V-Day Update on Providence College Banning of “The Vagina Monologues”
Since 2003, several V-Day benefit productions of “The Vagina Monologues” staged by Catholic college students have met resistance from a fringe group, the Cardinal Newman Society, that have made it their mission to harass Catholic college presidents and student organizers.
V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day hopes that the true and often devastating stories that are the foundation of "The Vagina Monologues" will inspire people who see productions of the play to join V-Day in its efforts to stop all violence against women and girls.
Background on V-Day and the College Campaign:
Through the V-Day College Campaign, which launched in 1999, thousands of student organizers have raised funds for local groups on their campuses and within their communities. This year, students at over 700 colleges and universities will stage V-Day benefits of the play to raise funds and awareness of the violence that affects one in three women in the US and the world. The events take place on-campus and are primarily student-run, student-acted and student-directed. With the addition of the 428 community events that will also take place in 2006, a total over 1100 V-Day benefits are scheduled in the US and throughout the world.
Out of these 1100 events, less than 10 Catholic events are currently meeting with resistance to their efforts. Successful events have taken place in all fifty United States as well as in over 80 countries including Ireland, Kenya, Japan, India, China, Congo, Tanzania, and Poland, among others. These events enjoy widespread community support from civic and academic leaders, media, and the community at large. Most events sell out, with tickets in high demand. The beneficiaries of the events come to rely on the funds raised and gain much needed attention to their work, often leading to additional sources of funding.
To date, V-Day has raised over $30 million dollars for these local anti-violence programs, shelters and rape crisis centers. Along the way, millions of people have been empowered and educated and have become active in the fight to end violence against women and girls.
Our response to Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley’s Banning of “The Vagina Monologues”:
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.
Reverend Shanley’s claim that the book jacket’s marketing text calling the play a “new bible (for a new generation of feminists) is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” is also off base. Clearly, the word is being used as a metaphor to illustrate the universal support for the text, its role as a catalyst to motivate thousands annually toward philanthropic acts, and the movement to end violence against women it inspired.
His specific reference to the “Coochisnorcher’ monologue brings us to the crux of the issue. “The Vagina Monologues” is a play based on playwright Eve Ensler’s interviews with over 200 real women. The monologues cover a range of female experiences with sexuality and sexual violence. They are at times shocking, heartbreaking, and even humorous. They are not politically correct; they are real. In places, they are offensive. Violence against women and girls should be offensive.
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.
While we are always disappointed by attempts to shut down college students who are trying to raise awareness and funds to end violence against women, we look forward to the over eleven hundred V-Day events that will take place, and applaud Erica Rioux and her fellow student organizers at Providence College.
Reverend Shanley’s action may stop the production on the Providence College campus, but we hope the women will find a way to perform their V-Day benefit in the community. It would be sad to witness funds that could have been raised to prevent and heal rape and violence be curtailed by a spiritual institution.
We encourage the community of Providence to embrace them and their efforts.