High School girls suspended for saying "vagina"

// 7 March 2007

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A New York public high school has made the headlines for their controversial banning of the word “vagina,” according to a report by NBC.

Three 16-year-old girls at Josh Jay High School in Cross River, New York, were recently suspended for insisting on saying the word “vagina” during a reading from Eve Ensler’s play, ‘The Vagina Monologues.’

The decision on behalf of the Principal to enforce this ban prompted claims of censorship, although school officials were quick to counter this. They claim that the girls, all honour roll students, were punished not for saying the word, but for disobeying orders, although personally I cannot see how, in this case, these two actions were mutually exclusive.

The reading, which has sparked so much controversy, was part of an event sponsored by a literary magazine, and was showcased alongside original compositions and extracts from Shakespeare. The girls took turns reading the excerpt, before saying in unison:

“I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.”

Eve Ensler has applauded this defiant stand taken by these girls, believing that they should be praised for “standing up for art and against censorship.” The school claims that they had originally outlawed the word as the reading was open to all members of the community, and would not be suitable for children, although the girls insist that there was no one under high school age present on the night in question. Ensler has little sympathy for the school’s intentions remarking that:

“The school’s position is absurd, a throwback to the Dark Ages…So what, if children were to hear the word? Would that be terrible? We’re not talking about plutonium here, or acid rain, a word that destroys lives. It’s a body part!”

The girls have stood by their decision, with Hannah Levinson claiming that they included the word because:

“We knew it was the right thing to do. Since we’re comfortable saying it, we should make others comfortable saying it.”

But why is the vagina, a part of the female body, regarded as so offensive? Is it because as women we have traditionally been subject to erotic objectification, so much so that it is now impossible to make reference to our genitalia without having distinctly sexual connotations? What these girls demonstrated was the need for the female body to be respected, and described through a female narrative rather than remaining predominantly as the subject of pornography and the male masturbatory fantasy. Ensler’s play in itself is a perfect example of a woman taking responsibility for their own sexual identity through their creativity, and that these young girls were perceptive enough to realise the importance of standing by their decision indicates that maybe we are fostering a society of young women who are also willing to fight for change.

In a survey conducted by NBC on their website asking their readers if the school took the right course of action, 90% of voters thought they were wrong to suspend the girls. So, perhaps the school should have been less preoccupied with the prospect of offending the angelic sensibilities of their audience, and more concerned with praising those students who were confident enough to exercise their right to freedom of speech? Hopefully, the officials at this school have learnt their lesson.

Photo by todderick42, shared under a Creative Commons License

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