous writer on a Mount Holyoke messageboard put it. “That's so misogynistic [Buzzword much?] under the guise of ‘progress.’”

But “we can’t present a show that is blatantly transphobic,” countered another student, displaying the kind of rhetoric that is troubling in all this. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to stage a women’s show that includes trans perspectives (on genitals or whatever else), but that doesn't make a show without those perspectives transphobic. It just makes it a show without those perspectives, in this case one written almost 20 years ago. And while it might be hard for today’s students to imagine, in those days discouraging people from talking openly about female sexuality or suggesting that gender was anything but a social construct is what would earn you the approbation [?? You think she meant disapprobation?] of feminists.

Brown is near, but can’t quite articulate, the fundamental illogic of the transgender argument, because it would controvert her own feminist presumptions. Neither the third-wavers nor the transgender-rights folks really “get” sexual bifurcation, because the differentiation has to do with how we as a species reproduce and nurture our young ... and neither of these groups cares to acknowledge any connection between sex, sexuality, and (eek!) reproduction.

In fact, there is an intrinsic difference between men and women, a difference that’s rooted not in our cultural models but in our genotypes. Men and women are equal; but that doesn’t mean men and women are identical. As reductive and ideologically distorted as it may be, The Vagina Monologues is still about womanhood as something inherently different, and precious in its own right, from manhood.

Whether it actually celebrates womanhood — well, your mileage may vary.

As Tom McDonald pointed out the other day about “Islamophobia”, calling someone an  X–phobe or saying they’re X–phobic is just “a way to pathologize those who disagree with a dominant narrative.” I’m not convinced the third-wavers have the resources to withstand the encroachment of the transgendered ... at least, not so long as they remain wedded to their current ideological premisses. As courageous as they are about calling out “misogyny” and “slut-shaming” and so forth, I just don’t think that many of them are bold enough to risk being called “transphobic”. It doesn’t take much to lose a job as an adjunct professor nowadays.

So this may very well signal the beginning of the end of The Vagina Monologues’ twenty-year hold in college theaters. Unlike MPHG or RHPS, though, I don’t think you’ll be seeing much of it anywhere else; it’s not exactly dinner-theater fare.

And this is how Moloch eats his own.