February 23, 2004


Cathy Young, contributing editor to Reason magazine, writes an op-ed in today's Boston Globe about the stunning decision of Amherst Regional High School to stage The Vagina Monologues, a sexually explicit and controversial play that's gained recent status as a feminist icon:

The idea of teenage girls performing Ensler's monologues -- complete with graphic sexual descriptions, in-your-face vulgar language, and reenactments of orgasmic moans -- in front of an adult audience is rather freaky. ... One particularly questionable monologue deals with a 16-year-old girl who learns to love her genitals and, by extension, herself after a sexual encounter with a 24-year-old woman. In the original version of the play, the girl was 13 and the monologue included the statement, "If it was rape, it was a good rape." This segment has repeatedly caused controversy, and Ensler has toned it down in response to criticism.

Yet even with the changes, we are talking about a 24-year-old seducing a 16-year-old after plying her with alcohol.

One question that springs to mind is what brilliant high-school drama teacher thought it would be a great idea for 14- and 15-year-old girls to stand up on stage and talk about their vaginas and unusual sexual encounters in front of their parents and their schoolmates -- the 'target audience' of all high-school productions? I've seen a production of this play by Eve Ensler on HBO and I would be embarassed to be in the audience if my adult daughter-in-law performed it, let alone a girl I'd be hard-pressed to allow to go out on dates. In the case of Amherst RHS, assumably that brilliance extended to the administration as well, demonstrating that perhaps Massachussetts has too much money in its school systems if they have the time and resources to stage plays like this.

In my high-school days (long, long ago, I'm afraid), during my sophomore year we staged a series of controversial plays, or rather controversial staging of plays such as You Can't Take It With You and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, as well as an original called Dudley Do-Right Rides Again, or the Last Joke That Killed Vaudeville. In the first play, the controversy merely resulted from the use of fireworks and a lit cigar on stage, but the second, a minor Neil Simon play, was laced with profanity from start to finish that the school administration tried too late to water down. The third started off as a children's play, but the drama teacher allowed us to improvise characters for the tabula rasa Mounties, and one of us decided to portray a flamingly gay Mountie. By the time the end-of-year school musical rolled around, we had alcohol on stage and kids were smoking joints backstage during the production, one of which accidentally doubled as a cigarette.

My experience tells me that when school leadership allows high-school theater to become experimental and undisciplined, they send a very clear message to the students both in the program and outside of it condoning the actions of the plays and the laxity of the administration. While Young then goes on to attack the play itself, and there's certainly room for criticism, when it's staged by adults in a normal theater setting the play itself tends to draw those who have enough life experience to put it in the proper context.

Amherst RHS, on the other hand, foisted this on adolescent girls who not only lack the proper context for this, but as one person noted, wouldn't even be able to get in to see an R-rated film on their own. It's hard to see this as anything but an attempted indoctrination of the children of Amherst RHS into a feminist-victimist ideology.

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