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Monologues’ conclude on campus

Kaitlynn Reily | Thursday, February 16, 2006

The third and final production of “The Vagina Monologues” at Notre Dame this year was marked by the attendance of University President Father John Jenkins and a wide-ranging panel discussion on sexual violence, Catholic teaching and other topics Wednesday night.

Jenkins saw the play performed for the first time Wednesday, just over three weeks after he initiated a University-wide discussion about academic freedom and Catholic character in addresses that included his belief that the “Monologues” should not take place at Notre Dame.

“I went to listen and learn, and I did that tonight and I thank the cast,” Jenkins said after the play.

Jenkins, who declined further comment on the “Monologues” Wednesday, had mandated the play be performed in the academic setting of DeBartolo Hall this year, without the fundraising ticket sales of years past. Junior Madison Liddy, director of this year’s “Monologues,” and later the panelists thanked Jenkins for his presence at the performance.

During the panel discussion following the play, panelists applauded the efforts of the production toward eliminating violence against women and encouraged the continuation of its annual performance (now in its fifth year) at Notre Dame.

Carolyn Nordstrom, a professor in the Anthropology department, was a member of the panel Tuesday night and spoke again Wednesday. Nordstrom encouraged the use of performances like “The Vagina Monologues” to stop the trend of sexual violence against women.

“These are the ways in which war is stopped,” Nordstrom said. “It’s not pleasant, it’s not easy, but it’s real.”

Nordstrom – who has studied sexual violence perpetrated against civilians in war zones – compared the struggles faced by those recovering from sexual violence to those struggling to define gender relations and sexuality.

“The themes to which this play speaks are universal,” Nordstrom said.

Citing a statistic that said one of three women will be sexually violated in her lifetime, Nordstrom compared the United States to a war zone. Plays like “The Vagina Monologues” are stopping the violence in America and throughout the world, she said.

“This is what speaks to people,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom proposed students write a Notre Dame version of “The Vagina Monologues” to explore issues of gender relations and sexual violence that affect students at the University. She said Notre Dame, as a Catholic university, has the influence and ability to engineer solutions to end sexual violence.

“Next year, let’s watch a hundred universities across America perform what we’ve written,” Nordstrom said.

Theology professor Jean Porter also addressed the controversy surrounding “The Vagina Monologues,” and discussed the play in relation to the Church’s moral teachings on Catholic sexual ethics. Porter said some sexual acts and experiences depicted in the “Monologues” are contrary to the ethics of the Catholic Church, but emphasized the play is intended as an artistic piece and not as an answer to moral issues.

“This is an artistic performance, and works of art don’t take positions in the same way that an encyclical … takes an approach on moral questions,” Porter said.

She discussed the different “worlds” from which teachings on Catholic sexual ethics and from which “The Vagina Monologues” arose. Porter said it is necessary to understand the differences between the origins of both sets of ideas, but expressed confidence that the two views could find some areas of mutual understanding.

“I think that a dialogue between these two worlds is possible,” Porter said.

Mary Rose D’Angelo, who is also a professor in the theology department, said she appreciated the accomplishment of the play toward moving frank discussions about sexuality out into the open. D’Angelo said she hopes the Catholic Church can be open to listening to views such as those presented in “The Vagina Monologues.”

“I worry about people who find their Catholicism threatened by things like ‘The Vagina Monologues,'” D’Angelo said. “I fear that this results from a deep lack of confidence in Catholic moral tradition.”

In response to a question posed by an audience member, Porter expanded on the theme of the necessity of academic freedom to further intellectual growth.

“Theology as a discipline … is impossible except in an atmosphere – in a climate – of some intellectual openness,” she said.

Porter said the failure to think openly about religious views might lead to a deterioration of faith.

The three panelists supported the continued performance of “The Vagina Monologues” at Notre Dame as a way to strengthen gender relations and to stop the perpetration of sexual violence. In a question-and-answer section, the panelists discussed problems that strained gender relations create at Notre Dame.

Nordstrom criticized the lack of institutional procedures that deal with sexual violence and issues of sexuality at the University. Nordstrom said other factors contribute to strained gender relations at Notre Dame, calling the dorms “awash in pornography” and saying there is no middle ground in dating.

Porter also discussed the strain in gender relations at Notre Dame and in society in general.

“I am more and more convinced that the kinds of anxieties and controversy that this event is generating at Notre Dame is mirroring what is happening in the Catholic Church,” Porter said.

Before the start of the play, students encouraged audience members to sign petitions in support of the “Monologues” and academic freedom. Jenkins has said he hopes to make a decision by the end of this semester about whether the University will continue to allow academic departments to sponsor the performance of “The Vagina Monologues” and other events deemed to conflict with Catholic character.

Kelly Meehan contributed to this report.