Using the word ‘vagina’ in Vagina Monologues gets high schoolers suspended

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

One-day suspensions given to three New York high school girls for using the word “vagina” in a reading from The Vagina Monologues were revoked by the school superintendent Tuesday.

According to The Associated Press, the suspensions were imposed by principal Richard Lepine after the girls performed the monologue “My Short Skirt” at an open-mic event March 2 at John Jay High School in Cross River, a New York City suburb.

The AP reported Lepine said the girls were punished not because of what they said but because they disobeyed orders not to say it. He said because the event was open to the community, including children, the word “vagina” was inappropriate.

The incident attracted international attention and prompted Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler, who called the suspensions “a throwback to the dark ages” to accept an invitation to speak at the school at the end of the month.

The Vagina Monologues has been produced by Western’s Women’s Issues Network for six years.

Erin Callaghan, a WIN executive member who has been involved in the production for the past three years, said Western’s productions have been well-received, but have also faced some resistance.

She said last year the group wasn’t allowed to put up posters at King’s University College and also received some resistance at Brescia University College because they contained the word “vagina.”

“Fear of women’s bodies and sexuality is why women’s oppression still exists today,” said Sarah Scanlon, who has also worked on Western’s production for three years, adding female high school students face many barriers including dress codes imposed to hide their sexuality.

“It’s funny they said they were worried about the kids in the audience,” Callaghan added. “These kids all came from vaginas and they’re going to see them and learn about them anyway.”

Professor Rebecca Coulter, a professor in Western’s Faculty of Education, described the high school’s reaction as “absurd.”

“It’s a kind of censorship that’s going on in the U.S. right now in many areas of society. You can see it in the television show Grey’s Anatomy where they couldn’t say vagina so the doctor came up with the euphemism [vajayjay].

“They’re trying to protect their school and not confront controversy,” Coulter added. “What we have in the U.S. is a very strong element within the society which is very closed-minded about sexual health.”

Guy Grenier, a sex psychology professor at Western, agreed.

“The whole thing is mind-bogglingly stupid,” he said. “It reflects the rampant erotophobia we have as a society.”

Grenier said contrary to popular belief, almost all Canadian parents want accurate sexual education in schools, adding a better idea than censoring words is discussing sex with children when they’re young so they feel comfortable asking questions.

“That’s what’s so bizarre about this,” Coulter said. “One of the things we try to do from a very young age is teach children to use the proper names for body parts.”

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