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Say Vagina, Go To Detention

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9 Responses

  1. Howard Wasserman says:

    The high school administration is using the government’s classic (although usually rejected) rhetorical trick: “You weren’t punished for what you said, but for disobeying an order or a rule.” But in all such cases, the point of the First Amendment is that the government cannot impose the rule or make the order in the first place.

    Dan’s instinct is correct, however, that high schools have a tremendous amount of leeway in controlling student speech within school-sponsored events, especially speech of a sexual nature. In 1987′s Fraser v. Bethel School Dist., the Court found no violation in the suspension of a student who made a student-government nomination speech loaded with sexual double entendres. This case would seem to fall in that same category if there were a lawsuit. But this may be an example of how the public outrage directed at administrative stupidity achieves more than a First Amendment lawsuit.

    What is disturbing about this story, actually, is the way the administration attempted to have it both ways in a manner that ignores meaning, context, and, ultimately, educational value:

    a) “Sure, you can do the reading”–even though the content of the show as a whole is inconsistent with the school’s supposed concern about not wanting sexually themed material. See how progressive we are? But:

    b) “You cannot use a central word in the text”–thus ripping much of the power and meaning out of what we have so-graciously allowed you to read.

  2. Jack S. says:

    I can only comment on the last part of your post (which kind of mixes two different stories). Character assassination has become a common practice due to the internet where it can be done anonymously. We all hope that we are not a victim to it.

    With that said, in the more general scope of interviewing top law students for the top firms I can see where some of the top students may be dumbfounded by the process. I had dinner with a top student at a tier 1 school along with a group of other candidates for a top 20 firm. This individual’s attitude and demeanor was lacking in basic social conversation skills and courtesy. The person had a prima donna, I’m better than you and know more than you, sort of attitude that while subtly presented had the effect of completely rubbing people the wrong way very quickly.

    This individual was confused as to why several call backs had resulted in rejections. After the dinner I had no question as to why this had occurred. While this may not apply to the case of what occurred on AutoAdmit (which I in no way condone), top students having trouble in the interviewing process need to take a step back and ask them seriously and honestly why that is occurring.

    As smart as a candidate may be, no one wants to work with an individual who lacks respect for their peers, subordinates and superiors.

  3. I am a student at John Jay High School and a friend of the three girls. I sent this letter out the night of the open mic night:

    http://theliberalconviction.blogspot.com/2007/03/censorship-at-john-jays-open-mic-night.html

    This letter was sent to every member of the school; had it not have been sent, none of this publicity, most likely, would have happened.

  4. Joe Baby says:

    Students don’t shed their 1st Amendment rights at the schoolhouse gate, but neither is that right unfettered.

    If it’s so vital to free speech for students to say the word “vagina,” I’m wondering what the hell is being taught. At least the Tinker case was about an anti-war protest.

    They used to teach Latin in public schools. Now school administrators have to spend time preventing/responding to this kind of crap.

  5. gwen says:

    If it’s so vital to free speech for students to say the word “vagina,” I’m wondering what the hell is being taught.

    The context is The Vagina Monologues: what’s being taught is an understanding of the lives of women and an approach to the female body and female sexuality that focuses on celebration and not shame. [And obviously, telling girls that merely saying the word vagina - which is the neutral word for female genitalia - is obscene runs counter to that lesson]. I’m not sure why you think there’s a more urgent need for young girls to understand Latin than for them to understand that their bodies are not sources of shame and disgust.

  6. m says:

    This just isn’t a feminist issue….if they had performed a play about male organs, the reaction almost certainly been the same. It’s about sexual content, not gender.

    There’s a controversy brewing over the mentioning of “scrotum” in children’s books too.

  7. Obvious Dumbhead says:

    How about the fact that the Vagina Monologues is obscene and the fact that no boys may read it is sexist? The ability to say the word vagina is a trivial issue.

  8. gwen says:

    How about the fact that the Vagina Monologues is obscene and the fact that no boys may read it is sexist? The ability to say the word vagina is a trivial issue.

    Well, firstly, the “obscenity” of The Vagina Monologues is not the issue because the school had already approved the children’s performance of the play. The objection was to the word. So no, it’s not a trivial issue, it is the issue. And secondly – “the fact that no boys may read it is sexist?” What? Is there a ban I’m unaware of, whereby boys can’t go out and buy themselves a copy of the Vagina Monologues if they want to? And read it, and understand it, and think about it? In the same way that generations of women have gone out and engaged with books and plays and films about the lives of men and the experiences of men, in which women are peripheral or non-existent? Or are you arguing that the fact there are no male roles in a play that is about women is inherently sexist? Why? If I was writing a play about male experience – that is, not just about men but about the experience of masculinity – the characters would be men. The Vagina Monologues is about the experience of women as women, the experience of femininity. Yes, it has women in it! That’s not sexist – unless you think the bare fact that there’s one play out there that doesn’t focus on male experience as the central human experience is just-so-sexist and oppressive. In which case, you may not be the person entitled to be hurling accusations of sexist bias.

  9. adrian says:

    A few things about the school’s censorship:

    1. In Tinker, the Court said that schools must tolerate student speech unless it creates a disruption.

    2. But in Fraser, the Court said that schools do not need to tolerate “obscene” speech. The word “vagina” would probably not qualify.

    3. But in Kuhlmeier, the Court said that if a school is sponsoring the speech, the school has broad leeway to censor speech. From the limited facts above, this would probably fall under that category, so the school would probably win a legal battle.

    4. The Court just heard a case on March 19th (Morse v. Frederick) that could change the entire analysis.

    5. I know this is a gross oversimplification of the case holdings, but I’m a busy guy.