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Controversy swirls around Monologues

Matthew Smedberg | Friday, February 13, 2004

The Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s production of The Vagina Monologues will take place Saturday evening under intense debate from students, faculty and alumni – and now the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.Bishop John D’Arcy issued a pastoral statement this week expressing his disappointment that the University would allow the Monologues to be performed. Upon review of the texts, D’Arcy said they were “offensive to women” and “antithetical to Catholic teaching on the beautiful gift of human sexuality, and also to the teachings of the church on the human body relative to its purpose and to its status as a temple of the Holy Spirit.”The Monologues, a collection of dramatically varying pieces by Eve Ensler, has become an international movement in its five years of existence. Ensler wrote the play, originally conceived as a one-woman production, from her own experiences, taking it on national tour beginning in 1998. As an outgrowth of the play, her organization, V-Day, held its first Feb. 14 observance that same year. Its goals were to increase awareness of violence against women, sexual assault and the denigration of the value of women’s sexuality.Support for the Notre Dame performance has come from various groups, including four academic departments: English, Gender Studies, Core and Film, Television and Theatre. Notre Dame is prohibited from interfering in the production by its commitment to academic freedom, said Rose Lindgren, a staff and cast member.Support has also come from such sources as Pangborn Hall, whose hall government proposed a resolution to donate funds from the hall tax to V-Day. “We had to drop that idea after speaking to Student Affairs,” Pangborn rector Heather Rakoczy said. Instead, she said the dorm collected spare change from residents and donated the proceeds to the group.Performances of The Vagina Monologues have also sparked protest and criticism since the beginning. Critics accuse Ensler, who is a lesbian, of furthering an anti-marriage, pro-lesbian agenda, and describe the play as “obscene” and “pornographic.” When the Notre Dame chapter of V-Day organized its first performance in February of 2002, alumni and students polarized into those who supported the production and those who wanted the administration to ban it.Saint Mary’s students organized their own V-Day chapter and production in 2000; however, president Marilou Eldred forbade its performance again the following year on the grounds that no other theatrical production was done every year. Students responded by holding unofficial readings of the Monologues and organizing other V-Day events.Most recently, Loyola University banned its students’ production of the Monologues, citing concerns about the play’s language. Students there have pledged to continue with unofficial readings.The Saint Mary’s chapter also continues to have unofficial readings, as well as inviting their students to attend the performance at Notre Dame. V-Day organizers at Saint Mary’s declined to comment on the activities of the group on their campus.Lindsey Horvath, director of Notre Dame’s production of the Monologues, said she has been contacted by many V-Day organizers from colleges around the nation, especially those with a Christian or Catholic orientation. She has given them advice on how to prevent a production from being shut down. The activities of Notre Dame’s chapter of V-Day are not limited to the production of The Vagina Monologues. They are organizing the “1 percent campaign,” a drive to get Congress to allocate 1 percent of the current U.S. defense budget to active defense of women. This includes combating female genital mutilation, establishing shelters and preventing domestic violence. Additionally, they are sponsoring “V is for Vote,” providing Indiana voting registration information to all interested, as well as women’s issues track records of all the 2004 presidential candidates.On Wednesday evening, the V-day organization sponsored an “open mike night” at Reckers. Students were offered the chance to deliver poetry, stories and personal accounts of rape or domestic violence.V-Day also sponsored the “Clothesline Project,” which brought victims of sexual assault or domestic violence together and invited them to design t-shirts about women’s issues. These shirts will be hung at Stepan Center for the Monologues performance and have been displayed for several days in the main lobby of O’Shaughnessy Hall. “We are, symbolically, trying to air out our society’s dirty laundry,” Horvath said.