Politics & Policy

Father, Vagina?

A Catholic-college prez defends the ridiculously indefensible.

On Valentine’s Day, some school administrators were focused not on chocolate valentines full of sweets but on another v word.

Yesterday an e-mail went around to Loyola University (New Orleans) supporters from the school’s president. It was a defense of the school allowing a production of the Vagina Monologues on campus.

Father Kevin William Wildes, the school’s president, goes into the usual knee-jerk free-expression and diversity muck in his letter–”Loyola University, like any university, is committed to the free expression of ideas and the rigors of debate.” (Excuse me, Father, but is there really anything special about your school if it’s not that it is a Catholic institution of higher education? You might consider that it could be advantageous to do something different there: Let in fewer outside influences now and again when there’s good reason, perhaps.)

Though it’s hard to debate on its face–who could be against different views on campus? Do you oppose apple pie, too?–that reflexive diversity/free-expression/academic freedom defense always strikes me more as defensiveness stemming from an inferiority complex than anything else when it comes up. (You think we’re stupid, but we’re not!! Just because we pray doesn’t mean we can’t talk about our vaginas on stage! Really! We’re sophisticated too!) It’s sad, considering this is presumably the guy making the best case for the school to the public, and to donors.

And there’s more inferiority complex where that came from: Next, Fr. Wildes plays the women card. You want defensiveness? Here, you got it.

Fr. Wildes writes,

Loyola University, as a Jesuit university, is rooted in a tradition of Christian humanism that seeks to understand the human experience. To understand that experience–and to improve it in the long term–we must first listen to it. For too many centuries “human experience” has been seen through the eyes of a few individuals and small groups of people. Today, we are more conscious of the diverse views of human experience that are present in different races, cultures, ethnic groups, and religions. We are conscious of the voices that have not been heard in the past. Among these voices are the important, and for too long overlooked, voices of women.

Can I translate? The world says–and probably some liberal sisters in the theology department, too–that Catholics are patriarchal women-oppressors. We are! And I’m a man and a priest so I can’t say anything different. And so if female students want something, we’re giving it to them. No oppressors are we, enlightened Jesuits! Out with your va-–you get the idea.

He continues:

When it was developed a number of years ago, the Vagina Monologues was done as a vehicle to empower women to speak of their experiences as women. The play raises very important issues particularly about sexual violence toward women. The play often makes people uncomfortable. Some of the discomfort may come from the language of the play. And some of the discomfort comes, undoubtedly, from the exploration of violence against women and the exploitation of women in society. There are people who say that the play has no place on a Catholic campus. But this position misses the reality that the play has provoked a good deal of conversation among women and has helped them to name the dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors which reduce them to sexual objects. To exclude the play from a Catholic campus is to say, either that these women are wrong, or that their experience has nothing important to say to us. I would argue that these are voices that a Catholic university must listen to if we are to understand human experience and if we are to be faithful to the One who welcomed all men and women. The play affords an opportunity for everyone to think critically about the social issues involved in the treatment of women.

Beating women is bad–we can agree on that point, Father. But the agreement stops there.

I’ve never actually understood what about the Vagina Monologues is “empowering.” So I’ve always interpreted the contention to mean that feminists think male-bashing is empowering; aside from being angry and sad (in the pathetic sense), the play is anti-male. Christina Hoff Sommers has had to reluctantly become an expert in being anti-Vagina Monologues and she dissects it well for the unscarred (by Eve Ensler) here.

And a quick word to buck up Fr. Wildes: Just because a woman says something does not mean that it represents all women (or is “empowering” to women because it is said by a woman). I think the Democratic party has had trouble understanding that; they could teach you a lesson or two here. Just because one woman thinks that glorifying lesbian statutory rape is important and beautiful does not mean that people uncomfortable with such creepiness (and, um, criminal “love stories”) are wrong. Father, your religious order teaches about right and wrong, right? I know it used to, anyway.

By the way, Fr. Wildes thinks I’m uncomfortable with VM; I in turn think he’s immune to it. After all, his previous gig was as a dean at Georgetown, which has long been warm to the play (including while he was there).

Just a little more from Fr. Wildes:

The production of the play at Loyola does not mean that we endorse all of the contents of the play. It does mean that as a university we are grappling with very difficult issues. And it means that we are living in our Jesuit heritage by discussing and arguing about aspects of the human experience. These are difficult and tragic aspects of human experience. But, they are dimensions that ought not to be ignored if we are to build a better, safer world. The most recent Congregation of the Society of Jesus points out the need to be attentive to the experience of women, to achieve solidarity with them, and to work to correct injustices toward women. As a Catholic university we follow a Lord who welcomed all men and women, and it is important for us, in honoring our calling as a university within his Church, to listen to them.

You know, if the Vagina Monologues is really that important a contribution to American society, there’s another debate to be had over whether some psych class–or whatever–should read it and debate it. I’m dubious it even has a place there, but that’s another debate. What’s the point exactly of putting on a production of this weird, sick little play on campus (you read it and tell me it isn’t)? Having it on the calendar sure sounds like endorsement to me. And, actually, reading Fr. Wildes’s e-mail, he doesn’t say he or the school doesn’t endorse it, just that “the production of the play at Loyola does not mean that we endorse all of the contents of the play.”

Phew–Loyola might not endorse statutory rape. Maybe Catholic Loyola does stand for something besides an open door to whatever pop culture or special-interest groups say it has to let in.

That’s some maybe, though. One that the 27 other U.S. Catholic colleges and universities (according to the Cardinal Newman Society) who also had VM on campus this year ought to ponder.

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