Wednesday, February 05, 2014

About the Vagina Lollipops:

Once again, Food Works is processing an order for our chocolate Vagina lollipops. Here in the kitchen I have heard a lot of comments and some questions as to why we do them. This is an attempt to explain why a domestic violence shelter program like Food Works is participating in the promotion of the sale of vagina suckers. Hopefully after reading this, you can address the same questions and comments when they come your way. Or not….as you have no obligation to agree with the points I make.

There may be some valid criticisms to be made regarding the use of the vagina as a symbol for feminism, the women’s rights movement, and the effort to work against domestic violence.  I will leave it to you to imagine for yourselves what those criticisms are.  Some criticism is based, frankly, on the fact that some people are just uncomfortable with talking about anything that has to do with sex and the vagina definitely has a lot to do with sex.

However, and this is a BIG however, there are important issues needing to be addressed locally, regionally, nationally and worldwide.  According to a 2003 U.N. report “ One in three women throughout the world…in her lifetime…will be beaten, raped, assaulted, trafficked, harassed or forced to submit to harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).  Just as pink ribbons have been used as an emblem for breast cancer awareness, the vagina has taken on an emblematic status in the world-wide feminist movement to bring awareness to the issues of domestic violence, the subjugation of women and rape.  

The U.N. report carried an important message. There is a tendency, however, for information so broadly based across many nations to lose its impact. Localized information might make a stronger impression.
Did you know that last year there were 58 domestic violence homicides in Indiana? Think about that. An average of more than one woman a week in Indiana is murdered in an act of domestic violence.  

Between July of 2012 and July of 2013, there were 6,819 women and 4,868 children who sought and received shelter from domestic violence shelters like Middle Way House. These shelters are most often the last recourse. Women and children fleeing violence tend to prefer the shelter provided by families and friends, as long as they have a safe window of time and much of a choice.  Having worked crisis line myself, I can directly attest to the fact that when calls come in, most of the women calling in while attempting to get away from violence do not apply for shelter.  Instead, they work out other solutions.  I am pointing this out to make it clear that the 11,687 women and children that received shelter this past year in Indiana are just a portion of the population dealing with domestic violence. It is also a crying shame that over 3,800 women and children were turned away from shelter last year simply because the programs available were operating at full capacity. There were simply not enough beds to be had. 

The sexual assault situation in Indiana is simply horrid. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 10.5 percent of all high school-age girls have been sexually assaulted and regrettably it is WORSE here in Indiana, where the numbers are considerable higher than nearly anywhere else in the country. 17.3 percent of girls in grades nine through 12 in this state have reported experiencing rape or sexual assault. The Justice Department estimates that 54% of rape victims do not press charges, and also reports that nationwide there are 207,754 people sexually assaulted in a year. Not all of these victims are owners of vaginas, but the vast majority of them are. While these statistics should shock you, they are not nearly as shocking as what each of these individuals has had to endure. 

What does this have to do with our making and selling Vagina pops? You may be familiar with the Vagina Monologues, a play written by Eve Ensler in 1996. This play is now performed world-wide on a yearly basis and was the result of interviewing over 200 women of all ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations about their vaginas.  In 1998, Ensler and others launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has provided over $75 million for women's anti-violence groups through benefits of The Vagina Monologue. Those are much needed funds both world-wide and locally. Here in Bloomington, the vagina pops are sold by the I.U. Women’s student association at events surrounding their production of the Vagina Monologues to help bring awareness to the event and the issues surrounding the V-Day movement. It is hard for someone who does not work around domestic violence issues to feel any connection to the numbers just referred to above and the admitted shock value of these lollipops helps to bring these issues forward in a dramatic way. They are delicious conversation starters. 

I have some additional points of consideration to offer people who are concerned about whether it is appropriate to sell vagina lollipops for Food Works and these points don’t have anything at all to do with the ability to gain funds for shelter services or to advertise the Vagina Monologues. I can’t say it any better than Jessica Valenti, the author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters: “What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don’t hold back, now. You’re probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank. Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I’ve even heard the term “mangina.”Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up.”  

This is the gut of the problem. The inherent insult and shame implied in a female word. You can’t get much more female than the vulva or vagina, and this is why they are the strongest emblem for the fight against domestic violence. It is good to promote vaginas, and feminine sexuality as something not to be ashamed of. Shame and insult are the currencies spent by our culture to allow the continuation of rape and violence.  If you have ever attended the Vagina Monologues, one of the most universal reactions of the women in attendance is the proud embracement of terms such as cunt, slut, vagina. There is an empowerment that happens when the ownership of those words are on a woman’s terms, not a man’s. It is part and parcel with a refusal to be shamed or insulted about who we are. When sex, sexuality, and vaginas remain taboo and unspoken they hide with them all those other things that remain unspoken and shoved under the rug......things like rape, sexual abuse and repression. It is hard to uncover and fight what is hidden.

The problem is not just the use of the feminine as an insult.  When someone gets a vagina pop the reactions range from “cool” to an embarrassment to comments that “this is nasty”. Well a vagina is not nasty, nor is the acts of sex brought to mind in innuendos when people laugh and joke about the suckers.

It is a real shame that our society has made sex a sinful thing. Not quite so sinful for men, after all “boys will be boys” but hugely sinful for women. If these sexist attitudes were not holding sway, we would not have to hear about Rehtaeh Parsons’ suicide or the Steubenville rape trial. We would not be learning about the 14-year-old in Elwood, Indiana who was raped and became pregnant and then faced ongoing harassment and vicious public shaming from her community

I am extremely tired of the denial that sexism exists. It is similar to how there are tons of people out there that are claiming racism is dead, while the ones making this claim are the very ones trying to minimize their own racist tendencies. The virgin/whore mythology, the good girl/slut stories, the “you must have asked for it” stories surrounding violence and rape…..there are those of us that are refusing to buy those stories any longer.

Hence - the lovely delicious chocolate vagina lollipops.