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V-Day mission unquestionable

Observer Editorial Board | Friday, February 18, 2005

Since the first performance of the Vagina Monologues at Notre Dame, the overriding question of whether the play belongs at a Catholic university has remained the same. There’s no denying the dilemma. Academic departments may sponsor it and students may attend, but parts of the play undoubtedly challenge the face of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame’s sister school, has refused to host the play.But whether allowing the production of the Vagina Monologues is a violation of Catholic identity is questionable. What is unquestionably a violation of Catholic identity is to ignore the problems that lie at the heart of the V-Day movement that has grown as a result of the play. V-Day is first and foremost an organization that works to stop violence against women, and is becoming increasingly effective at raising awareness of the pain experienced by women around the world.The issue of which words should be shouted on which colleges’ campuses pales in comparison to the violations of human rights that V-Day brings to light. V-Day is growing in popularity around the world for its strong stance on violence against women in any form. Sexual assault against Native American women, acid attacks in Bangladesh, female infanticide in Asia and enforced prostitution in Europe and America are all realities, and while V-Day cannot eliminate these things, it may be the first voice through which many people become aware of them.Aspects of the Vagina Monologues might make some uncomfortable, and Eve Ensler herself is still a controversial figure. But the overriding goal of the play, the movement and the author is to build respect for women. This goal is held in common with the Catholic Church, which also holds respect for human life as a sacred duty. Whether the play is the most effective means for building this respect is debatable, but any real dialogue about real problems started by V-day or the Vagina Monologues ought to be respected and needs to continue.Few beliefs strike as directly to the heart as religion, sexuality and freedom of speech. Conflicts will inevitably arise when they are challenged. The University’s line between Catholic identity and academic freedom has likewise always been contentious. Whether allowing the play at Notre Dame means relinquishing an authoritative position on Catholic teaching, or merely accepting the imperfect outside world, is difficult to say.But people who support or oppose the Vagina Monologues should still acknowledge a common and crucial goal. The character of the Vagina Monologues may still be questionable, but the value of the goals expressed by V-Day is not.