Friday, April 20, 2007

Campus Discussion of Vagina Monologues: Conservatives Fail to Step Up

This past Saturday saw the campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” presented under the aegis of the Honors Program. There is plenty wrong with the play, as we have explained right here.

But one of the most comprehensive and eloquent explanations of the moral defects of the play was written by five undergraduates in a Tribune op-ed.

It said, in part:
“The Vagina Monologues” contains many problematic elements. It glorifies practices which are regarded as immoral by many Christians and non-Christians alike.

It provides no positive male characterizations and lacks any examples of healthy intimacy.

It lacks any representation of a Christian view of sexuality, though the author claims to have interviewed hundreds of women. Rather than viewing the body and sexual organs with respect, it draws on every possible vulgar reference.

From a standpoint of sexual violence awareness, the play has little to offer victims of violence or those who care for them.

True, it describes accounts of exploitation and rape in graphic terms, but the author freely admits that many of these accounts are purely imaginary and improvised.

By reducing them to a single body part - the vagina - the play objectifies and dehumanizes women while ignoring the qualities of intellect, morality, creativity and leadership which women have worked so long to have recognized by society.

With a wealth of other materials at its fingertips which would promote an educated discourse, why did the university choose this particular work?
That’s a good question, and the answer is doubtless that lefty feminists (and their liberal allies) want to perform it precisely because Christian conservatives don’t like it.

There is really little other justification.

But what is wrong with performing it on campus as a point of discussion? In principle, nothing.

But if the purpose is to promote discussion, it’s fair to evaluate the quality of that discussion. Going in, there were plenty of reasons to suspect that it would be stacked with one-note feminists who would care little for Christian views of sexuality.

The Tribune, back in early April, noted the one-sidedness of the panel slated to discuss the play, observed:
. . . with just more than two weeks left until the April 14 performance, there is no Catholic representative yet. Alongside three faculty members from political science, philosophy and English, the panel includes Rosalind Hinton, an assistant professor of religious studies at DePaul University, according to a flier for the event.

Hinton’s specialties, according to the DePaul Web site, include African American religions and gender in American religious contexts. A survey of her writings reveals little, if any, handling of Catholic issues. While it sounds like she would add perspective to this panel, there remains no faculty member, such as a priest or Catholic theologian, to represent Catholic teaching.

As we wrote in January, “if the reading is in opposition to a healthy view of female sexuality, why is this? If it is empowering, how do we understand this vision in terms of our Catholic faith?” We need to adequately represent all perspectives to answer these questions properly.
We asked Anthony Peressini, Co-Director of the Honors Program and organizer of the event, to respond to the Tribune’s criticism. He replied as follows:
The panel includes well-qualified individuals who will lead a dialogue that addresses multiple perspectives, both faith-based and academic, of the issues presented in the reading. I am not comfortable assigning “left leaning” or other labels to these individuals in this setting.

Until we hear their presentations tomorrow, I could not pre-judge or classify their opinions of the play. As I said, our goal is to present a variety of perspectives that enable a multi-faceted analysis of the issues presented in the reading. I expect our panel will do just that.
Did it happen that way?

Mostly not.

The bright spot of the evening was feminist English professor Heather Hathaway, who introduced the work. Far from providing a sycophantic view of the piece, she criticized it for (among other things) not being well written, for not being contextualized or self reflective, for being incoherent (such that sometimes we don’t actually know what it is saying), for reducing women to their genitalia and for being western and bourgeois (obsessed with the concerns of affluent feminists in rich countries as opposed to poor women in the third world).

In spite of several positive comments that she made, some of the leftists in attendance were unhappy with this.

And some conservative students were unhappy because she failed to discuss the moral stance of the play concerning human sexuality.

So who was supposed to discuss that latter issue? Who was supposed to analyze the play from a Catholic perspective? A certain Rosalind Hinton, who is an Assistant Professor of Religious studies at DePaul University. Well before the performance, blogger Daniel Suhr had no trouble establishing that Hinton is a leftist of the same stripe as Daniel Maguire.

So her performance was not surprising. She began as follows:
I’m supposed to give a Catholic viewpoint… (Short pause marked by sarcastic grin.) the Catholic Viewpoint. (Visibly rolls eyes.)
The substance of her talk wasn’t any better. According to blogger Katie Wycklendt:
She went to discuss her conviction that the acceptability of masturbation shouldn’t even be disputed [as well as asserting] her theory on the legitimacy of dispute over the Church’s stance on homosexuality, contraception, and consensual, responsible premarital sex. She asserted that Church authorities are merely trying to control people’s lives and that there is a context for every truth (a good way of getting around [explicitly] endorsing relative truth).
In other words, the speaker who was supposed to represent the Catholic perspective actually attacked the Catholic perspective!

And the issue here wasn’t whether the Catholic perspective should be the only view presented, or even whether it should be one among alternative views presented, but whether it should be represented at all.

So is this just another example of standard political correctness? Did the Honors Program (basically an adjunct of the very politically correct English and Philosophy departments) let all its biases hang out here?

In fact, the story is more complicated.

Peressini in fact expended a lot of effort trying to get a conservative speaker who would uphold the Church’s teaching. He contacted at least eight (and perhaps ten to twelve) people, all of whom turned him down. And he called the Chair of the Theology Department (which is not nearly so leftist and politically correct as English and Philosophy) to get leads on possible speakers.

Peressini appears to have shot himself in the foot by limiting his search to people with academic credentials. A well-informed and eloquent student like Suhr would have done very well.

But the most disturbing thing about this is that several fairly orthodox and conservative Catholic scholars failed to step up and defend the Church’s position. Somebody who doesn’t know better might assume that the Church’s position can’t be defended. That’s not true, but neither is it going to prevail if people won’t defend it.

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