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Culture Clash: An East Side Story

Exclusive commentary by Isabel Lyman, The Washington Dispatch Jan 21, 2002

"What till you hear this!" teased Mr. No Spin Zone.

The Amherst, Massachusetts school district cancelled "West Side Story" but is allowing "The Vagina Monologues," went Bill O'Reilly's spiel. He was referring to the fact that a performance of the former was supposedly banned by the Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) leadership because it superficially stereotyped Latinos, but the latter is welcome, by school officials, because it is feminist-friendly.

The talk show host asked community members to appear on Fox News last week, so he could hear both sides of this East Coast story, but only Larry Kelley, a local columnist, accepted the invitation.

Kelley's complaint about Eve Ensler's work was simple: It is "grossly inappropriate" to have adolescents utter and hear the graphic language, which is a staple of this play, in a school setting.

O'Reilly agreed. Unless your name is Hugh Hefner, most responsible moms and dads would squirm at the familiar four-letter word for vagina that is repeatedly used in one of the soliloquies. They would also be uncomfortable with the speech that romanticizes an alcohol-fueled sexual encounter between an older woman and a female minor. Since the few men mentioned in the 'monologues' are mostly criminals, one concerned ARHS parent complained that the play "sets up the boys as evildoers." Then, there is the cheap shot directed at those Americans who read their Bibles. The 'monologues' sarcastically notes that "Christians don't have vaginas."

One of the lofty purposes of Ensler's "art" is to protest violence toward women, but promoting religious bigotry, teen seductions, and male bashing to make the case, is downright weird.

But for the apologists who gathered in Amherst at last week's school committee meeting, in order to encourage high school students to perform the play, the raw material wasn't a big deal. They said that the play will be performed in an "educational context" at the close of V-Day, a week-long conference in February. V-Day, as a handout explained, will "include a film festival, open mics, art displays, the Clothesline Project, V-Day dialogue groups, workshops by Tapestry Health Systems, the Everywoman's Center, and the Men's Resource Center."

Given the groups involved, as well as Eve Ensler's chums, that means there will be no shortage of left-wing educational context.

Hillary Clinton, after all, is an Ensler fan. Ms. Eve was asked by the former first lady to serve on her 'Should I run for the U.S. Senate?' committee. Members of the liberal feminist establishment, like activist Gloria Steinem and actress Susan Sarandon are also devotees. Steinem has written a forward to the book edition of The Vagina Monologues, and Sarandon has performed in the play. Although Ensler says she used her interviews with over 200 women of diverse backgrounds to craft the monologues, one would be hard-pressed to find the viewpoint of right-of-center gals like Christina Hoff Sommers and Anna Zetchus Raetz.

Hoff Sommers, who effectively argues - often on college campuses - against the notion that American women are a subordinate group, is also a prolific writer who has a blunt opinion about a certain playwright: "Ensler's numbers on American rapes are almost five times higher than those given by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Eve Ensler is a gender warrior, and in all wars the first casualty is truth."

Zetchus Raetz, a national spokeswoman for the Liberty Belles, a pro-Second Amendment group, states, "I'm so confused by the whole idea of somehow empowering someone through passingly elevated trash talk. True empowerment comes from within, and it is the fruit of the absence of fear."

She adds, "I believe there is no greater confidence builder than training as a shooter. It levels the playing field in an instant, it establishes self-reliance. Nothing is more empowering than being able to protect your life and the lives of those you love."

There is a place for therapeutic conversations, and, in a free society, even for drama queens who are obsessed with their private parts. But if there's no broad spectrum of opinions and experiences presented during V-Day at ARHS, then this opportunity to discuss gender and violence amounts to a lesson in propaganda. Spin, as Bill O'Reilly would call it.

As for the liberal college town (as the current issue of TIME magazine describes the place) being a continual source of ridicule for the media ... one hopes that Amherst's School Superintendent Jere Hochman will decide that the show must not go on. Now and then, we could stand to act more like the folks who once lived here. You know, Puritans.

Isabel Lyman, Ph.D., lives in Amherst. Visit her homeschooling blog, or write her by clicking here.

2002 The Washington Dispatch. All Rights Reserved.

Editor's comments:- No one would ever consider a play that had the rape of a boy or male youth.

It is incredible that anyone in their right mind would allow a play that condones sexual assault of a young female by an adult lesbian woman