Tuesday, January 24, 2006

evil lurks at notre dame

and i'm not talking about the hunchback, or even the phantom of the opera. i'm not even talking about that notre dame. no, this is an evil much closer to home: at the university of notre dame, in south bend, IN.

i first heard about this indy star story from TDW, though TDW seemed to miss the best quotes.

The new University of Notre Dame president questioned Monday whether "The Vagina Monologues" and a Queer Film Festival held on campus the past few years should be sponsored by university departments.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, who took over as president of the Roman Catholic school on July 1, did not say he would cancel the events, but is scaling back both events. He discussed the matter on Monday during a speech to faculty members and plans to address students on Tuesday. He said also wants to hear from alumni.

He told the faculty he worried that sponsorship by university departments indicated a certain level of acceptance. As an example, he said the school would face questions if it were to sponsor a play that was anti-Semitic.

of course, i'm not sure why anyone would want to host an antisemitic play at a major university, and i can't even think of any antisemitic plays they could put on... well, except maybe the merchant of venice, and i have a feeling that rev'd jenkins wouldn't object to that one.

but sure, you don't want to sponsor things that go against your moral fiber. i personally wouldn't sponsor, say, a showing of birth of a nation, at least not without a discussion afterward about racism and the use of propaganda. and notre dame is a catholic university and therefore should at least pretend to follow the whims of the catholic church. but there's still a big step from non-sponsorship to censorship, yes?

rev'd jenkins continues:
"A reasonable observer would assume that the university is sponsoring an event that, in fact, is clearly and egregiously at odds with its values as a Catholic university," he said.

He said events that are inconsistent with Catholic values should not be allowed at Notre Dame.

and now rev'd jenkins has taken that step, from not sponsoring things he disagrees with to saying that such things "should not be allowed." he's not quite ready to actually ban these events, but he doesn't have a problem with "scaling them back"... to such a point that the "queer film festival" must be renamed, and the vagina monologues cannot sell tickets and must be held in a classroom rather than an actual theatre. so if you've ever wanted to see the vagina monologues but just don't want to pay for it, you might want to schedule a trip to south bend, because i hear their production of the play will be free of charge.

"catholic values" as dictated by the pope are anti-homosexual, anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-extramarital sex, and so on. jenkins thinks that events that are inconsistent with these values—say, films and plays about people who are gay, have sex outside marriage (even, or perhaps especially, if they use condoms), or don't believe in transubstantiation—"should not be allowed" at notre dame. that's a whole lot of impermissible art.

but what about works that are consistent with catholic values? what about a play that depicts homosexuality as "an intrinsic moral evil"? would that be kosher? it would be controversial (very), but it would also be in line with "catholic values".

now it can be revealed, the evil that looms inside many students and faculty at notre dame. an evil so vile that one should not speak its name, lest you be overtaken by its noxious aroma and give in to its slippery slope of sin. yet speak its name i shall: evil, thy name is vagina.

But others praised Jenkins for taking up the issue. Margot O'Brien, who teaches in the accounting department, said plays such as "The Vagina Monologues" had no place at Notre Dame.

"It is a matter of treating something that is evil as good, and that's just wrong," she said.

that's right. the vagina monologues treats "something that is evil" (vaginas) as good, and "that's just plain wrong." the most surprising thing about this comment is that is comes from a woman, margot o'brien, who presumably also thinks her own vagina is evil.

first, a word about the vagina monologues. TVM is a female empowerment play. yes, on one level it is about vaginas. but the vagina is used metaphorically to represent femininity and in particular female self-esteem. it encourages women not to be ashamed of their genitals, but to embrace all facets of their womanhood. it also speaks out powerfully against violence.

from vday.org, a post dated just last friday that could be a response to rev'd jenkins, but is actually a response to rev'd brian j shanley of providence college:

Providence College President Reverend Shanley’s claim that "The Vagina Monologues" "reduces women to their vaginas" could not be further from the truth. In openly speaking about the issues that one in three women face, the play has empowered women worldwide. Translated into over 45 languages, the play has been embraced by women for its ability to present women's issues and the issue of violence against women in an artistic way. Reverend Shanley's claim that the play neglects the vagina's "unitive and procreative dimensions diminishes its complexity, its mystery, and its dignity" makes us wonder if he has actually seen the play. In its retelling of real women's stories, the play's message is about women and love, honoring their bodies, and ultimately finding their personal dignity. The last monologue is actually about birth, reflecting on it with amazement and deep appreciation.

While we respect his right to his views and beliefs, Reverend Shanley's desire that we bring back the 'complexity and mystery' around the vagina is dangerous if it leads to continued silence about these issues. In a world where one in three women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime, complexity and mystery are not what we need. What we do need is women understanding their sexuality and being free to speak about it. We need the dialogue and education that works such as "The Vagina Monologues" inspire, and the critical fundraising that the V-Day movement and its dedicated activists provide to shelters and anti-violence programs.

The telling of these stories is cathartic and allows women who hear them to know that they are not alone in their experience, helping them to heal. The play's power is in its ability to reach people emotionally and inspire action. V-Day is about harnessing that emotion and inspiration for action towards ending violence against women.

When faced with reactions like Reverend Shanley's, we need to remember the origins of the monologues. Our role at V-Day is not to judge but to bring these stories center stage, to end the violence that affects one in three women. We are deeply dismayed by a small minority of religious voices that ignore the real world suffering of women and that cannot reconcile their teachings with reality.

the south bend production might raise some awareness of these issues—at least for the small number of attendees who can be crammed into a classroom—but it obviously won't raise much money if tickets can't be sold.

i'm a bit of a moral relativist myself (the pope doesn't like that either). i don't really believe that "evil" exists. i have pretty strong opinions of right and wrong, but evil is a quaint concept, best suited for children's cartoons: the autobots are good, the decepticons evil. for discussions of real modern-day morality, "evil" isn't helpful. it's too binary, too black-and-white.

people do fucked-up things for fucked-up reasons all the time. some people, heads of state and such, even commit real atrocities that kill thousands or even millions of people. if it were ever appropriate to use the word "evil", it would be to describe such deplorable acts as genocide. but nobody commits themselves to evil. there is no "brotherhood of evil" that exalts in evil for evil's sake.

everyone is the hero of their own story. george bush says that osama bin laden is evil. and yes, bin laden has done some horrific things, masterminding attacks that have killed thousands across the globe, and should be brought to justice. but osama does these things not because he is evil, but because he firmly believes that the west is evil... so evil that it must be destroyed. both sides are convinced that they are good and the other side must be vanquished because it is evil. this is precisely why the US can never win "the war on terror" as it is currently being fought: there is no understanding, and can never be so long as bush refers to unfriendly countries as an "axis of evil" and islamists refer to the US as "the great satan". because who really wants to understand evil? other than batman, that is.

there's a similar, but less bloody, conflict going on here. the people behind the vagina monologues want to raise awareness of women's issues and combat injustices like rape and domestic abuse. the catholic church, while hardly a bastion of feminism, is also against rape and domestic abuse. but because the vagina monologues also deals with sex in a frank and potentially offensive manner, it is branded as evil. and that doesn't do anybody any good.


Anonymous said...

Re: Rev. Brian Shanley of Providence College, Vagina Monologues

Rev. Brian Shanley of Providence College may have banned the Vagina Monologues for the simple reason that Providence College houses Dominican priests, many who are elderly. Rev. Brian Shanley of Providence College may have banned the Vagina Monologues simply to keep from embarrassing elderly priests (think of your elderly relatives.). He is known to be a brilliant orator, a fine man and a good priest.

Anonymous said...

The Providence Journal today had an article in which Father Brian Shanley and the Vagina Monologues were mentioned The author of the Vagina Monologues was in Rhode Island. The person who wrote the article mentioned Father Brian Shanley banning the Vagina Monologues from the Providence College campus.

Anonymous said...

From: Harvey

Rev. Brian J. Shanley, Providence College president has more problems with Providence College basketball, Providence College endowments and Providence College campus violence than with theProvidence College VaginaVagina Monologues. He's a good guy. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Being a priest has to make you sort of wierd, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Providence College's President Rev. Brian J. Shanley has more mouse than vagina problems these days. Not sure about his buddy Fr. Jenkins.

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