High-school girls get detention for saying 'vagina" (what would've happened if they said "cunt"?)
‘Monologues’ Spurs Dialogue on Taste and Speech – by ANAHAD O’CONNOR/NY Times
CROSS RIVER, N.Y., March 7 — The three girls had been warned by teachers not to utter the word. But they chose to say it anyway — vagina — in unison at a high school forum, and were swiftly punished by their school.
Now the case of the three, all juniors at John Jay High School in this affluent hamlet 50 miles north of Manhattan, has become a cause célèbre among those who say that the school has gone too far, touching off a larger debate about censorship and about what constitutes vulgar language.
Is vagina, or the “v-word,” as some around here have referred to it, such a bad word?
“We want to make it clear that we didn’t do this to be defiant of the school administration,” said Megan Reback, one of the three girls, who all received one-day suspensions for using the word during a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” at the forum last Friday. “We did it because we believe in the word vagina, and because we believe it’s not a bad word. It shouldn’t be a word that is ever censored, and the way in which we used it was respectable.”
School administrators said that the girls, all 16, were suspended not for using the word but rather for insubordination.
The principal, Rich Leprine, said on Tuesday that the girls were told not to use the word because young children could be in the audience, but that they used it anyway after agreeing not to.
“When a student is told by faculty members not to present specified material because of the composition of the audience and they agree to do so, it is expected that the commitment will be honored and the directive will be followed,” Mr. Leprine said in a written statement. “When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow.”
The girls say they never made such an agreement.
Mr. Leprine’s explanation of the rationale for the suspensions has not stemmed an outpouring of support from the girls’ peers, as well as from many parents, who contend that the word is not vulgar and that the effort to muffle the three was censorship.
Classmates have gone so far as to make T-shirts and posters to protest the punishment, and a Facebook site opposing the suspensions has attracted attention from people nationwide who have posted messages like: “We support you, and we support your courage. Vagina Pride!”
The girls have also been embraced by the writer of “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler , who grew up in nearby Scarsdale and said she might visit the school to discuss the controversy and to encourage people to feel comfortable about saying the word.
Not that the students here seem to need encouragement. On Web sites, at school and among their supporters, the girls are now being referred to by a term popularized by their heroine, Ms. Ensler: the “Vagina Warriors.”
The girls and their parents did concede that some people in the community felt that the school was justified in imposing the suspensions on the grounds of insubordination.
The play’s title has provoked controversy elsewhere. In 2002, officials in nearby Irvington objected to a sign advertising the play at a town-owned theater because they did not want the word displayed on public property. The word was truncated to “v.”
Other small theaters around the country have been embroiled in similar controversies over the play and even a few universities, including Notre Dame, have been criticized for allowing it to be performed on their campuses. Some have only allowed it to be performed only off campus.
The selection from the play that Ms. Reback and the other two girls, Elan Stahl and Hannah Levinson, chose to read at an event sponsored by the school literary magazine on Friday night was “My Short Skirt.”
Ms. Ensler describes the passage as an anthem to girls about female empowerment that goes: “My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women’s army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.”
Ms. Stahl said that she and the other two girls, all honor students, wanted to read the passage because it had inspired them to “embrace our bodies, our femininity and our womanhood,” and that they had gone out of their way to choose one of the least graphic sections.
“We wanted one that we felt was more appropriate for the setting,” she said. “The use of the word vagina in this piece wasn’t sexual, and the piece and the context of the word is empowering.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Ensler said that she called the girls on Monday to praise them and offer her support.
“Why a school has a problem with teenagers saying the word vagina is beyond me, and is truly a throwback to the dark ages,” she said. “It’s just shocking in 2007 to even be engaged in this dialogue.”
The attention the issue has garnered in newspapers and countless news broadcasts also seems to have accomplished something else: it has earned the girls a reprieve. Their in-school suspensions were supposed to be carried out this week, but on Wednesday morning the girls learned that the punishment would not be imposed before it may be discussed at a public meeting of the Katonah-Lewisboro School Board on Tuesday night.
The girls said that they had accomplished their goal, whether or not the suspensions were carried out.
“It’s important to get things out in the air that might be uncomfortable to talk about,” Ms. Levinson said. “Vagina is a part of the body, and it’s not vulgar, it’s not profane. It’s important to put that out in the open and to make people feel comfortable about it.”