Last month three female students at a high school in Westchester County, NY were suspended for correctly identifying a part of the female anatomy during a public performance. In the ensuing furor, the principal rescinded the girls’ suspension, and the whole community started buzzing about issues of free expression and censorship.
Eve Ensler, whose play The Vagina Monologues inspired the voicing of the word “vagina” in the first place, thought the incident represented something more specific than censorship, and offered to come speak to administrators and students about the importance of being comfortable with the word vagina. Although the school agreed to have Ensler, they’ve twice postponed her visit, while they dither about holding a censorship symposium and where in such a program to place her.
Ensler’s V-Day newsletter hailed the overturning of the girls’ suspension as “a vagina victory,” but Susan Swan, Ensler’s representative, is frustrated that it’s becoming such a big deal to get a dialog going with the school. Like Ensler, Swan sees the incident as being primarily about female sexual empowerment. “This had to do with … discomfort surrounding the word vagina,” she said. “That’s what Eve wants to talk about.”
Apparently the powers that be at John Jay High School would prefer to stick to the more general, and safe, issue of censorship than delve into the way kids are taught about sexuality. Ensler’s philosophy is to “encourage girls and boys of all ages to speak comfortably and without reductive or infantilizing nicknames about their bodies,” something the school obviously finds threatening. Chalk up the incident to one step forward and one step back—and sex education remains at the same dismal uneducated level.