Saturday, April 08, 2006

On the University of Notre Dame

From Stephen Barr of First Things' On The Square:
For a while it seemed that Father John Jenkins, the new president of the University of Notre Dame, was going to do the sensible thing about the performance of "The Vagina Monologues" on his campus. Unfortunately, he seems to have suffered some kind of collapse, whether of the will or the intellect it is hard to say. In any case, after his earlier brave statements, he now looks terribly weak and confused...

...Fr. Jenkins refers frequently in his surrender document to the need to "engage the culture." He seems not to grasp the elementary point that one can maintain standards of conduct while engaging in free and open debate with those who disagree with those standards. One can "engage" the ideas and arguments of people who think public indecency acceptable without letting them practice public indecency on the Notre Dame campus...

...Fr. Jenkins' decision is tragic enough for Notre Dame, but far worse in the long run are the muddled arguments with which he attempts to justify it. His words can now be used at Catholic universities and colleges everywhere to undermine their Catholic character. He has not only surrendered, he has drawn up a blueprint for surrender everywhere.
I have to admit that this debacle got me really upset earlier in the week. I'm not sure why. Maybe because Fr. Jenkins, probably unintentionally, sort of led people on about his opinion? Maybe because Our Lady's University has a special place in Catholic America? Maybe because Notre Dame is considered one of the few great Catholic schools that has not succumbed to secularity? Maybe because it just kills me to see the name of the perfect model of womanhood, Mary, mixed up with a play that promotes the exact opposite of everything she stands for?

I am sympathetic to Fr. Jenkins' argument that we need to "engage the culture." But, as Mr. Barr points out, you don't need to sponsor a vulgar play to do the engaging. I've seen the Monologues - I covered the event for a reporting class. It is a filthy, ultimately anti-woman play. And I'm not talking about sexual bawdiness or plain old profanity. The "high" point was when the performers, urging the mostly female (but partly male) audience to join in, began to shout the ugliest word of all, the c-word, over and over again. Yeah, it's a real pro-woman piece, ehhhh.

Here's a newsflash, ladies (if I can call them that): there's no such thing as "re-claiming" a word. Many African Americans routinely use the n-word to describe themselves and others of their race. But that speaks to a lack of self-respect, not to a lessening of the impact of the insult. "N-----" is a dirty, disrespectful, nasty word, no matter what color the skin of the person using it.

Similarly, the the c-word is universally recognized as a term that a trashy, brutish man uses to describe a woman he is angry with. Women don't gain anything by making it a term we are comfortable with. They say we should "liberate ourselves" by getting used to degrading, dehumanizing language? HUH?

You know, I'm starting to realize that I'm not really mad at Fr. Jenkins. I'm not mad at the people who think he made the right decision. Or even at the people want to perform the play at Notre Dame.

What is really burning me up is the fact that this filth exists. That Eve Ensler could write it and honestly feel that it is a creative and worthy piece of art. That girls feel the need to scream the c-word at the top of their lungs. That it's possible for people to take a scene in which a 13-year-old girl is raped by an adult woman and claim that it's being performed to combat violence against women. (That's in the original play. In the version performed on campuses, the script has been conveniently sanitized to raise the victim's age to 16 - as if that makes it all better! If you actually get Ensler's book out of the library, as I did while writing my piece, you'll see the real version.)

Most of all, I am angry that we human beings, in our brokenness, could so degrade our sexuality to the point where our entire identity is based on a part of the anatomy, instead of on what we believe, what we think, who we love.

In other words: I'm mad at sin! I guess that's not a bad position to be in at the beginning of Holy Week.

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