Letters to the Editor

To the editor:
I noticed that all the pieces in the Jan. 17 issue of The Torch were in favor of presenting the Vagina Monologues (hereafter referred to as V.M.s), and none were against. In one way that is not surprising since those who would take a con view do not attend plays focused on genitalia, regarding such performances as indecent and adolescent. Even though I have not seen the play, it is not too hard to make a plausible case, based on secondary sources, that it should not be shown on campus.

Why the insistence upon having this play performed on campus? Supposedly it is due to a concern that people be made aware of violence against women. Is showing the V.M.s an appropriate vehicle for this? According to Project Sycamore, a group at Notre Dame concerned with the institution’s Catholic identity:

Few are likely to get past the plain meaning of the script to some more profound message, if one indeed exists; and no disinterested viewer would be able to subordinate the ubiquitous sex scenes to the scant few devoted to violence. For a reader, the script for those scenes amounts to a mere handful of pages – perhaps 14 out of 125. Strip the play of its sex scenes and little remains.

It is hard to dismiss this evaluation that the play is mainly about sex when its own author, Eve Ensler, brags that she had “thirty-two public orgasms a night” while performing the various roles in the play.

Secondly, the V.M.s arguably encourages rather than discourages violence against women. Before I develop this point, I’d like to first address another claim made on the play’s behalf concerning the utility of crude language. I recently saw a couple of videos which are required viewing by adults who are involved in Catholic religious education in our diocese (the program goes by the name of Virtus). On these videos, both the victims of abuse and abusers spoke. Their testimony made a huge impact on the audience: some viewers cried while watching the videos, and everyone was left speechless for a period of time after they were over. According to the facilitator, some individuals are unable to sit through these videos because of their intense content. However, at no point were there graphic or explicit descriptions of sexual abuse nor was any type of crude language used. This shows that vulgarity and crudity are not necessary in order to get across a message.

One case in particular concerned the sexual abuse of a teenage girl by a female teacher. It was heartbreaking to hear the girl talk about how she didn’t know how to escape from this female teacher’s advances, and how her parents were oblivious to the warning signs that something was wrong. The teacher was eventually caught, but the emotional damage to the girl is something she is still dealing with. The video sensitized us to the fact that violence against women is sometimes perpetrated by women, and it showed us how the situation could have been prevented. Let’s flip now to the V.M.s. In it, a 24 year old woman gives alcohol to a female minor and then sexually abuses her. Does the V.M. present this act of violence as an act of violence? No. Rather this statutory rape is presented as something positive, as a “good rape.” And this is supposed to be a play to discourage violence against women?

Even if the above-mentioned scene were removed, the fact remains that this play is not chiefly about violence against women. Moreover, this scene is far from being the only example of immoral sexual behavior that is shown in a positive light.

There are a lot of great resources out there dealing with the issue of violence against women. For example, a group of students and faculty at Notre Dame organized the Edith Stein project as an alternative to “V-day.” The purpose of the conference was to address issues of violence and discrimination against women, and to “acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society.” St. John’s students, with a little bit of imagination, could take inspiration from this program, adapt it to our student body, and in this manner promote a greater respect for and appreciation of women’s dignity.

Marie I. George
Philosophy dept., SJC