Vagina Monologues’ revisited
Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 13, 2006
I recently tried to explain to my 30-year-old daughter about the hoopla at Notre Dame over “The Vagina Monologues.” Her response was, “It’s so ’80s!”
I thought about this for a while in light of the past weeks’ events and tried to imagine the reaction of the three outstanding leaders of the women’s movement who died recently. The struggles of Coretta Scott King (advocate for human and civil rights), Wendy Wasserman (playwright and feminist) and Betty Friedan (the mother of the women’s movement) for equality had such a vital influence on all of our lives today. These pioneering women would probably have reacted to the current discussion in the same way as my daughter.
Women today take for granted the concessions that these heroic women fought for during the ’60s and ’70s: equal pay, equal rights, child welfare, education and entry into the men’s world of business, medicine and the military. Most of all, they wanted women to have choices: choices about their bodies, their lives and their families.
But although we have “come a long way, baby,” why are we still questioning if we are moving forward or going in reverse? Should we stand contentedly by and become passive, or should we continue to fight for our equal place at the table as our role models before us did?
Let’s not be smug. A reality check would indicate the following: a male’s median wage in a professional full time jobs is $58,800; a woman’s is $40,298. Men in full time service jobs earn $26,000 while women earn $19,000. As of 2004, Indiana ranked 28 in all states with people living below the poverty line, and 11.8 percent of those are women. Although women have made gains in wages, they are still working longer hours for that gain. Disparity in wages among women differs according to race, age and education. Women will not receive parity in wages until 2050!
These sobering statistics are also a lens for discussing the current controversy about academic freedom and the Catholic character of the University. Is the religious framework of our campus required to turn a blind eye to the economic consequences of our decision about “The Vagina Monologues?” The elimination of a fundraising component means that the local non-profit organizations YWCA and SOS lose a significant amount of money. Why would the university object to an organization that provides services that embody the Catholic social teaching it is trying to impart to its students?
At the YWCA, one sees the lessons of Catholic ideals in the smiling faces of the children who finally feel secure from abusive or addictive homes. They eat three meals a day, attend school regularly and have a quiet, safe shelter from the experiences they have had to encounter so early in their lives. The Y provides a safety net so that these children might have a better chance in life.
You see hope reflected in the eyes of the women who have sought refuge from angry, violent men and the sanctity of marriage. These women have taken the very courageous, difficult step out of relationships that are dangerous and harmful to their children. They have turned away from addictive drugs and alcohol and are learning to walk forward on their own. These women are learning new skills and new ways of living and being with their families and finding ways of increasing their self-esteem. In the process, they are finding some empowerment in their own lives.
Coretta, Wendy and Betty would be applauding what the YWCA is doing for these women and children, and so should Notre Dame. They would encourage us to support their efforts to empower women. They would also find it ironic that our campus discourse is narrowed to a discussion of women’s “plumbing” after almost 50 years of their fight for the whole woman’s equal place in the world. Is the question of sponsorship really an effort to control resources about and for women? Haven’t we earned the right to be able to talk openly and explore ideas within the confines of the university setting?
At this university, we should be discussing and focusing on the social and economic (in)justice issues that concern all of us: poverty, hunger, school nutrition, healthcare and available higher education and job training. We should not punish the women and children at the YWCA and the people who use the services at the SOS by depriving them of funding because of our fervor about whether or not “The Vagina Monologues” should be performed as part of the intellectual debate on campus. Is that reflective of the social teachings and values we want this community – faculty, staff and students – to embody?
It’s so ’80s. Let’s get over it!
Becky SignerstaffFeb. 10