Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More Observer Viewpoints on 'Monologues', Bishops

Here are two more letters to the editor that were published in the Observer today. The first is a response to Christina Holmstrom' s, which I have already reproduced below.
Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that this response to Christina Holmstrom's letter regarding "The Vagina Monologues" ("'Monologues' encourage mistreatment of women," Feb. 10) is not necessarily a refutation of her ideas, but an expression of an alternate perspective regarding Eve Ensler's play.

Holmstrom references the V-Day slogan and agrees that "violence against women should be stopped." "The Vagina Monologues" initiate conversation every year about methods in achieving this exact goal. In contributing her valuable opinion about how best to stop violence against women, Holmstrom has begun this process at Notre Dame this year, and the tentative upcoming production of the play will initiate even more conversation.

In its portrayal of real women's experiences, "The Vagina Monologues" document the significance of sexuality as a part of womanhood. The women who speak of their positive sexual experiences in the play are examples of women as sexual beings, not sexual objects, as Holmstrom suggests. "The Vagina Monologues" do not condone the perception of women as sexual objects. Monologues such as "My Vagina Was My Village," in which a number of Bosnian women recount their stories regarding rape as a war tactic, and "Crooked Braid," an account of the prominence of domestic abuse in Native American communities, clearly discourage the perspective of women as simply "walking vaginas." I am unable to see how these monologues encourage women to "treat themselves as sex objects."

As a two-time audience member, I know that Notre Dame's productions of "The Vagina Monologues" conclude each year with the monologue entitled "I Was There In The Room," an account of Eve Ensler's emotional experience in watching her daughter-in-law give birth. The beauty of this marital moment is a facet of sexuality that every Catholic can embrace.

"The Vagina Monologues" value all women's sexuality and allow each audience member to decide what is best for herself. The play does not encourage sex, but discourages violence against women, no matter how sexually active they are. These accounts are relevant to every woman and man, regardless of her or his religious beliefs. As a worldwide community, we should be concerned with every woman's experience with sexual violence, not just those who practice Catholicism. I hope all those who participate in this discussion have had the fortune of seeing "The Vagina Monologues," and that those who have not will attend a production on Notre Dame's campus, if it is approved to take place, at the end of March.

Rob O'Brien
Sorin College
Feb. 11
And this one:
The local shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church, Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D'Arcy, recently informed University President Father John Jenkins that a theological seminar for Catholic bishops scheduled for Notre Dame has now been moved to the convent of the Sisters of St. Francis in Mishawaka. The reason for this change in venue is an embarrassment and a collective shame for the students and graduates of the University.

There is a crucial moral point that our local bishop and his colleagues want "the culture" to understand about this decision by Jenkins. And moving the venue away from Notre Dame is certainly a timely and an effective way to create such a teaching moment.

Sponsoring a public debate on the efficacy of abortion is a fine idea, and Notre Dame should encourage such expression on campus, even when certain pro-abortion viewpoints contradict Catholic teaching. But allowing its facilities to be used for performing abortions would be "acting" in a way that the Catholic Church condemns as unacceptable. To be sure, Jenkins, the University staff, and its board and trustees would never allow this to happen.

Similarly, sponsoring a debate on the merits of the alcohol-fueled seduction of a 16-year-old girl by a 24-year-old woman (described in the play as resulting in "salvation" and "a kind of heaven") seems compatible with academic freedom even at a Catholic university like Notre Dame. But allowing the facilities of Notre Dame to be used for the production of simulating sex acts and orgasms on stage and presenting for an audience "graphic descriptions of homosexual, extramarital heterosexual, and auto-erotic experiences" (Jenkins spoke these words during his Jan. 23, 2006 address to the faculty) is not just speaking against Catholic teaching, it is acting against Catholic teaching.

And herein lies the big difference! John D'Arcy and his fellow bishops get it. Thank God they decided to do something about it. Jenkins needs to seriously reconsider his mistake and cancel the March 26-28 production of "The Vagina Monologues" at Notre Dame. Perhaps this might give the University, its students and alumni reason to be proud again that our university is indeed a partner with the local and universal Catholic Church who welcomes the debate but abhors the conduct.

Marc Brammer
Class of 1974
Feb. 11

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