Clit Club

V-Day’s Charismatic Cuntism Rocks the Garden

Last Saturday's V-Day celebration reached what you might call its climax with Glenn Close's reading of "Reclaiming Cunt." She savored the word, slipping her tongue around its letters (c as in "cute," u as in "urge") until, by its end (t as in "tangy"), she was down on her red pantsuited knees on the red stage at the center of Madison Square Garden, screaming, "Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!" at the top of her lungs. In a mass simultaneous experience, the audience of 18,000 was screaming with her.

Since it started out as an Off-Broadway show three years ago, The Vagina Monologues has been all about taking back misogyny-tainted terms for the female genitalia. A revolving all-star cast has appeared in the performance piece, which Eve Ensler created after interviewing hundreds of women about their anatomy. The three-hour, star-studded version held at the sports mecca took this ritual to bizarre heights: big, tough-looking guys who usually peddle Rangers jerseys hawking "Vagina Friendly" buttons and "Sister Goddess" calendars; women from all over the world giving each other the "V" sign; Queen Latifah, Brooke Shields, and Edie Falco lining up near the Knicks' foul line to toss out their assigned vaginal euphemisms.

But even as "hoochie," "pooter," "twat," and "coochi snorcher" rolled off celebrity tongues and Ensler waved a vibrator at her delighted fans, another word seemed to stick in the throats of even the most vagina-loving Hollywood icons: feminist. Ask about it at the Hammerstein Ballroom gala—which, along with the performance, raised more than $2 million to fund antiviolence programs and more V-Day performances—and it's as if you've defamed the clitoris or something.

Fonda vaginas: Jane flashes the vulval V.
photo: Christopher Smith
Fonda vaginas: Jane flashes the vulval V.


"Violence against women is a feminist issue? I don't think it is."


"I don't know about feminist," said Isabella Rossellini. "Is this about feminism really? Violence against women is a feminist issue? I don't think it is." OK, but does she consider herself a feminist? Rossellini looked as if she were smelling something unpleasant. "Well, I don't know what you mean. I would not label tonight a feminist night; it's a women's night. I mean, there are Republican women, there are Democratic women, there are feminist women, and women who don't define themselves, they're just women against violence."

Ricki Lake, who performed a monologue about a 72-year-old virgin along with Julie Kavner and Carol Kane, was similarly dodgy about the term. "I don't like labels," said Lake, adding that she does support women's rights. Marisa Tomei admitted to considering herself a feminist, though quickly pointed out that she's not sure what that is. "I always was a feminist, but without definition," said Tomei.

Even the Queen of Cunt herself wouldn't own the F-word. "I have this clichéd image of what a feminist would be, and I don't want to be that way," said Glenn Close, the afterglow of her performance still in her cheeks. And what way are feminists perceived exactly? "They don't like men—you know, kind of, um, butch," said the rabbit-killer of Fatal Attraction fame. So feminism stays in the verbal gutter, while Close carries cunt to redemption? "That, to me, is about humanity," the actress said of her word-purifying performance. "It's about something that's bigger than what I always kind of thought feminism was."

Therein lies the marvel of this V-movement, which has turned the stuff of the old take-back-the-night rallies into a hot ticket. Rape, domestic violence, even homelessness, when it happens to women—Ensler has transplanted these issues into a context that seems edgier and yet is somehow more palatable than the dread feminism. "Vaginism" doesn't get all mucked up in messy issues like abortion or unequal pay. And though it often references lesbians—or their vaginas, anyway—the V-movement doesn't get in the way of being attractive to men.

V-Day, which the program refers to as "a movement. . . a vision . . . a spirit," is about seeing sexiness as the source of women's power. When actresses Amy Irving and Rita Wilson announced the "vagina happy fact" that the clitoris has twice as many nerve endings as the penis, the overwhelmingly female audience erupted in hoots. Later, Ensler took this theme to its logical conclusion, leading the more than 50 famous women who composed the Vulva Choir in round after round of orgasmic moaning.

The revelation that women can come dates all the way back to the feminist era, of course. "I still have all my 'Cunt Power' buttons from 1969," mused Gloria Steinem, who wrote the introduction to the Vagina Monologues book and performed a short number about what a six-year-old's vagina might wear. Though the connection with earlier activism wasn't lost on her, the out feminist graciously downplayed her role. "It's like ripples on a pond," said Steinem, who wore flared red silk with feathers. The agitators of the '70s were "just some lone crazy ladies with buttons on them. It was certainly a long way from a book, a movement, Madison Square Garden."

It's true that Ensler has a gift for rallying people behind her sincere interests. Several stars volunteered that they'd do anything for her. With this much celebrity coating, audiences of thousands readily stomach even the tough stuff of female genital mutilation and the rape of Bosnian women. Perhaps a few will be spurred to action. Most important, V-Day's nonprofit arm is actually doing something to address these problems, doling out more than $1 million to women's organizations from New York to Kenya and Croatia.

Still, using the body as organizing principle made for some uncomfortable juxtapositions. "Dry wad of fucking cotton!" Rosie Perez ranted against tampons in "My Angry Vagina," which awkwardly followed an African woman's statement that her clitoris was cut off. Then Calista Flockhart, reading "My Short Skirt," added, "My short skirt is mine!" to the fine legal arguments about sexy clothing her character has already delivered on Ally McBeal.

In the culmination of this starry strangeness, Oprah appeared on stage with a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. That country's Taliban regime has violently oppressed women, forcing them to shroud their faces with a heavy cloth burqa at risk of beating and even death. While Phoebe Snow howled wordlessly and audience members shrieked, "We love you, Oprah!" from the stands, the talk show host slowly lifted off the woman's veil.

It wasn't feminism exactly; it was something more theatrical and puzzling. V-Day seems to be a somehow transformative platform, where millennial women push on to whatever's next. It is the vehicle Jane Fonda chose for her return to the stage after swearing off Ted specifically and men in general. And of course, the Vagina Monologues was front and center in Rudy Giuliani's dissolving marriage, Donna Hanover's participation in the Off-Broadway version signaling the end as surely as the mayor's public strolls with his new "very good friend."

During the show at the Garden, Swoosie Kurtz played the role of a woman having a life-shaking first-ever orgasm in middle age. Participating in V-Day has offered a similar, if less dramatic, awakening for Kurtz. "I was a bit of a feminist before, a fair-weather feminist. Now," said the actress, pausing to grope for words, "I'm a vagina feminist."

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