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Thursday, March 8, 2007

V is for Vagina

It seems that our nation's Puritanical heritage just can't be legislated away. On the same day that the Senate passes a much needed bill mandating medically accurate sex education in public schools, three high school juniors are suspended in New York for uttering the word "vagina" as part of a play reading in a school forum. The popular play "The Vagina Monologues" necessarily requires mention of that part of the female anatomy, but the girls were forbidden by the administration to say it. Instead they were to abbreviate it as simply "V." The school is claiming that the punishment is not about censorship, but insubordination.

First of all, how are we going to provide comprehensive sex ed if we can't say "vagina?" I can think of myriad other terms for that organ that are rightfully considered offensive. (I won't mention them, don't worry.) Secondly, school administrations need to accept that minors are still US citizens. They are still protected by the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has been a little wishy-washy on this issue. Certain things, like hate speech, that are protected in society, are restricted in schools. Even me, civil libertarian that I am, understand some of this. Children are different from adults, and we ought to be sensitive to this. But in this particular situation, the school went way too far and the girls were right to make an issue of it. You cannot restrict a person's freedom to speak the name of a part of their own body.

I'm certain that the very officials who were so queasy over the "vagina" will claim to be against teen pregnancy. Well you're not going to keep young girls from becoming young mothers if you force them to speak in code.

Update: Eve Ensler, the author of "Monologues" has agreed to appear on the girls behalf, calling the suspension "a throwback to the Dark Ages."

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