Saturday, January 5, 2008

Contra Letters in Support of The Vagina Monologues

About two months ago, I was sent a letter written by Father Kevin Wildes SJ in support of The Vagina Monologues. He is the president of Loyola University in New Orleans. I would like to respond to both his letter and the other letters of support from Catholics which are posted on the same page as the V-Day website.

The first letter is from Richard Green. Richard plays the typical, “if you’re opposed to this, you’ve never seen it” card. Two years ago when I tried to lead a campus wide debate on the issue, this was said to me continuously by those who wanted to silence me. There were several people who were actually interested in an exchange on the matter, and they never accused me of having not read it. These people who sat down with me all said the same thing to me, “It’s just a comedy-show; how can you be opposed to its content? Besides, it raises money for a good cause.” This is the exact problem with the show. People view it as comedy, and it is lewd comedy. There are serious, intelligent, meaningful scenes in the show, and I am not objecting to those. I object to the rest of the content, and I argue that because this content serves the exact opposite purpose of the intent of the play, it should not be performed. Many places host an event called Take Back the Night, which focuses on the same women’s issues involved in the play and does so in a way consistent with the dignity of women.

The second letter is from Leah Reschly who asks, “Why is this [the play] ‘offensive’ when it teaches what the Church is attempting to communicate, namely that we need to educate against using human bodies (in this case, women's bodies) as objects??” The reason is because it does not teach what the Church communicates as will be documented here in the scene by scene analysis beginning in less than two weeks. If this is what Leah thinks, then she does not understand the subtleties of objectification. Objectification of women will continue to exist until lust is rooted out from men’s hearts. The Vagina Monologues does not try to root out lust but encourages lust. It simply tries to control lust: lust is okay if it is agreed upon.

Leah then shows that she does not understand what sexuality is for. Her letter, written in response to Bishop D’Arcy’s letter on the play, says that procreation is not an important in sexuality. She portrays sexuality as being about playfulness. This is contrary to Catholic teaching, which says that sexuality is about a renewal of the wedding vows and a gift of self. Fun is a result, not the goal, of sexuality. If fun is a goal, necessarily the intercourse is utilitarian.

Leah doesn’t believe in absolute truth in regards to sexual morality and the dignity of the human person. She asks if there must be only one truth. The answer is yes, in the same way that there is only one answer to 2+2.

Finally, we come to Father Wildes letter. Coming from a priest, this letter is all the more scandalous. People point to this as if it represents a legitimate view, but Father Wildes is mistaken on this point. He portrays the issue as one of academic freedom. However, this is a great misunderstanding of what academic freedom is. He says

While academic debate may be intense, it ought to be done in a way that women and men can express different views. Loyola University, like any university, is committed to the free expression of ideas and the rigors of debate.

This is probably the most used argument in favor of allowing The Vagina Monologues on campus. However, the performance of the play on Boston College’s campus does not fall under the category of academic freedom. Father William Most wrote an article called, “Sophia, goddess? in which he gives an excellent definition of academic freedom. “Academic freedom means the right of a properly qualified professor, lecturing in his own field, to put out his own opinions without hindrance.”

There are five ways in which the play does not fall under the category of academic freedom. The play is not being used in the classroom and does not involve a professor teaching. As Father Shanley, president of Providence College, wrote in his letter, “Prohibiting a theatrical production of The Vagina Monologues does not prohibit free inquiry about the play. All members of the campus are free to read, study, and discuss the play in various settings, especially the classroom.”

The second reason that this does not fall under academic freedom is that Boston College students know that this is entertainment. I stated this already above, in reference to my discussions with people on campus. I am sure many people will doubt my assessment of BC students’ view on this matter, and so I quote from The Heights article by Laura Mueller, “Monologues is triumphant in its voice and message” (February 20, 2006).

To lighten the mood after particularly dark scenes such as these, a sexily-clad French maid, played by Nadia Aboussir, A&S '09, entered with a crowd-pleasing "Happy Fact" about the female clitoris. The most interactive actress in the performance, Aboussir would ask for the audience's help in proclaiming that the clitoris is the only organ that exists "purely for pleasure," and that it has 8,000 nerve fibers, or twice as many as the penis.

Her constantly upbeat, high-pitched cries were usually accompanied by pelvic thrusts and tongue flicking, making for truly comical intermissions from the authentic monologues. The only detraction from Aboussir's performance was her accent, which sometimes sounded British or South American, but rarely French. Nevertheless, her moments on stage were clearly audience favorites, as people shouted and laughed with her as she trumpeted the happy nature of the clitoris

The third, fourth, and fifth reasons all tie together. It does not follow the principles of the field of ethics. At a Catholic university, Catholic ethics take as a known the teachings of the Magisterium. These are articulated well in many documents but in a way that will speak to the current college generation in the theology of the body addresses. The third reason is, therefore, that the play does not take these principles as a given and holds them up for debate. The fourth is that it does not teach the truth but proposes something false as the truth. To hold the principles to be in question is one thing, but then to come to a different conclusion is an unacceptable error. The fifth stems from this: students at Boston College pay to receive a Catholic education. To be fed something other than a Catholic education is an attack on social justice (false advertising). They have been lied to and are victims of fraud from the administration who does nothing to stop the play.

Loyola University, as a Jesuit university, is rooted in a tradition of Christian humanism that seeks to understand the human experience. To understand that experience - and to improve it in the long term - we must first listen to it. For too many centuries "human experience" has been seen through the eyes of a few individuals and small groups of people. Today, we are more conscious of the diverse views of human experience that are present in different races, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. We are conscious of the voices that have not been heard in the past. Among these voices are the important, and for too long overlooked, voices of women. When it was developed a number of years ago, “The Vagina Monologues” was done as a vehicle to empower women to speak of their experiences as women…. To exclude the play from a Catholic campus is to say, either that these women are wrong, or that their experience has nothing important to say to us.

There is nothing wrong with using the human experience as a point of discussion. Sometimes, however, we misunderstand our experience and come to wrong conclusions about it. This is exactly what The Vagina Monologues does and it needs to be critically examined. This can only be done in a classroom. It is impossible for it to happen as long as the play performed outside the classroom.

There are people who say that the play has no place on a Catholic campus. But this position misses the reality that the play has provoked a good deal of conversation among women and has helped them to name the dehumanizing attitude and behaviors which reduce them to sexual objects.

Naming the dehumanizing attitude and behaviors which reduce women to sexual objects is a good thing indeed. I would add, however, that the play never gets to the root cause: lust. Furthermore, ends never justify the means. There are other ways to achieve this end without the misguided means involved. I have proposed such ways before, as has Father Brian Shanley.

Now that all of the common arguments in favor of the performance of the play have been dismantled, we will critically examine the play in order to show how it is in conflict with Church teaching, and must be removed from Catholic campuses.

1 comment:

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