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Support for The Vagina Monologues

From Leah Reschly

These are some of my responses to Bishop D’Arcy’s letter regarding the performance of The Vagina Monologues at Notre Dame University. I am currently a graduate student in the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. As a feminist Catholic Christian, I think there are some vital points in this letter that need to be reconsidered in the true spirit of Catholicism. I am asking these questions in fellowship, with the hope that this conversation will continue. The letter raised several concerns for me, which I have listed here after quotations from the letter itself.

"The Vagina Monologues is offensive to women … The human body and the human person, in the tradition of the church, must never be seen as an object."
I agree completely with the second part of this statement; yes, the human body should NEVER be seen as only an object. So here is a play that allows women to mourn with women whose bodies have been violated through gang rape and sexual abuse, allows participants and spectators to recognize the reality of violence against women and acknowledge the ongoing global use of women's bodies as property (i.e., OBJECTS). Why is this "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??

"Indeed, the play also separates the gift of human sexuality from the woman herself, from her body and her spirit and from the bearing of children."
What about women who are unable to have children or choose not to? What about women involved in loving relationships (with either sex) who choose to celebrate the gift of sexuality without the "bearing of children"? I think even the most conservative interpreter of the creation story in Genesis would tell you that God's purpose for sex has significantly more than the reproductive component: We have the gift of sex to enjoy ONENESS with each other, to glorify our Creator through the creativity of exploring each other's bodies. This goes beyond the CREATION of new life into the CREATIVITY and playfulness of the human spirit. A woman who is in touch with her sexual identity and the desires of her body IS celebrating the fullness of God's gift of sexuality, regardless of whether she decides to become a parent.

“Everyone should be treated with dignity. This is part of our following of the Gospel. A womans [sic] dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return.”
“Dignity” is a term the Catholic Church likes to use frequently in connection with the word “woman”. But what does “dignity” really mean? Do women have dignity if we are not allowed to stand up against the violence permitted against our bodies? Do women have dignity if we cannot listen to the voices of our sisters crying out in countries all over the world? Do women have dignity if we are not allowed to explore God’s gift of sexuality through pleasure and freely given love? If her dignity is “closely connected with the love she receives” and that she gives, then we should ponder another question: Can a woman who has never sought healing from sexual violence and/or learned about and embraced her sexual identity truly give and receive love? The Church encourages us to celebrate the love and trust in relationships, because it is through this love that we can experience a tiny fraction of God’s love. If this love is supposed to give us a reflection of God’s amazing love, we need to realize that we can’t give or receive that reflection if it is holding on to the chains of past violence. This play opens up pathways of communication for women to share how to heal and how to both give and receive love, because the words teach us how to love our bodies, our vaginas, our inner selves, as momentum towards experiencing the fullness of love with others.

"This play violates the truth about women; the truth about sexuality; the truth about male and female, and the truth about the human body."
What is the "truth" of women/sexuality/body? Is there one truth? Are we deceiving ourselves if we think there is? Also, here is a written work that finally gave women the LANGUAGE to speak about their own lived experiences and acknowledge realities of sexual struggle, violence, and sexual pleasure -- if there is such a thing as "truth about women", then this is it. I think the question we should be asking ourselves is why Bishop D’Arcy wants us to believe that this play "violates the truth about women" when it actually allows their voices and experiences to surface. Where is the violation, except in condoning the silencing of their voices??

"Indeed, it can truly be said that woman, like man, can only find herself by giving herself to others. The theme, however, finds no place in the text in question. In that text, the physical is separated from the spiritual. The body is separated from love. The woman is separated from the man and is even placed in opposition to him. There is nothing of beauty here, nothing of love."
Where does he see that the physical is separated from the spiritual? One of the monologues records Eve Ensler's own memories from her granddaughter’s birth, and the words she uses to describe it both embrace and surpass the physicality of what she witnessed. The monologue with the woman who finds love with a man who wants to look at her vagina allowed her to accept her body and enjoy love with a man who wanted to really see her. How is this separation? What is beauty and what is love, if it is not these things? This is one of my favorite quotes, from Stephen Covey: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey, but rather spiritual beings on a human journey.” This is the center of our faith; God became human and embraced the physical experience to be with us, to be like us. I think we embrace a piece of the divine when we celebrate the humanness and physicality of our female bodies through sexual pleasure, creativity, and also birth. The blood, bruising, and physical pain described in the monologue and experienced by all mothers must come before new life begins. In a Church that claims to value life so highly, have we forgotten that wombs and vaginas are the life-givers? This IS beauty, this is life, this IS love.

Letter from the president of Loyola University, New Orleans- Kevin Wildes, S.J.

Subject: Production [annualfund]
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005 09:50:54 -0600

Dear Members of the Loyola University community,
I have had questions from a number of people about the production of “The Vagina Monologues” on the Loyola University campus so I thought that I should write to you about it. While there are some legitimate questions, there are also a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding of the Monologues, so I thought it is important for me to speak to the production at Loyola University. Any university ought to be a place of learning and discussion. I have said before that universities provide protected space in our society for the exploration of diverse ideas. It follows that universities will often be places where very different and sometimes contentious ideas are exchanged passionately yet peacefully.

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. 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. The play raises very important issues particularly about sexual violence toward women. The play often makes people uncomfortable. Some of the discomfort may come from the language of the play. And some of the discussions are important to raise issues of violence against women and the exploitation of women in society. 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. 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. I would argue that these are voices that a Catholic university must listen to if we are to understand human experience and if we are to be faithful to the One who welcomed all men and women. The play affords an opportunity for everyone to think critically about the social issues involved in the treatment of women. I do not think the play alone is the complete answer to these questions. A single play cannot do or say everything. That is why Loyola has been involved in programs to educate people, on our campus and beyond, about the issues of sexual violence. In the Loyola community we have professional services to help women address these issues when they have been victimized. We have an excellent resource in the Women's Center. And, of course, we have a long history of participating in programs like "Take Back the Night." Our Women's Center and the Office of Counseling and Career Services, along with Xavier University and Dillard University, received a grant from the Violence Against Women Program of the United States Department of Justice. The production of the play at Loyola does not mean that we endorse all of the contents of the play. It does mean that as a university we are grappling with very difficult issues. And it means that we are living in our Jesuit heritage by discussing and arguing about aspects of the human experience. These are difficult and tragic aspects of human experience. But, they are dimensions that ought not to be ignored if we are to build a better world.

The Society of Jesus points out the need to be attentive to the experience of women, to achieve solidarity with them, and to work to correct injustices toward women. As a Catholic university we follow a Lord who welcomed all men and women, and it is important for us, in honoring our calling as a university within his Church, to listen to them.

Email from student Richard Green (Bradforf College Sophmore)

title: Overcoming fear

message: It annoys me that fear stops so many great things.

I've been wanting to email vday for a long time, ever since friends put on "The vagina monologues" at university a year ago in fact. The thing is I've never really had much to say that seemed relevant, or that I felt I had the right to say, partly out of the fear that I'd sound like a fool for getting so passionate about something, when my experiences are mostly second hand. Basically I've seen, met, known, too many women who've experienced many forms of abuse. And it sickens me. Having never experienced such things directly, I've always thought I had no right to stand along side the people who have...I know that probably seems pretty silly. But I try help where I can.

So I've always kept back and not said anything. But I just read the Patrick Reilly bit on the homepage of this site, and had to shout. I can't believe someone could be so ridiculous! Trying to stop the Vagina Monlogues is an act of sheer ignorance and fear! Obviously these people have either never seen the production, or had no interest in understanding what was being said. When I saw it I spent the entire time either in tears, or hysterics. The parts that are funny are hilarious, the parts that are moving can move mountains they are so powerful. Heck, part of me thinks that seeing the play should be mandatory for some people. Might help a lot of men realise the harm they are doing, and others may actually be moved to help instead of being oblivious to what is going on in the world. But that's just my opinion.

So all the way from the uk I say "Fight to keep The Vagina Monologues my american friends!" Heck for one thing, to be able to say Vagina is in your Constitutional rights as is being able to share your experiences with others. And to Patrick and friends I say,

I doubt that god will strike you down for saying it, vagina, vagina, vagina, See? I'm still ok. Maybe you should try it, you'll feel much better.