Friday, March 16, 2007

Saying the "V" Word

Last week, a public high school in New York suspended three girls for saying the word "Vagina" during a talent show-type event. The girls were performing exerpts from "The Vagina Monologues." "It wasn't crude and it wasn't inappropriate and it was very real and very pure," one of the students said. I must say I was surprised at the school's reaction to the word. It was very different from my daughter's experience at her Houston high school. In one of the health classes offered there, a teacher was notorious for making the students shout "Penis!" and "Vagina!" at the top of their lungs many many times on the very first day of class. When my daughter first came home with a report of this, I must admit I was taken aback. But as I thought about it I soon realized that the teacher was laying the foundation for the teenagers to be able to have frank, open, articulate discussions about a sensitive topic. Once the teens were able to say the words without embarrassment, they were better able to learn the subject matter.

Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn't stand up in Relief Society during Opening Exercises, and, instead of reciting the RS Declaration, have the Sisters yell the words "Penis!" and "Vagina!" I am concerned that few women know how to talk to their sons and daughters about sex, about issues of birth control, masturbation, or even preparation for married life.

At some point following the production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues," a group of Mormon women wrote their own version of the Vagina Monologues and titled it "Sacred Spaces." It was presented at the 2001 Sunstone West Symposium in San Francisco. I'll admit here that I did not attend either the Broadway or the Mormon version, but I have read both. "Sacred Spaces" is a lovely and poignant collection of Mormon women's experiences with sex and discovering their bodies in a religious context. A few quotes from the pieces follow:

"My sexuality (perhaps my experience as a woman) can be summed up as my desire to please."

"I try to reach out to this stranger, my husband, and realize he is far gone. I find I am made of the hardest steel. Nothing to soften me. I crave sweet kisses. I crave the touch of hands caressing my body. I need to be vulnerable somewhere. I am the pivot point for everyone in my life."

"I was not raised Mormon, but it doesn't matter that much. I was raised American. I was raised Christian. I was more than a little embarrassed about nakedness from the time I was old enough to recognize what it was."

"While she had the marriages and the children, I carried around the same reproductive equipment but didn't use it. Sometimes I fantasized that it would be more convenient if I could just detach it, like a computer peripheral, and plug it back in should I happen to need it."

Several days after reading the collection, I wrote my own "Vagina Monologue." In a brave act of consciousness-raising, I brought it with me to my Book Club night. I told the women we should all write our own monologues, even if we didn't share them. None of the women took me up on the offer. One of my friends stated, "I don't think of myself as having those parts. I think of myself as being from the neck up!" I thought this was rather sad for someone who had been married 16 years and had 4 children.

I wonder if the newer generation of Mormon women will be as conflicted about their sexuality. I wonder what they will do with the disconnect between what they are taught at school and through popular culture, and what they are taught at Church. I wonder if they will ever feel the need to say the "V word" at a school talent show.


JohnR said...

It's 7:30 on a Saturday morning and the Remys are all in the living-room sitting at their computers. I read your post, then try to get everyone to yell out "penis!" and "vagina!" in unison. Instead I got mumbled versions that trailed off. Maybe it's too early.

I went back and re-read about my experience of the Vagina Monologues last year. I opened the post with this:

Warning: if you’re offended by the word “vagina” you really should read this post, because “vagina” appears at least 20 times in it.

Parker said...

This is off topic, but I noticed on MonF that you are going to attend Sunstone in August. Your post this past November, "Taking off the Mask" would make for an interesting presentation if you wished to expand it. You may be planning on submitting something else, but when I read it back in Nov. I was struck with its possibilities for a Sunstone Symposium presentation. Parker

Bored in Vernal said...

John, 7:30am on Saturday morning is also too early for me to yell penis and vagina. Good luck next time.

Parker, thanks for the suggestion. It could actually fit their theme pretty well. I will consider this!

Kullervo said...

I read that LDS book on sexuality, I can;t remember the name, something like "between husband and wife" before I got married, and I was absolutely taken aback: I could not believe that there were people that didn't know this stuff! Didn't they have to go to health class in high school, at least?

I abstained until marriage (which took amazing willpower as a hormone-dreched teen), but still, I realized that I was lucky to have been raised with basically healthy attitudes about sex.

Now take all of this with a grain of salt, because the best I could manage is a penis monologue, being male and all. And I think that sexuality for men is... simpler, to say the least.

But that book! People in YSA were reccomending it to each other as so informative and so important to read. I couldn;t believe it- there was maybe one fact in the entire book that I didn;t already know, and I can;t even now remember what it was.

In many ways, I am glad to have married a woman who was not raised in a religious home.

Steve M. said...

I know what you're saying, Kullervo.

I've found that the few LDS books out there on sexuality are extremely dull and uninformative for anyone who's taken a high school health class.

Even sex books by other religious folks (e.g., The Act of Marriage) are leaps and bounds ahead of the LDS stuff.

Okay, I guess this has nothing to do with the original post. Sorry. Penis. Vagina. There.