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The climax of the Vagina Monologues Let's put this competitive suffering to bed

Marlene Schiappa performing in The Vagina Monologues (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlene Schiappa performing in The Vagina Monologues (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images)


November 10, 2023   6 mins

Let me take you back to 1996, and an important year for life-changing discoveries. In Scotland, scientists at the Roslin Institute were cloning Dolly the Sheep. In the US, human DNA sequencing was just getting going. Meanwhile, all over the world, like adventurous female explorers setting foot in an unknown land, women were intrepidly discovering their vaginas. Or at least so asserts the potent mythology surrounding Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, arriving on stage to rapturous applause that very year.

Certainly, during the late Nineties and early 2000s, it seemed you couldn’t move for performances of this piece. Celebrities would vie with each other to appear in benefit productions, revelling in the dramatic opportunities afforded by such monologues as “My Angry Vagina”, “The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy” and “My Vagina was My Village”.  Since then, there have been Mormon versions, Muslim versions, and Ethiopian disabled versions. In 2006, The New York Times called the work “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade”.

On some university campuses, the play is still performed every year. If you believe the hype — and clearly, thousands of women do — Ensler is personally responsible for bringing genital liberation to millions. Interviewed in 2018, she claimed that, as a result of her work, “many more women have seen their vaginas and know them and know what gives them pleasure and know they have agency and rights over them”.

Fast forward to the present day, and Ensler — now nearly 70, and known simply by the letter “V”, which she describes as her “freedom name” — has a new book out. It’s called The Reckoning, and is a collection of extracts from “journals and diaries”, “stacks of espresso-stained writings” and “monologues, plays, articles, essays, fables, speeches, rants, and poems”. The selected pieces date from the late Eighties to the recent past. Quite a lot of the work was originally commissioned by The Guardian. It includes some disturbing recollections of V’s own traumatic childhood; many descriptions of sadistic violence against women and girls; performance pieces about friends who died of AIDS; accusing tracts launched at her mother, global capitalism, and Donald Trump; impassioned fulminations against Republican abortion bans; and a truly awful poem about sex.

To what extent the book’s title is merited is unclear. There is a valiant attempt in the Introduction to manufacture a coherent narrative out of what will follow, suggesting that the work somehow traces the prehistory of various recent political crises, including the Government’s handling of Covid, George Floyd’s death, and the Californian bushfires. V’s stated aim, implicit in the book’s title, is the pursuit of “deep accountability” for “the cruelty at the heart of the US Empire” and “the shattered veins of racist patriarchal capitalism… bleeding everywhere”.

In truth, though, there is no real reckoning here — for that would require an argument. Instead, the reader is taken on a rambling and somewhat ghoulish tour through various moments in the author’s life to date, delivered in some of the most shockingly bad prose I have ever encountered on the page. (See, for instance, her description of lockdown: “Wherever you were when the music stopped, whomever you were with, became the pod or the petri dish of your scrutinous metamorphosis”.)

But still, I am glad I read it. Effectively, The Reckoning functions a bit like a chapter from William Hazlitt’s The Spirit of The Age, allowing me to better understand the present moment in mainstream feminism through the personage of V/Ensler — a character always at the heart of everything she writes, even when ostensibly describing other people. To read this book in my fifties is to re-immerse myself in a worldview once so familiar to me that, as a relatively unquestioning young woman, I could barely differentiate it from the air I breathed. In particular, through its inadvertent depiction of V’s grandiosity, sentimentality, intellectual carelessness, and general hyperemotionality, the book allowed me to better discern a once wildly popular cultural archetype — the American liberal feminist of the Nineties and Noughties — and to newly despair at the wreckage left in her wake.

There are lots of clues in the book as to how the modern day character of the progressive Western feminist has evolved via a process of adaptation from her slightly earlier foremother. There’s the tone — so dramatic, so humourless, so exhausted. There’s a lot of narcissism, rippling unconfined throughout V’s book under the usual pretext of making the personal political. There are some magical beliefs, and a general lack of concern for rationality. “Femicide” is nonsensically defined as “violence against women and girls (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence)”. Cancer is described as caused by “memories of trauma… where the meanness left its mark”.

Ironically for a book supposedly aimed at bringing down the capitalist order, there are also various familiar neoliberal fantasies. Female sexual pleasure is inevitably cast as liberation, and female bodies are both extremely important (when you want them to be) and negligible (when you don’t). Proposed strategies for rectifying women’s problems all seem selected for their potential visual currency in films produced by Susan Sarandon: “Bare-breasted bodies in the streets pushing back against femicide. Indigenous women’s bodies on horseback, in kayaks on the river standing off pipelines about to spill oil. Fist-raised bodies pressed right up against rows of erupting police. Hundreds of differently abled bodies occupying the corridors of Congress.”

Equally — and as was also present in The Vagina Monologues’ tales of repressed old ladies first discovering their clitorises — there is an infantilised image of women generally. In V’s eyes, they only seem to have three possible modes: crushed by unbearable mistreatment, rising phoenix-like with powerful rage, or dancing with child-like joy. Emotions dominate our thinking, apparently; and such is the awful weight of patriarchy upon us, we can’t work out much for ourselves without being enlightened by seers like her.

We also find in the book a telling disregard for the value of privacy — a foreshadowing of all those OnlyFans accounts, and the casual opening up of woman-only spaces to all-comers. Dressed up as a noble quest to get rid of irrational shame, in fact V seems to have no personal boundaries and nor does she respect those of others. An early section entitled “Walls” is prefaced by the telling admission: “I have always been obsessed with walls — who needs to build them, who’s devoted to tearing them down… For much of my life I have tried to find ways to get inside.”

Her own traumatic childhood experiences, including horrendous details about abuse at the hands of her parents, are extensively mined for content. But it’s the relentlessly graphic depiction of other people’s suffering that is most striking. A poem about a friend called Richard, dying of AIDS, seems to revel in humiliating aspects of his decline. (“He checked his penis underneath the diapers to see if he was peeing, to see if there was pee.”) As I read, I found myself praying that, should I have the misfortune to fall seriously ill like this, no friend with literary pretensions will ever try to immortalise my experience.

V also volunteers in domestic violence shelters, imaginatively conjuring the lives of the women she meets there (“Sometimes I’m a slab of cow meat on two hard orange plastic chairs… Sometimes the flies rest on me and I don’t shoo them away. They fuck on me and lay eggs”).  And when she can’t find enough suffering at home, she travels abroad to find it. From her stories of raped women of the Democratic Republic of Congo — “women whose insides were blown apart by rifle blasts and whose bodies now leak uncontrollable streams of urine and feces” — to her images of “lit cigarettes almost put through the soldier’s wife’s eyeballs” in Bosnia, there is prurience here — and a sense that, beneath all the apparently heartfelt expressions of horror, a story is satisfyingly confirmed by the world, to which the author is professionally rather attached.

There are obviously better ways than this to write about violence against women and girls. Nearly all of them involve dispassionate rational analysis, bringing in theory as well as local social context where required, to try to understand what is happening and prevent it in future. But as far as I can see, contemporary media-friendly feminism doesn’t seem to be able to provide much of this. Instead — as in the writing that composes The Reckoning — we often get an orgy of emoting, a competitive fetishisation of female suffering, all offered in the secret service of making the horrified, empathy-filled onlooker the real star.

Back in the mid-Nineties, when The Vagina Monologues was gaining notoriety, another literary genre was also gathering steam: “misery lit”, with book titles such as A Child Called It and Please, Daddy, No. Graphic descriptions of child abuse would be lingered over by authors for chapter after chapter, much to the apparent fascination of tens of thousands of readers. Progressive broadsheets liked to look down on this genre as low-rent, with both The New York Times and The Guardian publishing disapproving analyses of the trend at the time. When writing misery lit, they said, you are monetising human misery in a way that problematically appeals to dark and debased feelings. But if you call it feminism, apparently you are off the hook.

Occasionally, V shows some self-awareness about this — most notably, in a chapter about Bosnian refugees in which she admits: “I was hearing their stories as potential dramas, measuring their words in terms of beats and momentum. This approach made me feel cold, impervious, superior.” But most of the time she seems to position herself, entirely misleadingly, as a brave, unflinching conduit through which readers can confront appalling truths about humanity. As such, she seems to be a forerunner of much self-indulgent feminist writing still to come.

As I write this, videos and images of raped and brutalised Israeli women are circulating on the internet. No doubt writers and journalists are already rushing to get on planes, in in the hope of turning these women’s suffering into further horrible spectacle for the pleasure of emotionally masochistic readers. V is quite right that we need a feminist reckoning. But perhaps it’s not exactly the one she means.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
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R M
2
R M
5 months ago

As I write this, videos and images of raped and brutalised Israeli women are circulating on the internet. No doubt writers and journalists are already rushing to get on planes, in in the hope of turning these women’s suffering into further horrible spectacle for the pleasure of emotionally masochistic readers. 

I fear that Doctor Stock is wrong and these raped and brutalised Israeli women will not even be afforded the dubious privilege of being turned into terrible feminist torture-porn.
I say this because so many of the progressive commentariat seem not to have noticed the images of their rape and brutalisation at all. Or if they have, deemed them unworthy of comment.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  R M

There is an alternative, of course: make the whole thing “really” about women. I’m looking out for a “women are the real victims of ……” piece sometime soon.

Ali W
AW
Ali W
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Close. It will be that trans women are the real victims.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  R M

I must admit, i tried to avoid watching those videos of brutalised women, having read about them in the general reporting. In the end, i watched the one of the young woman being dragged into the back of a car, her clothes stained with blood, urine and faeces, while half a dozen Hamas “heroes” piled in after her. Once was enough.

My point here is this: i’d suggest it mightn’t make any difference to those who’ve watched or haven’t watched, or aren’t even aware. Their minds are made up. In any case, the reality of experiencing that kind of horror is too far outside the capacity of most of us to truly take on board. My reaction was a kind of numbness, of being soiled too.

The real question isn’t awareness, but how we even start to understand the forces within ourselves that can lead to such horror. I’ve seen the violence described as “inhuman”, but that’s a huge error, an evasion. It is, in fact “Human, All Too Human”.

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Murray
Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

It’s men violating women.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

See my post a couple up.

Mark M Breza
MB
Mark M Breza
5 months ago
Reply to  R M

What feminist revolution? Women seem to be just like men.
A head line in this same ‘heard not’ ?
Why are young women tearing down Israeli hostage posters?Female Zoomers have been radicalised on campus and online

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  R M

What perplexes me is that we haven’t actually seen any images of women who’ve been raped in Israel, or heard from them, not even close. We’re about it, and about babies being beheaded but have to take the reporter’s word for it. Even the female hostages who were released haven’t described their ordeal. On the other hand, every day, we see videos of the mass suffering of Palestinians. I think It would behoove the Israelis to actually show something disturbing. A picture says a thousand words.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Imagine having video of your own daughters being raped and brutally murdered posted up on YouTube for all to see. Perhaps for some to even gloat over or be excited by. I think you’ll understand why exposure has been limited. I believe a large number of journalists have seen such material, however.

Android Tross
AT
Android Tross
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Right? Those cowards. After my sister had been raped, I asked her to show me a picture of her battered vagina. How could I believe her without seeing proof? Also, I make it a point never to believe a school shooting has happened in America until I’ve seen pictures of the dead kids with their faces blown off.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

The Hamas fighters took their victims’ phones, filmed their torture and murder and uploaded the footage onto the victim’s Facebook pages fpor the family to see. Shortly after October 7th, the Israeli government collected some live action footage of the atrocities and showed it to a group of (I believe) about 100 international journalists. Are you saying these atrocities didn’t happen?

David McKee
DM
David McKee
5 months ago

I met Prof. Stock recently, at the Battle of Ideas conference in London. She told me that she reads the comments to her UnHerd pieces. So I had better sharpen up my act here.

Trying to make sense of poorly written and poorly argued ideas will be familiar to Prof. Stock. Reading Ensler’s book must have made her nostalgic for all those first year undergrad essays, when she wondered if the students had slept through her lectures.

How did Ensler find a publisher for her rambling, self-indulgent book? Oh, I see – Bloomsbury. How predictable. Nigel Biggar could tell us a thing or two about Bloomsbury. It seems that, if you have the right politics, Bloomsbury will publish, unedited, any old load of tripe.

Last edited 5 months ago by David McKee
Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
5 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

How did Ensler find a publisher? Simple. Woman have dominated publishing for over two decades. That’s why almost nothing in my vast personal library was published after 2000 (except for Ian McEwan and Peter Carey, who must just be too confusing for the little girl editors to understand).

Graeme Archer
GA
Graeme Archer
5 months ago

Possibly one of the best pieces of writing pubilshed this year. Thank you.

m_dunec
M
m_dunec
5 months ago
Reply to  Graeme Archer

Agreed, indeed. Thank you, Prof.Stock!

Last edited 5 months ago by m_dunec
J Dunne
JD
J Dunne
5 months ago
Reply to  m_dunec

And again. Prof Stocks insight and writing is always a pleasure to behold.

J Bryant
JB
J Bryant
5 months ago

some of the most shockingly bad prose I have ever encountered on the page. (See, for instance, her description of lockdown: “Wherever you were when the music stopped, whomever you were with, became the pod or the petri dish of your scrutinous metamorphosis”.)”
Don’t knock bad prose! I was forced to google “scrutinous” and thereby expand the diameter of my personal pod, or petri dish if you prefer, by one word.
Another fine article from K Stock. I don’t know much about the current state of feminism, but Ensler sounds like one of those sad characters who once wrote a book, or even an internet article or speech, that went viral and she’s spent the rest of her life trying to recapture that moment of glory.
And so far as the cultural moment that produced this book goes, as the author reminds us, in 1996, “scientists at the Roisin Institute were cloning Dolly the Sheep. In the US, human DNA sequencing was just getting going.” Sadly, poor Dolly aged prematurely, likely because the cloning technique used to produce her couldn’t replicate the subtle epigenetic cues that occur naturally in utero (which is one reason I don’t worry too much about all those articles telling us how companies will soon be cloning humans in vats).
The human genome sequencing program did, indeed, produce the first complete sequence of a human genome (actually, the genome of Craig Ventor who ran the project), and sequencing technology is now enormously fast. But the avalanche of medical breakthroughs that were predicted to follow from this work did not materialize. Perhaps the ’90s were more about hype than substance.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

One thing that stuck in my mind from The Vagina Monologues is “Since god is a man all men think they’re gods”. I think might be something to that.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Gods with a high suicide rate, however!

I suspect that reflects more on the kind of men you mix with. Most men aren’t a bit like that. Most are easy going and modest. Some try to keep up a front, but with limited success. While a few narcissists fit your picture. They are full of themselves for no visible reason and annoy the hell out of other men. At least in part because some women seem to be completely taken in by them.

Mike Downing
MD
Mike Downing
5 months ago

Isn’t she just the best antidote to all the current BS especially since I myself would have been totally on board with a lot of this stuff 20 years ago.

Everyone thought the Monologues were kick-ass clever at the time; indeed I even caught a doctor from our local STI clinic (don’t ask – I was there with a friend obvs) reading it one evening in Borders (remember them?). She maybe thought it would help her work with patients and break down barriers.

But Eve already had a lot of antecedents of a similar nature. Who now apart from giddy teenage feminist wannabes would want to read ‘The Women’s Room’ by Marilyn French (a veritable maso-fest) or almost anything by Shere Hite (or Hype)?

Even My Mamma had a copy of ‘The Female Eunuch ‘ by La Greer which she never read of course ( it was next to ‘Ulysses’ – another problematic tome – on the bookshelf).

I remember after 2008 lady grifters blithely asserting that if oooonly there’d been more women at the top of banks and less ‘toxic masculinity ‘ the financial crisis wouldn’t have happened (it transpired a lady had come up with the algorithm on which the whole house of cards was based unfortunately). And now we have Dame Alison Rose putting up with a measly £2.5 million after breaking all the basic rules of banking.

But never fear; it’ll all be perfect in that utopia which is always just around that non-binary corner.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Shere Hite

If I remember correctly SHite suggested that the thrusting motion made by men during sex was a learned behaviour. Learned at the same sex education class as most other mammals presumably. Did it never occur to her to observe other animals?

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Did she/it ever refer to thrusting motions made by females during sex?

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I think this was during the anti penetration phase – when penetration itself was seen as an act of patriarchal oppression. I know, I know – it all seems so daft in the light of day. Not only was there a failure to understand male sexuality, there was a failure to understand female sexuality too.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

The first time i heard the phrase it was spoken, and i misinterpreted it as Auntie penetration. I missed the rest of what was said.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

It all seemed daft at the time

Guy Pigache
GP
Guy Pigache
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Side to side was presumably a rather short evolutionary dead end. One generation only.

Gilmour Campbell
GC
Gilmour Campbell
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Actually, La Greer’s book was/is rather good. She didn’t subscribe to any of the ‘gender’ nonsense and pointed out that many (not all) of the limitations experienced by some women were self-inflicted as a result of them failing to live up to their own capabilities because of uncritical adoption of society’s then pervasive feminine-female stereotype. (Sorry about the very poor writing – tired and kids riotous in the background). Anyway, don’t dismiss Germaine, and certainly don’t lump her in with the type being critiqued by the wonderful KS.

N Satori
NS
N Satori
5 months ago

The problem with Germaine Greer is that she tends to draw fawning admiration rather than criticism. Perhaps men are afraid to criticise the great feminist for fear of being dismissed as pathetic and sexist.
Many years ago she was the interview subject of Radio 4’s In The Psychiatrists Chair. Dr Anthony Clare, the interviewer, bravely dared to suggest that not all men are domineering male chauvinists. Greer, without a moment’s thought, bellowed in reply: “I am not interested in phallic insecurity!”. Dr Clare quickly moved on to another topic. The implication is clear – for Greer men are domineering male chauvinists or they are not ‘real’ men.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
5 months ago

Greer advocated the compulsory castration of male children once they were capable of producing sperm, and according to female friends falsely claimed that her male friends were indifferent to her telling them she had been raped. It was a terrible shame to hear such a reasonable person has recently suffered ‘cancellation’ at the hands of deranged extremists.

Martin Goodfellow
MG
Martin Goodfellow
5 months ago

‘The Female Eunuch’ is mainly about Germaine, although it purports to be about greater societal influences. I think Kathleen Stock’s comment about writers who make the personal political nicely sums up Greer’s approach. She also pulls no punches in her condemnation of men, declaring them anomalies, unfit to live: “A man is a walking abortion,” she declared. Like many feminists, she is avoident of self criticism, and of introspection. (See N. Sartori’s comment below for a revealing example.) Although she may be an entertaining personality, Germaine Greer has been a destructive influence on men and women. She has a lot to answer for, but is never likely to admit it. None of this is any great secret, it was just rarely publicised as too many people didn’t want to hear about it.

Gilmour Campbell
GC
Gilmour Campbell
5 months ago

Thank you, Martin, for a thought-provoking reply. I will do a bit more research on GG. In the meantime, I do think the gist of my comment still stands – she really didn’t let women off the hook either. BTW in case it matters, I am a woman (a real one).

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

“I myself would have been totally on board with a lot of this stuff 20 years ago”
I do not wish to be rude but how can that possibly be?

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago

V is quite right that we need a feminist reckoning. But perhaps it’s not exactly the one she means.

But KS is perhaps turning out to be the internal critic that an intellectually moribund feminism so desperately needs. Could it be that the trans issue is waking up some feminists to the accumulated (and dangerous) silliness of their own movement.

Last edited 5 months ago by David Morley
Alex Carnegie
RC
Alex Carnegie
5 months ago

Kathleen Stock has always written well but she is getting more and more interesting as she reexamines the beliefs she long held. Most of us form our basic ideas while still young, ill informed and unwise and then stick with them complacently untroubled by any pressing need to do any more serious thinking. It is fascinating to watch instead a good mind – following traumatic mistreatment and an abrupt change in career path – sifting through, discarding or reassembling in new patterns her ideas and ideals. I suspect she will end up with an intriguing, innovative and coherent system of thought.

Meanwhile – while we wait for her magnum opus – I would be interested if UnHerd commissioned her to write on in particular

1/ Feminism as a precursor to modern radical progressivism. – Did some of the defects of the “woke” exist in larval form in feminism e.g. if claiming that gender is “assigned” not natural is wrong, was it preceded in the 1970s/80s by the less aggressive but parallel feminist view that all behavioural variation between boys and girls were due to upbringing and not innate differences? Both views struck most onlookers as loopy but such criticism was delegitimised for a while. 

2/ The boundaries of free speech and the rules of debate. – Rather than just moaning about the excesses of the “woke”, I think we need to project a positive program combining an updated version of JS Mills and a detailed “dos and don’ts” for students. My impression is that TERFs are just as bad on this front as their opponents and that experience of feminist debates could usefully inform any proposals.

3/ The victims of feminism – There has always been a callous element to feminism and a reluctance to acknowledge that it has caused pain as well as progress. If the initial victims were the women born in the 1930s who found their lives suddenly completely devalued, the current problem appears to be teenage boys being taught that they are inherently second class and toxic. 

4/ The desired end state. – One of the criticisms of Queer theory is that it has no end goal in sight but instead envisages a permanent cultural revolution with an endless supply of new marginalised groups to be discovered, radicalised, embittered and then thrown at whoever is seen as privileged that week. Is there a less exhausting progressive vision? or at least a set of general principles that can guide us as technology reshapes society and, increasingly, human beings?

If she needs slightly longer than usual articles to address these topics, I for one would be happy to read them and hope UnHerd would indulge her.

Last edited 5 months ago by Alex Carnegie
Alan Tonkyn
AT
Alan Tonkyn
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

A first-rate comment, Alex. I agree with all four of your proposed topics for further exploration by the excellent Kathleen Stock, or someone of similar clear-mindedness. I especially appreciated your comments on the way a certain kind of feminism has devalued the lives of women who have pursued the traditional, and vital, role of nurturing families, and has placed teenage boys in a toxic ghetto. Your observation that Queer theory (like most radical theories of its kind) has no real goal other than endless bitterness and anger was also spot-on.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
5 months ago
Reply to  Alan Tonkyn

Thanks. In case UH actually take account of the comments section, I have thought of another

5/ The impact of feminism on organisations – It would be strange if there was no effect on organisational culture when male management is replaced by female but so far the results seem more mixed than promised. There is also is an observable correlation between which sectors are female dominated and where “woke” conformity has flourished. There is clearly something going on – and one hears various theories confidently asserted – but I am unsure precisely what and would be curious as to KS’s take.

Last edited 5 months ago by Alex Carnegie
David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

Kathleen Stock has always written well but she is getting more and more interesting as she reexamines the beliefs she long held.

Aside from some hints in her book Material Girls, I’m in the dark as to what her views used to be. But I agree that she is undertaking a long overdue overhaul of feminist ideas. Perhaps the trans issue has awoken her from her dogmatic slumbers.

Strongly suggest reading her book. It’s clear from her markedly rational approach that she is not going to swallow any BS just because it comes in a tin marked “feminism”. And she’s a mile away from the anti trans rant brigade even if they claim her as their own.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Apart from some of the silly things that were suggested with feminism, the one thing that I thought was really smart was the use of Ms.as a female equivalent of Mr. But it doesn’t seem to have really stuck which I find disheartening. When I place an order online with a live agent they always call me Mrs. which kinda drives me nuts as I’m not one. I usually correct them and open up. the discussion. Most have never heard of Ms. and they certainly didn’t learn about it in their training. Others have said that a lot of women get offended if they’re not addressed as Mrs. Apparently, there still seems to be a certain amount of status in being a married woman or shame in not being one. Either way, I find it disheartening.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Must say I’d missed that, but you’re clearly right. I think the reason is obvious. In older women Ms is short for “old maid”. Not saying I agree with this, but Ms after a certain age suggests: unable to find a man willing to marry her. So I can see why it would be avoided. In other words, in older women it has taken over the role formerly held by Miss.

Interesting wider point: you can’t change (social) reality just by changing words.

Jane Davis
JD
Jane Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I’m an older woman, I use Ms and don’t give a crap about being married – as do a number of friends of mine who have probably more options in that respect than I would! Many older women, even if they have had a happy marriage don’t want to take on the demands of men. Admittedly the same is true of some hetero men. Plus many married women use it in their professional and personal lives. Including, of course, some married lesbians.
.

Fafa Fafa
FF
Fafa Fafa
5 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

BORING! said Bart Simpson.

Instead of filling out the implied blanks of your tendentious titles, I would like to read her analysis of John Gray’s Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life! A bit broader topic, the meaning of life, than old ideologies currently tearing themselves apart, nespa?

Last edited 5 months ago by Fafa Fafa
Theresa Guirato
Theresa Guirato
5 months ago

Thanks KT for a long overdue truth telling.
If the prose in this book is anything remotely like the original monologues I am relieved that, suspicious of their quality, I steered clear years ago. In those days it was hard to express honest criticism (aka negativity), as we felt obliged by ‘sisterhood’ to cheerlead everything.
Glad those days are over.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago

The VM were taken apart years ago by Christina Hoff Sommers (another philosopher btw). Completely silly stuff.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Almost 20 years old now, but still worth reading:

https://www.aei.org/research-products/speech/sex-lies-and-the-vagina-monologues/

Brief extract:

I have so many objections to the play it is hard to know where to start. I’ll limit myself to three. 1) It is atrociously written. 2) It is viciously anti-male; and 3) and, most importantly, it claims to empower women, when in fact it makes us seem desperate and pathetic.

Max Price
MP
Max Price
5 months ago

Kathleen certainly didn’t miss!

Steven Targett
Steven Targett
5 months ago

I always like to read Prof. Stocks essays as she frequently skewers the pretentious modern identity politics. Its nice to know that the lunatics aren’t entirely running the asylum although sometimes you have to wonder.

William Edward Henry Appleby
WE
William Edward Henry Appleby
5 months ago

I attended the Women in Revolt! show at the Tate Britain this week. So much of female artist’s work seems to revolve around gynaecological themes: children, sex, sexuality, genitalia.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago

Female comedy is generally much the same: washing your dirty knickers in public.

Mike Downing
MD
Mike Downing
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

A trick performed by Tracey Emin with her bed ‘art installation ‘.

William Edward Henry Appleby
WE
William Edward Henry Appleby
5 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Needy, narcissistic, self-indulgent, bad art.

Last edited 5 months ago by William Edward Henry Appleby
William Edward Henry Appleby
WE
William Edward Henry Appleby
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I think Otto Weininger was onto something in Geschlecht und Charakter when he said women were obsessed with the sexual act.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago

Have at it William! I could say men are obsessed with sex.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

No it’s not! Where do you go?

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Clare – I said “generally”. There are some female comedians who go beyond that, but not that many. Or not that many who are actually funny. Please recommend a few.

Ralph Hanke
RH
Ralph Hanke
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Try Kathleen Madigan.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Ralph Hanke

Thank you. Will check her out.

Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago

So?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago

Why?

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago

and a sense that, beneath all the apparently heartfelt expressions of horror, a story is satisfyingly confirmed by the world, to which the author is professionally rather attached.

Isn’t this the history of feminism over recent decades? Expressing outrage (while secretly jumping for joy) over every individual horror which can be used to push a narrative of universal and general male evil and female oppression.

Last edited 5 months ago by David Morley
Jane Davis
Jane Davis
4 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Men do a lot of raping, David. Get over it.

Davy Humerme
Davy Humerme
5 months ago

Another precision demolition job on one of the “classics” of modern midwit thought. Could Kathleen take her scalpel to some of the quasi mystical nonsense self -help literature? Much of it had a feminist angle such “ Women who hunt with the Wolves” or some such.

Last edited 5 months ago by Davy Humerme
Elizabeth Hamilton
EH
Elizabeth Hamilton
5 months ago
Reply to  Davy Humerme

Oooooh yes, please! I’d really enjoy that too!

Tyler Durden
TD
Tyler Durden
5 months ago

Many feel, altogether non-empirically, that the narcissism and often all-pervasiveness of the new feminism (3rd-4th wave) has prompted the strange transgender movement as a counterbalance. The culture started to feel instead that it didn’t want to feel so militantly male, or indeed female…

Last edited 5 months ago by Tyler Durden
Kathie Lou Eldridge
KE
Kathie Lou Eldridge
5 months ago

I am so happy I never bought into this claptrap form of so called feminism, never went to a performance of “The Vagina Monologues”.This feels so alien to the realities of most women today. We are more concerned about never making enough money to sustain ourselves on a parity with men, buying into the you can have it all mentality, being persuaded to be like men and not a balance with the opposite sex.

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago

It all sound so self absorbed and self indulgent doesn’t it. It didn’t stop there either. Next came “reclaiming the a**s”.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago

Great piece. Highly recommend her book Material girls too. Not just on the trans issue, but as a potted history of the (feminist) intellectual history that led to it. An amusing thought: if you quote her, unacknowledged, in the comments – expect a feminist pile on or down votes from people entirely unaware of the history or meaning of the ideas they cling to.

m_dunec
m_dunec
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

I have it on good authority that you and a couple of others, are best avoided – but boy, do you test!

Your amusing thought – sounds good, but of course, has not happened here, and is in fact, just another one of your pathetic attempts, to attack feminists.

Women are standing together, despite your efforts to divide. Keep bringing up the worms, Kathleen!

Last edited 5 months ago by m_dunec
David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  m_dunec

I did seriously think of doing it for real, but thought it dishonest.

But in a sense I already have. I have posted comments on here prior to reading her book which are the same as those KS has written in her book. No big claim here – anybody with any understanding of feminist history would think the same.

The reason I like KS, but find a lot of feminists annoying – she actually knows what she’s talking about.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  m_dunec

Women are standing together,

That’s just the thing, they are not. Lots of feminists of a certain age see the VMs as the best thing since yeasty bread. KS and others do not. On the trans issue feminists are divided (largely on generational lines). On feminism women are divided. Women are individuals not clones.

I guess you could say that women are standing together against other women.

Last edited 5 months ago by David Morley
Clare Knight
CK
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  m_dunec

I noticed that once William started in on the misogyny David jumped in and they fed off each other!

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

LOL

I actually had to look back and see which William you were referring to.

And if agreeing with one feminist while disagreeing with others is misogyny then I stand in the dock with Kathleen Stock. In case you haven’t noticed KS has just provided a cutting critique of a feminist icon.

J Dunne
J Dunne
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

He didn’t say anything remotely misogynistic. Criticising the nonsense spouted by feminists has nothing to do with hating women – the vast majority of whom do not identify as feminists.

Your accusation was a lazy ad hominem.

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
5 months ago

“Emotions dominate our thinking, apparently; and such is the awful weight of patriarchy upon us, we can’t work out much for ourselves without being enlightened by seers like her.”
Not generally a fan of Kathleen Stock’s work, but this was an impressive essay. I would be curious for her thoughts on the relationship between the flaws of Eve Ensler’s book, and the broader shape of the ‘patriarchy.’ Is it perhaps because emotions do all-too-often dominate women’s thinking, that women have dominated the fields that demand emotional sensitivity – nurturing, nourishing, etc. – while men have dominated the fields that don’t – building, killing, etc.? Obviously that’s no reason to exclude women from engaging in (say) engineering, but it is a reason not to lament demographic disparities in (say) the engineering faculty at MIT.
That is to say, in her clear-eyed critique of Eve Ensler’s work, I heard echoes of all the reasons for our heavily gender-differentiated history.

Susan Scheid
Susan Scheid
5 months ago

Oh, my, this is so good and so smart. I look forward to Dr. Stock turning her razor-sharp brain and peerless prose to analysis of Barbie, the movie (or perhaps I missed it, and, if so, I hope someone will link what she wrote).

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Susan Scheid

What did you think of Barbie the movie?

Susan Scheid
Susan Scheid
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Hi, David: I confess I couldn’t bear to watch it—all that pink! What interested me more were the reactions of some women who seemed to mistake what I considered light overhyped summer entertainment and a long promo for Mattel for a feminist rallying cry. This piece, for me, summed up the phenomenon quite well: https://prospect.org/blogs-and-newsletters/tap/2023-08-11-pitch-meeting-capitalist-barbie/

David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Susan Scheid

I found it better than I expected, though a little confused. Yes – a lot lighter than I’d expected from all the hype. Curiously some conservatives were really positive too.

I thought the portrayal of Barbieland contained a critique of what feminism had given rise to – a world of female freedom and empowerment focussed on discos, beach parties clothes and makeup. It all looked like a pink version of any uk city on a Friday or Saturday night.

I also picked up the message that in Barbieland being an astronaut just meant wearing astronaut outfits – not actually being an astronaut and doing the hard graft. A kind of dumbed down, fantasy version of women “being all they can be.

In the final part there was compromise with reality and acceptance that being x (astronaut, president etc) involved more than just dressing as one.

David Morley
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Susan Scheid

Hi Susan. I replied at length, but seems to have vanished. Might appear again tomorrow. Don’t think I said anything too controversial.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Susan Scheid

You can look for it under the “Home’ page.

Mrs R
MR
Mrs R
5 months ago

“the shattered veins of racist patriarchal capitalism… bleeding everywhere”.
That this will be unquestioningly lapped up by so so many drives me to the brink of despair.
I can’t help but wonder how Ensler would react to reading this brilliantly incisive critique by Kathleen Stock?

Last edited 5 months ago by Mrs R
David Morley
DM
David Morley
5 months ago
Reply to  Mrs R

Impervious to criticism I would think. As she was years ago when she was reviewed by Christina Hoff Sommers:

https://www.aei.org/research-products/speech/sex-lies-and-the-vagina-monologues/

I have so many objections to the play it is hard to know where to start. I’ll limit myself to three. 1) It is atrociously written. 2) It is viciously anti-male; and 3) and, most importantly, it claims to empower women, when in fact it makes us seem desperate and pathetic.

Mrs R
MR
Mrs R
5 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

That would about sum it up.

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago

Reading this article inspired some further reading, and today I learned of a new concept – “Communal Narcissism”. The surreptitious fulfilment of narcissistic cravings through performative association with a ‘great cause’.

B Davis
B Davis
5 months ago

My compliments to Kathleen…or perhaps my sympathy… for having taken the actual time to actually read, and actually consider the mindless, vacuous, eyeless, boneless, chickenless egg which is the ‘thinking’ of Ms.Ensler.
Pointless is too kind a word.
That the path which began generations back with the idiocy of the Vagina Monologues has emerged, yet again from the Trackless Woods of Progressive Thought to give us “Reckoning” is unsurprising. Of course it did. Women, it seems, at least Liberated, Enlightened, Empowered, and Affirmatively Consensually Sex Positive Women Who Will Not Be Objectified (and don’t you dare offend us)– Hear Us Roar…remain obsessed with their vaginas (when not marching, p***y-hatted for world peace, or to Free the Nipple, or Close the Orgasm Gap: whatever burning issue is uppermost at the time).
The problem is not the idiocy, per se, it’s where to begin it’s unraveling, given that every ankle bone here is connected to every leg bone, every knee bone, every thigh bone over there. Shall we talk 2nd Wave Feminism….Women’s Lib….Our Bodies Our Selves? Do we need to parse the discovery of the c******s or the Zipless F***? Or turn instead to the utter unreality of 4th Wave Feminist Affirmative Consent (witnessed & notarized) and the redefinition of Sexual Assault as ‘anything unwanted’.
Girls just wanna have fun, after all…and fun is what is wanted and unfun is distinctly unwanted and if you were continuously checking to make sure “Are You Good / I’m Good / Are You Still Good, etc” then you would have known that and wouldn’t be spending this year in the federal pen, having lost your job, and been doxed by the Furies.
Yes, Prof. Stock is absolutely correct. There needs to be a Feminist Reckoning. We can only hope.
They would not be just a muffin’, Their head all full of stuffin’, Their heart all full of pain….if they only had a brain.

Elizabeth Hamilton
EH
Elizabeth Hamilton
5 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

JFC, Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. or Miss or Whatever B, that was quite a burn.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago

Interesting assessment of the current state of what remains of feminism, especially in America. Quite a voyeuristic journey which seems to often lack cohesion and maturity.

J. Hale
J. Hale
5 months ago

No doubt progressives will view the rape and kidnapping of Jewish women as understandable, because Israel is an “oppressor.”

Fafa Fafa
FF
Fafa Fafa
5 months ago

I was in that age when anything female was strangely euphoric for me to behold, a shape, a look, a body part, and, apparently, even a word referring to a body part written in large red or pink letters on posters, when the play first came out. Ooh, vagina! VAGINA! I savored the word in delight. So, personally, I had no problem with it, while even then I was wondering a bit how come loudmouthed women, who often protested about being “objectified” by me (shape, body part…, etc), celebrated the project.

There was a radio guy on New York Public Radio at that time, who might have been irked by the Monologues, or maybe he was jealous, or just wanted to be a smart ass, regardless, he started a project called “The p***s Dialogues”. I thought one could read some meaning into the contrast but I don’t think the project ever went anywhere. I certainly was not interested.

There is a hilarious “Extras” shtick played by Patrick Stewart and Ricky Gervais, in which Stewart, playing the role of a famous Shakespearean actor while Gervais is a star-struck extra hoping to have the famous man read his manuscript, describes his screenplay idea to G, instead of listening to G’s – and in it he has a special power, which is to cause all clothing to fall off of a woman suddenly. There she is, stark naked. What is point? the dumbfounded extra asks the famous actor. “Well, the clothes fall off and I have seen everything! Get it? I have seen everything”, Very funny, it is on YouTube. 

Seeing the big red word VAGINA, for me, was almost like seeing an actual big red vagina. It was pretty close to “having seen everything”. 

So these are my memories about the launching of the project. I’m sure the titillation of stupid young guys was not part of the plan (or was it? Some plausibly deniable exhibitionism?)

A few decades later I find the mind of a woman to be the main (even if not the only) attraction. So here I am , reading another brilliantly incisive (or the other way around?) piece from Kathleen Stock.

(Edit: P star star star S – hilarious!)

Last edited 5 months ago by Fafa Fafa
Mike Bell
MB
Mike Bell
5 months ago

A brilliant piece of writing. Thank you.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago

Ironically the New York Times itself represents the most important piece of political theatre of the last decade

Jane Davis
JD
Jane Davis
5 months ago

I think it is a lose lose situation, writing about trauma. Ok Primo Levi got it ‘right’ in his books about Auschwitz but he is exceptional in having a cool, Piedmontese ‘scientific’ temperament. The feelings that didn’t make it into that book, made it into this poetry.
‘Rational’ doesn’t exist. Reason does. The neuroscientist Damasio points out our anti emotional bias and has demonstrated that Spock and Data are fantasies – all good decisions require the emotional functioning of the brain.
Ensler’s work may seem sentimental and exploitative to some and not to others. Shutting up about terrible things that have happened to you in order to satisfy the social belief that humans are basically good is the norm. Women were traditionally pushed further to the back of the queue about this -now we are seeing a redressing of that balance, many will say ‘oh, women go on about their suffering and don’t recognise men suffer too’
When it comes to men experiencing sexual abuse, there is no question at all in my mind that feminism has actually enabled more men to talk about it in the first instance.
Professor Stock sounds incredibly English here – for instance, Middle Eastern and African mourning (and to some extent Jewish) mourning traditions are less controlled in a way that may seem melodramatic.
I don’t like the ‘misery memoir’ genre per se but on the whole I do think it is better that these experiences are discussed openly, even if it is in a way that some find tasteless.

Jane Davis
JD
Jane Davis
4 months ago

I will add one more thing. If Ensler did not have her friend’s permission to write about his medical experience, then that is a really appalling violation. Privacy matters as being in hospital and having medical treatment can often be so invasive and humiliating even when the care is delivered with empathy.