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ISNA & The Vagina Monologues

behind the scenes of V-Day Challenge 2002

Forum: Feminist Approach to Bioethics List
Date: 06/05/2002

In January 2002, Hilde Nelson forwarded a press release from Intersex Society of North America on its actions to challenge V-Day (for more information about this action, visit ISNA's web site) to the "Feminist Approaches to Bioethics" list. Nelson added, "ISNA is a reputable organization that does good work, though I am sorry to see it go after a piece of feminist theatre. Feminists really aren't the enemy."

Shelly Tremain stated in response that she "was unhappy with" Nelson's remarks "not the least of all because they assumed that no intersexed person (even the particular intersexed activists themselves) is a feminist." She further stated: "The remarks seemed reminiscent to me of the reactions of white feminists when challenged on their racism by feminists of colour, of economically privileged feminists when challenged by working class and poor feminists on their classism, of the reactions of non-disabled feminists when criticized by disabled feminists for their ableism."

Below is an email I sent on June 5 (when I became aware of this interaction) to both Nelson and Tremain.

Hello Hilde and Shelley,

I came across the discussion between two of you in regards to my and other intersex activists' response to "The Vagina Monologues," and felt that you might benefit from additional background information. I know it's an old discussion, but I wanted to clear some misunderstandings if there are any.

1) There was a long history of individual intersex people and our friends trying to communicate with Eve Ensler and V-Day, to no avail. For example, Esther Morris (the author of _The Missing Vagina Monologues_, published in _Sojourner_ in March 2001) sent Eve her article along with an invitation for a dialogue; she received a three-line letter back that basically said "thanks for the info, but I'm not interested in any dialogues." Thea Hillman (a board member of ISNA) sent Eve a copy of _Hermaphrodites Speak!_, a documentary film produced by ISNA, along with a letter; she received no reply. I know of at least a dozen others who attempted to contact Eve individually and privately, but none except Esther received any reply at all. In addition, ISNA activists and allies made at least two attempts to speak to Eve directly at her shows (in Boston and in Ann Arbor) but both times Eve refused to speak with us. Like Audre Lourde who was forced to publish her famous letter to Mary Daly because of Daly's refusal to privately respond to her concerns as a Black woman, we felt that we needed to make our concerns public to gain any attention.

2) If "The Vagina Monologues" was just an off-broadway play or even a national tour, it would not have been such a big problem. However, it was being used as a centerpiece for 800+ V-Day festivities all over the world every year, and we simply could not allow it to continue spreading misinformation about intersexuality. The damage was too large to ignore.

3) While Eve has the perfect freedom to write whatever she pleases, V-Day is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which is accountable to its mission statement, part of which is to end genital mutilation on women and girls. Any tax-exempt organization whose actions contradict its mission statement needs to be challenged. We never asked Eve to modify any portion of her play in our organized response, although we took V-Day the non-profit organization to task.

4) A day after we kicked off our public campaign, the executive director of V-Day contacted us, expressing her organization's (and Eve's) support toward our mission to end shame, secrecy and unwanted genital surgeries on intersex children. We asked them to issue a joint press release with us to make their support public, which they complied. We feel that this could not have happened without making our responses public, as individual and private responses had failed until this point.

I hope that this would give you a clearer picture of what actually took place behind the scenes. There will be an article about our actions in the October 2002 issue of _Bitch_ magazine as well.

As for my feminist credential - I think my involvement with National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and National Women's Studies Association, as well as publication in such periodicals as _Women's Studies Quarterly_, _Fireweed_, _Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture_, and others would speak for themselves.

Thank you both for your support for ISNA's work to end shame, secrecy and unwanted genital surgeries.

Emi Koyama
Program Assistant
Intersex Society of North America

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.