/ 11 February 2016

What I really want for V-Day

Seeing red: Respect the vagina on V-Day – and make it Vasectomy Day too.
The restaurant is located next to the partly completed L2 trunk road in the tough northern suburb of Saint-Barthelemy.

This weekend marks the annual ritual of pink splashed around shopping malls, chocolates and red roses at a premium, and restaurants offering a thousand variations on romantic dinners. Millions of women will expect some token of romance from their significant others. Hip couples may partake in mutual exchanges of gifts, or shared pampering.

So given that this is when we’re all supposed to be going full Disney, I’m going to indulge in some wish fulfilment of my own. Send that pink cloud my way and rain down the fairy dust. I’m going to fantasise about my perfect Valentine’s Day.

I wish … I wish Valentine’s Day was actually Vagina Day. And on Vagina Day, I’d like to see some attention paid to this supposedly mysterious, irresistible and yet apparently despised part of female anatomy. But the right kind of attention. First of all, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Recognition of the autonomy of women’s bodies. Practical help with our complex reproductive systems. (A startling number of women would choose a safe, reliable form of contraception over fellatio any day, although there’s no reason not to have both.)

I wish Vagina Day was a day with a total embargo on rape and sexual violence, a day when not one woman got hit or hurt or trafficked or enslaved. Not one woman online got trolled with rape threats. Not one woman walking down the street got catcalled. Not one working woman had a boss stand too close to her for too long.

I wish it was a day when every rape survivor testifying in court could do so with a hot-water bottle or a teddy-bear on her lap, or a support dog at her feet. With cake afterwards.

I wish it was a day when people would plant flowers instead of flying scentless roses around the globe. A day when folk would buy fruit from pavement vendors instead of overpackaged and overpriced chocolate.

I wish it was a day when billboards advertised nothing except condoms. And messages to cherish each other. And to forgive one another right now (yup, I’m an ageing hippy). Or simply images of glorious gorgeous Georgia O’Keeffe flowers.

I wish it was a day when every menstruating girl had the supplies she needed to attend school in comfort and with dignity. So on Vagina Day, I wish businesses would donate truckloads of pads and tampons to poor women. Along with undies and painkillers for cramps.

I wish it was a day the state would roll out a fleet of mobile family planning clinics, staffed by enthusiastic health workers trained to deliver services in the rural areas. And that every single reproductive healthcare worker had all the equipment and meds they needed to treat their patients appropriately.

I wish it was a day when every menopausal woman who tells her doctor she’s losing her mind would be listened to, and offered the treatment she needed, instead of being told that what she’s experiencing is “only natural”. (So is snakebite. And erectile dysfunction.)

I wish it was a day when every terrified teen or exhausted mother of five (abandoned by the father of her children) presenting herself for a legal abortion would get proper care, instead of a guilt trip or even flat-out refusal from a judgmental nurse.

I wish it was a day when every single doctor, nurse or midwife providing reproductive care (including caring for HIV patients) in the public health sector could get a free slap-up dinner in a nice restaurant, with champagne or strawberry juice.

I wish it was a day when cosmetic companies would launch affordable biodegradable pads and tampons, along with reusable sponges and cups. The latter would be a goddess-send for rural women, but they’re priced beyond the means of most.

I wish it was a day when businesses would vow to sell only locally made, fair-traded V-day gifts and Proudly South African lingerie, instead of a flood of job-destroying Chinese tat. And I wish it was a day when folk would buy pretty knickers, body lotion and soft toys for distribution to child rape survivors.

And because Vagina Day shouldn’t just be about women, I wish V-day could also be Vasectomy Day. With legislation that gave every man who got the snip the choice of either five grand in cash or a small tax rebate for life.

Much as I hate to emerge from this dream, I have to come back to the real, messy, unfair and greedy world. My fantasies are probably even more of a reach than the fluffy pink promises consumer culture dangles in front of us. But some – hell, all of them – are possible.

Meanwhile, let’s resolve to distribute some V-Day kindness. Tenderness, thoughtfulness, affection to our other halves, or people we know are struggling – the lonely, the bereaved, the lost. A shared joke, a potluck supper, a walk. These are the unglamorous acts of love, but they’ll mean a lot more than a cheesy card.

Helen Moffett is an author, freelance editor, activist and recovering academic