…February’s “V-Days”

I have been witnessing an interesting twist to an old tradition. I remember that, as I was growing up, the month of February used to be a month to celebrate “love and friendship,” particularly in relation to Saint Valentine’s day; the elusive figure from the early years of Christianity for whom it is difficult to find historical evidence. As you know, this is a welcome occasion for many companies that sell all things imaginable that may be related to friendship and beyond… greeting cards, candy, chocolates, flowers, movies, songs, books, intimate apparel, jewelry, romantic getaways, dinners, and everything in between!

As I reviewed two years ago, this holiday generates spending in our nation to the tune of “teen billions” in sales. Last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) expected a dip in sales from the previous year: $14.7 Bn in 2009, compared to $17.02 Bn in 2008 –in case you were wondering, no estimates for this particular festivity were publicly available for 2010 at the time of this writing, but a projected increase of 2.5% in sales for 2010 leads me to believe that we might see a slight bump.

NRF’s data also shows that only the end of the year and the return to school generate larger sales than “V-day;” not even Mother’s or Father’s day, Easter, Halloween, the Super Bowl or Saint Patrick’s day inspire our nation to open our wallets as we do in the middle of February. And, of course we are not the only ones stimulating the economic cycles; all around the world, there are variations that celebrate love and friendship, with the exception of cultures that explicitly reject Western influences as do some Hindi and Saudi Arabians.

Where is “the Twist”?
For the past decade or so, I have been observing an increase in popularity, scope, and support for a different type of “V-Day,” the movement created by Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues. I would be surprised if you haven’t heard about it, as universities and community centers all over the US have been organizing readings of this work on or around February 14. What started as a presentation of diverse feminine experiences (including one that was highly questionable to say the least) has become a world-wide movement that demands a stop to all forms of violence and abuse against women.

I will admit that the monologues were not particularly appealing to me when their dissemination started. The reviews I read cautioned that one of the segments offered a highly appreciative portrayal of a lesbian rape of an underage, drunken girl, while most other segments categorically condemned –as they should!—any violence perpetrated by males. Critics also pointed out how harmonious relationships between men and women are not given enough “air time” within the event, compared to traumatic encounters. Others have criticized the “hijacking” of St. Valentine’s Day and in a few countries –including European ones like Monte Carlo or Monaco—the piece has been found vulgar or tasteless.

The Redemption of the Monologues?
Still, the activism that this movement has been generating is worth a close look. Among the most noticeable outcomes of the V-Day movement we find a dozen festivals prominently covered by the mainstream media thanks to the support of well-known personalities; thousands of benefit events in cities around the world; and a great deal of grass-roots events with the purpose of educating, raising funds and supporting organizations that year-round help victims of domestic and other types of violence. This year the focus is on the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of many fronts that, thanks to its marginal socio-political status, has gone largely unnoticed by the media. Kudos to Ensler for using in this way the notoriety that her V-Day movement has acquired!!

Another initiative that I find laudable is the grass-roots creation of a V-Men event for 2011. Within the next few weeks, focus groups will be joining men who are willing to contribute their own experiences, thoughts and other resources to stop the violence against women. As a researcher on women’s experiences at the workplace who also happens to be the husband of an amazing woman, father of two little girls, brother of another two great women, and son of a most loving home-based activist, I can only strongly recommend this effort that surely will eliminate the criticism that V-Day is a “man hating” event.

Should We Have a “BV-Day”?
Considering all the disadvantages that women encounter in business –the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, mommy tracks, double-duty, tokenism, glass cliffs, stereotyped treatment, difficulties in finding mentors and career advocates, to name just a few—perhaps we ought to have a “BV-Day.” At least once a year, we, in the world of Business, should stop to reflect how a very subtle type of violence is perpetrated against some of the smartest, hardest working, underappreciated individuals who just happen to have a body that is different from those of us in the majority.

What do you think? Feel free to send me an email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or post your comment on my facebook or LinkedIn page.

¡Hasta la próxima!

To learn more:

  • This Wikipedia entry summarizes what is currently known about Saint Valentine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Valentine

  • The National Retail Federation publishes data on consumer spending through the following website: http://www.nrf.com/

  • Ensler’s Vday organization’s website is at: http://www.vday.org/home