Don't Say Vagina!! Apparently It's a Dirty Word

And, you can be suspended from school for it.  Here is the story from the New York Times.

The three girls had been warned by teachers not to utter the word. But they chose to say it anyway — vagina — in unison at a high school forum, and were swiftly punished by their school.

Now the case of the three, all juniors at John Jay High School in this affluent hamlet 50 miles north of Manhattan, has become a cause célèbre among those who say that the school has gone too far, touching off a larger debate about censorship and about what constitutes vulgar language.

Is vagina, or the “v-word,” as some around here have referred to it, such a bad word?

“We want to make it clear that we didn’t do this to be defiant of the school administration,” said Megan Reback, one of the three girls, who all received one-day suspensions for using the word during a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” at the forum last Friday. “We did it because we believe in the word vagina, and because we believe it’s not a bad word. It shouldn’t be a word that is ever censored, and the way in which we used it was respectable.”

We actually had a discussion about this in my sexuality class in the first couple weeks of the semester.  The students seemed to agree that many (other) people thought vagina is a dirty word, but none of them expressed opposition to the word themselves. However, most of them agreed that vagina was considered a “dirtier word” than penis.  It was a good opportunity to talk about sexism and feminism. Now I’ve got to email them this article. 

This entry posted in Anti-feminists and their pals, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

103 Responses to Don't Say Vagina!! Apparently It's a Dirty Word

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  3. 3
    sara says:

    The girls ought to ask whether OB/GYNs are constantly using dirty words in their professional practice!

    “Vagina” is a clinical term. Euphemisms by their nature are more dirty, because they suggest innuendo.

  4. 4
    Samantha says:

    I decided very early on that I would teach my daughter to use the word vagina and penis rather than something ‘cute’ or whatever different names that people give them for their children. I didn’t want to dirty the word or make the human body shameful in anyway.
    The other day however I got into an argument with another parent because of the same thing. The children were talking about how boys were boys and girls were girls and my little one said ‘girls have vagina’s boys have penises.’ The other mother looked shocked and her son barely knew what a penis was, he called it something completely inane. She thought that it was inappropriate.
    One again I lost the point. But you get me.

  5. 5
    Dreama says:

    Everything about this incident sickens me.

  6. 6
    medrecgal says:

    I was just discussing an incident something like this with a (female) friend at work the other day, where I was reading on another blog that someone had censored the word “vagina” out of the name of a play (The Vagina Monologues) on a street sign by calling it “The Hoo-Haa Monologues” (because someone in the community had complained to the theater owner or someone similar). I suspected this story was similar. What is it with the hangups over the proper terms for the parts of the human (especially female) anatomy? Like my friend suggested, “Well, it could have been the (the c-word) Monologues instead…” Proper names for body parts are NOT offensive; it’s the vulgar terms that are offensive. It just proves that people are still Puritanical a lot of the time, still ashamed of certain parts of their bodies. We need to be more openminded in the RIGHT ways about these things. Teach respect and encourage curiosity about the body…that’s what my family did when I started asking the usual childish questions.

    And it was just a prime example of this hangup when those girls were suspended. Would they have been suspended for saying a more vulgar word? Doesn’t say much for the school admin.

  7. 7
    Sailorman says:

    That brings back memories of my seventh grade science class. the teacher was talking about body parts and we were all too embarassed to say “vagina”…

    his response was:

    “It’s a BODY PART. Like a foot. there’s nothing dirty or inappropriate about it when you use it correctly. Girls have vaginas. Vaginas. You can say it in here. Boys have penises. this is science, boys and girls….” etc etc

    I realize now how awesome that was.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    The principal, Rich Leprine, said on Tuesday that the girls were told not to use the word because young children could be in the audience, but that they used it anyway after agreeing not to.

    “When a student is told by faculty members not to present specified material because of the composition of the audience and they agree to do so, it is expected that the commitment will be honored and the directive will be followed,” Mr. Leprine said in a written statement. “When a student chooses not to follow that directive, consequences follow.”

    Precisely. It’s one thing to argue whether or not the material is appropriate in the setting and context that was used. That’s a worthy debate to have, and there’s room for reasonable people to disagree. But if they were directed by the school administration not to do that, and they did it anyway (regardless of whether or not they agreed to it), then a suspension is appropriate.

  9. 9
    Rachel S. says:

    RonF,
    I think you are wrong here. These administration should never had made them promise not to say they word vagina in the first place.

  10. 10
    Michael says:

    It seems to me that the issue here is that they should be punished for not listening to their teachers. The issue is not the word VAGINA, it just makes for a better story in the news!!! This story should have come up when they were told they couldn’t say that word and why that word should or should not be said. After all, that is the medically correct word, RIGHT???

  11. 11
    Q Grrl says:

    Ah for fuck’s sake.

    Pornography is protected as free speech.

    Girls get suspended for saying “vagina”.

    If anyone has the freakin’ balls to defend pornography as harmless to women and girls, as inconsequential to the socialization of girls and women, then I hope they fuckin’ wake up to situations like this.

    A woman’s body, referents to a woman’s body; all good and legal as long as they are defined, served up, and catered to the male puerile sexuality.

    You wonder how much men hate women? They hate us enough to divy up our body parts, commodify them, define what is dirty, what is inappropriate for public consumption (but what is a highly profitable private consumption), and they want to punish us for talking freely about our own FUCKING bodies.

    Do something guys. Seriously.

    If the principal of this school was truly concerned about the “innocent” youngsters in the audience, he could have forwarned theater-goers about the content of the production. But even that stretches the boundaries of logic while shoring up the boundaries of male control.

    Hell, the whole fuckin show is the VAGINA MONOLOGUES. The principal, what? didn’t think people would understand that the content might be a little, shall we say, challenging?

    This isn’t about rebellious teenagers.

    It’s about a man needing to control what women say and do about their bodies. And then punishing them when they defy his illogic and his knee-jerk hatred of women.

  12. 12
    Eva says:

    And how did they advertize that the Vagina Monologues were going to be performed??? Is it also inappropriate for it to be written (as in on the marquee of the theater with that ridiculous euphemism I’d never even heard of before…) As my mom used to say, “That’s it, I’m moving to France!”.

    If they were so concerned about young children being in the audience of the Vagina Monologues and the children hearing the word vagina, what about all the “dirtier” euphemisms?!? Why didn’t they just limit the age range of the audience, instead of censoring the content? That seems much more appropriate to me…and that’s where movie ratings actually come in handy.

  13. 13
    TiaRachel says:

    This has been on my local news. A couple corrections to poster’s assumptions:

    1) The event was not the Vagina Monologues, it was a high school poetry slam kinda thing in which these three students chose to read a selection from the Vagina monologues.

    2) the expected audience was high schoolers — 9th through 12th graders

    3) The Times confused this: the girls read the last line of this poem in unison: “My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women’s army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.They did not just all three chime in on the single word “Vagina.” (At least, that’s the way they recited it from memory on the local news broadcast).

    4)Also from their appearance on the local news — the girls discussed whether to hold up the printed word “Vagina”, or make some sort of symbol, but decided that any substitution would violate the artistic integrity (and the meaning!) of the piece. They were aware that they’d face some sort of punishment, and as I remember from the earliest shown interview, were completely willing to face the consequences.

    5) I want to say that again: they were aware that they would face some sort of consequences by using the censored word which they had agreed not to say, and were not arguing with that. However, they felt the censorship itself was ludicrous (my word), and that there’s something wrong (insert teenager’s eye-roll here) with being charged with “insubordination” in high school.

    They went through with this knowing that there would be consequences to face, and were completely willing to face those consequences.

    I doubt they imagined that the consequences would include an appearance on the Today show.

  14. 14
    RonF says:

    RonF, I think you are wrong here. These administration should never had made them promise not to say they word vagina in the first place.

    Maybe so! But once the decision has been made and communicated, the principal has both the power and the obligation to enforce it.

    Remember that we are not talking adults here – we are talking about children, both performing and (apparently) in the audience. It’s up to the school administration to make a judgement on what’s appropriate and what’s not, based on their understanding of the community. The school administration must exercise this judgement; it can delegate it to the children involved if it wants to, but it is still responsible for such judgement, regardless.

    In this case the school administration chose to exercise its judgement directly, and the children were defiant and disobedient. The kids chose civil disobedience. Fine. Civil disobedience means that you disobey the law and accept the law’s punishment as a protest. Remember, Thoreau went to jail when he refused to pay the poll tax. He only got out when someone else paid his fine, against his wishes.

    The kids are saying here “We deliberately broke the rules, but we shouldn’t be punished”. Nope. Sorry. They could just as easily have protested the rule without breaking it. They could have suspended the performance (or not, but complied), appealed the principal’s judgement to the school board, and then held the performance after the school board rendered it’s decision (or, if they’d already performed, held a new performance). There is a process for these things. They chose to short-circuit the process, so they should have to pay the consequences for that, even if the school board reverses the principal’s judgement and decides that the kids had a right to present the material in the way they did.

  15. 15
    Robert says:

    Another good argument for dismantling the public school system and replacing it with voucher-based private educational choice.

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    O.K. According to the post above mine, the kids DID figure on being punished. So, why is there going to be a school board meeting? If it’s to review whether or not such material will be permissible at this school, fine. If it’s to determine whether or not the punishment would be lifted, wrong. It shouldn’t be, unless it’s out of line with punishments for similar previous offenses.

  17. 17
    RonF says:

    Pornography is protected as free speech.

    Not if it involves minors.

  18. 18
    Q Grrl says:

    RonF: are you suggesting that these girls saying “vagina” is pornography?

    I’m saying that men doing what they want with women’s bodies, either for art or for criminalization is not nearly as censored as what young women can obviously say and do with their bodies.

    I’d put dollars to donuts that the principal in this matter consumes his fair share of porn. More than his fair share.

  19. 19
    RonF says:

    Qgrrl, you were the one that brought up pornography, not me. The point I’m trying to make is that issues of what language is appropriate and what isn’t, and what people’s rights are and what they aren’t, are different when minors are involved.

    You seem fixated on the gender of the principal and your presumptions (not just assumptions) of what that means regarding his attitudes towards women. Do you think it would have made a difference if the principal was female instead of male? Personally, I doubt it. My experience with school principals (and between my own kids’ education and Scouting I’ve had a fair amount) is that their actions and reactions in situations like this is based more on their reading (accurate or not) of community reactions, not their own feelings or beliefs. They tend to work off the basis of “What is [most voluble members of the community] going to say,” not “What do I think?”

  20. 20
    defenestrated says:

    On “insubordination” v. censorship, I present to you Amanda Marcotte:

    The principle is claiming that this is about insubordination, not censorship, which is cute in that way that authoritarians are when they’re trying to speak the democratic language of freedom and failing miserably because it’s simply not in their nature. What’s interesting is that the principle has created an excuse that technically makes the concept of “censorship” meaningless, because at any point in time, punishment being doled out for speaking forbidden ideas is technically doled out for insubordinating a rule not to speak those ideas. Other authorities should get on board with this. You weren’t given a ticket for speeding! No way. You were giving a ticket from breaking the law against speeding, an entirely different thing.

  21. 21
    Elena says:

    What about the 13 year olds a few years back who wore t-shirts that said “Cocks- Nothing to Crow About.”. They were suspended, even though boys were allowed to wear Hooters t-shirts. Those girls were my heros! And these students- criticize them all you want, but you have got to hand it to them- they’ve got moxie.

  22. 22
    defenestrated says:

    Also: Rachel, I hope you don’t mind if I blogsturbate for a moment? I wanted to throw in the full text of the monologue the students read, but it takes up a ton of space in stanza form.

  23. 23
    defenestrated says:

    Ooh, Elena, awesome point about the Cocks/Hooters shirts. Yeah, I do think the girls’ and the principal’s sex had at least something to do with it.
    Yargh.

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    That’s Amanda Marcotte, eh? Good thing for Edwards that he got her to quit. That’s one of the more incoherent and irrelevant things I’ve ever read.

    As an aside; I seem to recall that I read that she had an English degree. Is that right? If so, I wonder what schools failed to teach her the difference between “principal” and “principle”?

    And these students- criticize them all you want, but you have got to hand it to them- they’ve got moxie.

    Could be. I won’t deny that there may be a principle here worth making a point of and a sacrifice for. But it sounds to me like they had fair warning.

    What about the 13 year olds a few years back who wore t-shirts that said “Cocks- Nothing to Crow About.”.

    LOL!

    They were suspended, even though boys were allowed to wear Hooters t-shirts.

    Not all that relevant, though, unless it was the same school.

  25. 25
    TiaRachel says:

    I don’t live in the district, but I’d imagine the school board meeting is primarily a “what’s all the fuss about” response. This had a lot of local news coverage, even before the NY Times and the Today show picked it up. And it seems to have become a cause celebre among high schoolers.

    I’m working from a small, admittedly biased, sample of a) the people I know and b) people who’ve been quoted in the paper or on TV, but I get the strong impression that “the community” supports the girls in this case, not the principal’s censorship. It’s certainly not impossible that he presumed otherwise, though.

    (Also, apparently another kid at the event used “the F-word” without disciplinary action. No confirmation on that, though. It’s entirely possible that that just didn’t make the national news. I suppose getting suspension for saying “fuck” isn’t nearly as cool as it is for saying “vagina”…)

  26. 26
    RonF says:

    Amanda (and others) seem to have a problem with the authority that the principal exerted. So, I ask a question; is it the job of a school principal to enforce community standards, or to challenge them?

    Leave aside the question of whether this situation either was a challenge to community standards or should have been a challenge to community standards. I myself don’t think that Western Civilization is going to fall because these girls did this.

    But the principal was hired by the School Board, an elected group representing the will of the community, to exert executive authority over the school. He wasn’t given that authority not to use it. If it was the judgement of the principal that “This action will not be acceptable to the majority of the community”, is it the job of the principal to stop it? Or should he say “This action is not acceptable to the majority of the community, but it should not be not acceptable, so I will allow this.”

  27. 27
    Tripp says:

    “Vagina” declared more dirty than “penis” in a sexuality class?

    Were there equal numbers of males and females in the class?

    I only ask because to me, a male, “penis” seems dirtier, and I assume that is the same for most guys.

    Yeah, I know, the Bible and menstruation, but I don’t know if that applies. I base my assertion on personal feelings and the fact that males seem perfectly happy seeing vaginas in films but not penises. In films. Not vaginas in penises versus vaginas in films.

  28. 28
    RonF says:

    See, Qgrrl, it may be that you are absolutely correct – it may be just that this guy is an asshole. It may end up that the school board meeting will confirm this. But I see no basis to assume that based on the information we have. I think that the most likely situation is that the principal figured, “This is going to piss off a lot of parents, I better stop this.” And that stands regardless of whether or not the principal was actually right in thinking that; you seem to posit some deliberate action where it seems to me a simple misjudgement is more likely, and it is definitely his job and responsibility to form such a judgement and act on it.

    Which then begs the question, is that the right thing for the principal to do – to stop something he thinks will anger most of the parents? And then, having done so only to see the students disobey him, is the offense of insubordination worthy of punishment?

  29. 29
    defenestrated says:

    OK, maybe I should have just quoted the part that was most relevant to the point I wanted to make. Which was:

    What’s interesting is that the principle has created an excuse that technically makes the concept of “censorship” meaningless, because at any point in time, punishment being doled out for speaking forbidden ideas is technically doled out for insubordinating a rule not to speak those ideas.

    It makes no real sense to just say, Well, he made the rule and they broke it, so that’s it. We (and, apparently, the community) are pissed off that he made the rule in the first place. The rule was stupid. Should we never question stupid rules, or does their rule-ness protect their stupidity from protest?

    I also want to know:
    1) Does this high school have any sort of sex ed, and if so, what do they teach female students to call their genitalia? Do they cover how wrong and dirty it is in class, or are students supposed to get that at home?
    2) How they were supposed to introduce the piece? Sure, the event wasn’t centered around the Vagina Monologues, but getting up and reading something without saying what it is strikes me as awfully close to plagiarism for a school to be condoning, much less enforcing.

  30. 30
    defenestrated says:

    We (and, apparently, the community) are pissed off that he made the rule in the first place.

    Redundantly enough, “We” = “We who are pissed off.” But how awkward would that sentence have been?

  31. 31
    mandolin says:

    That’s Amanda Marcotte, eh? Good thing for Edwards that he got her to quit. That’s one of the more incoherent and irrelevant things I’ve ever read.

    As an aside; I seem to recall that I read that she had an English degree. Is that right? If so, I wonder what schools failed to teach her the difference between “principal” and “principle”?

    Do you have any argument against what she had to say, or are you just going to ad hom? And if you’re going to mock an English major for a typo, I hope you’ve never made a calculation error.

  32. 32
    defenestrated says:

    mandolin – Never mind that it’s not really up to anyone here to decree what someone should consider ir/relevant to an act of discrimination against her own class. Or write about on her own blog. (The problem didn’t seem to be with my posting it here.)

    “Sit down, dear, let me tell you what you should be thinking about…”

  33. 33
    Bonnie says:

    My mom’s a retired principal. Her job was to oversee the teachers and the children’s education, not support community standards.

    Not all school boards are elected.

    (While we’re talking typos, the words are spelled “judgment” and “its” at 11:09 am.)

  34. 34
    Rachel S. says:

    defenstrated #27,
    Yeah I agree with you. It’s like that question that they posed to you in ethics classes (at least the ones I took): “Is something right because God commands it? Or, does God command things because they are right?” I went to a Catholic university, so that why they use God, but replace God with any authority figure and the meaning is similar.

  35. 35
    Rachel S. says:

    RonF #22,

    You know that attack on Amanda is out of line, and not relavant. If you want to attack ideas, fine, but personal attacks are not part of a civil debate and that could seriously derail the thread.

    I ask that you refrain from such attacks, so I don’t have to ban you from this thread.

  36. 36
    Rachel S. says:

    Robert said, “Another good argument for dismantling the public school system and replacing it with voucher-based private educational choice.”

    Robert, if you think public schools are bad, you should hear some of the crap that my students were taught in Catholic schools. Even though I think public schools don’t do a fabulous job on sex ed. The private religious schools are much worse.

  37. 37
    Rachel S. says:

    Tripp said, ““Vagina” declared more dirty than “penis” in a sexuality class?

    Were there equal numbers of males and females in the class?

    I only ask because to me, a male, “penis” seems dirtier, and I assume that is the same for most guys.”

    The class is mostly women. I think I have maybe 5 men out of 44 students. The students weren’t speaking about their first hand opinions, but rather what they thought others believed.

  38. 38
    Robert says:

    The private religious schools are much worse.

    And being private, and not having the crushing power of the state behind them, their ability to coerce people into listening to their misinformation is much more limited. Which is the entire point of my post: private choices allow for more opting out.

    (Sure, you can opt out of the public system, too – but it costs money. It shouldn’t cost you money to get your children educated, if we’ve agreed as a society to spread that cost among everyone via taxation. Thus, vouchers.)

  39. 39
    Rachel S. says:

    Robert said, “Which is the entire point of my post: private choices allow for more opting out.”

    You and I may opt out, but many people would chose ideology over scientific facts, which could lead to a really balkanized society. I don’t want to get too far off topic, but public education does a great job of binding together as a nation.

  40. 40
    Robert says:

    I don’t want to get too far off topic, but public education does a great job of binding together as a nation.

    Which is lovely, in areas/subjects where there is actual unity. Where there isn’t, then public education does a great job of shoving a particular viewpoint down the national throat, which ends up causing alienation and hardening of attitudes.

    But you’re right, this is off-topic, so we don’t need to argue it here.

  41. 41
    RonF says:

    You know what? You’re right. That was completely unnecessary. I could have made my points without that. Regardless of what I think about what I’ve seen of her writings she’s been through a lot. It was graceless of me. I apologize to one and all.

  42. 42
    RonF says:

    Bonnie:

    My mom’s a retired principal. Her job was to oversee the teachers and the children’s education, not support community standards.

    When a group of students were involved in a school play or other presentation to the students at your mother’s school, I would think that there were some kind of criteria for what material was or was not appropriate to be presented; if not explicitly in a published policy, it would be in some teacher’s or administrator’s judgement (and even if they were published, I will guess that they would have some leeway or generalness in them that would make someone’s judgement necessary). What were those criteria? What were they based on? Who made the decision on what material met those criteria and what material didn’t?

    Now, if you can actually call your mother or dig though some old materials, great. But what I’m actually leading up to is this. First, to suggest that any such policies (and their application) would have been developed not only on the basis of educational needs but also with an eye towards what is acceptable to the community as a whole. Second, that enforcement of any policy at a school is ultimately up to the principal. I’m thinking that when any policies regarding such matters are developed or judged, the people forming the policy are very likely to consider as partof that process what the community reaction is going to be. That then makes “community standards” part of the policy.

    The composition of a child’s education is going to be based in large part on educational theory and practice as developed throughout the years in that academic discipline, with inputs from other disciplines such as child psychology, etc. But it’s also going to be based on the expectations of the community those children and their parents belong to. Some of those expectations are straightforward and measurable; the kids should learn how to read at a particular level, have mastered mathematics to a certain point, average a particular level on the various standardized tests, etc. Obvious stuff. But there are community expectations that are more subjective, and this kind of thing seems to me to fall under that. A principal may be right or wrong about whether they’ve correctly evaluated that and whether or not they agree with it. But I rather doubt that they’d ignore it.

    Actually, it would be interesting to ask your mom what she thinks would have happened if this had come up during her tenure; what she would have done, and what various decisions on her part in dealing with these girls both before and after their performance might have had on her job.
    Not all school boards are elected.

    I did make that assumption, didn’t I? Or at least that the school board in question was. Hm. Well, if they’re not elected directly, they are appointed by elected officials. That would place it at one remove from the public, but still to some degree they are supposed to represent the will of the electorate. Being appointed would tend to dilute that some, I grant.

  43. 43
    Bonnie says:

    Mom concurs that “vagina” is a scientific term and is okay for anyone to say.

  44. 44
    hf says:

    Ah yes, NASA-Daley Syndrome. Just because the proper authority happens to be wrong is no reason to tolerate insubordination. NASA officials ultimately represent the will of the people. If we’re allowed to defy our superiors any time their position seems fatally wrong, there would be anarchy.

    Nobody would have died if the students hadn’t said the word “vagina”. But if the principal can forbid students to exercise their rights and punish them for doing so even when we agree he had no right to give the order, then in practice the students have no First Amendment rights. The courts and the plain language of the amendment say that they do.

    When the people of the United States ratified the Constitution, they limited the restrictions this “community” can legally impose.

  45. 45
    Robert says:

    even when we agree he had no right to give the order

    But he had the right to give the order. Students in a school setting have First Amendment rights, but they are limited and contingent rights, somewhat weaker than the rights of adults.

    Personally, I think the principal was in the wrong on this one, but he was well within their authority and job responsibility. That he handled it badly doesn’t mean he didn’t have the authority to handle it.

  46. 46
    hf says:

    Again, if he can enforce an order that contradicts their rights than those rights do not exist in practice.

  47. 47
    Robert says:

    Yeah, that’s correct. And? As I said, students in a school setting have only limited First Amendment rights.

  48. 48
    Robert says:

    HF, you might want to examine this chart, which the Student Press Law Center put together to show how the rights of students are constrained under certain circumstances. (For “the publication”, I believe you can reasonably substitute “the presentation” or “the forum”.)

    Going through the boxes, I think the correct answers are “yes” for each question – which takes us, via the Tinker decision, to the conclusion that the school can quash the students’ expression. The fascists.

  49. 49
    Jake Squid says:

    FWIW, now that I’m hanging around in northern Westchester county for a few days, the consensus here seems to be that the principal was totally in the wrong.

  50. 50
    defenestrated says:

    The Tinker Standard:

    Can school officials show that their censorship is based on a reasonable forecast of material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion on the rights of others.

    Robert, do you really think that “vagina” meets that standard?

  51. 51
    mythago says:

    As I said, students in a school setting have only limited First Amendment rights.

    Kind of bass-ackwards there, Robert; students have First Amendment rights, which can be limited in certain circumstances.

    I’m also wondering how correct that chart is, given that the copyright notice on it is almost fifteen years old.

  52. 52
    defenestrated says:

    The Tinker Standard:

    Can school officials show that their censorship is based on a reasonable forecast of material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion on the rights of others.

    Robert, do you really think that “vagina” meets that standard?

  53. 53
    defenestrated says:

    Robert, the Tinker Standard requires that that the material would cause “substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion on the rights of others.” Do you think ‘vagina’ meets that standard? If so, how?

    If this ends up as a repeated comment, I’m sorry. It kept mysteriously disappearing when I blockquoted the box’s full text, so I’m trying this way :)

  54. 54
    Steven says:

    “Vagina” is a clinical term. Euphemisms by their nature are more dirty, because they suggest innuendo.

    Maybe esophogus and vertabrae should also become bad words! And tendon, and vain, and maybe even brain. Labium superioris? Maybe we can just re-write the vulgarities of the language using body parts.

  55. 55
    Robert says:

    Defenestrated, you’re mistaking meeting the standard for having a plausible claim. The principle might be found wrong, if things went to court, but – and this is the point that we’re actually arguing – the principle is the guy on the spot with the executive power. The cases permit him to act as he did.

    To analogize, the cops are allowed to pull you over if they see you weaving. It may turn out to be a mistaken pullover, if it turns out you’re weaving because you dropped your Sprite – but the fact that the particular case wasn’t an appropriate stop doesn’t eliminate the fact that the cops can stop you when they see you weaving.

  56. 56
    Robert says:

    For example, in this case, the school is within its authority to suspend the students for breaking the rules – and simultaneously, the students still have First Amendment rights of religious freedom. They just have to follow a not-particularly onerous rule, of complying with the school’s organizations policies and going through channels.

  57. 57
    mythago says:

    To analogize, the cops are allowed to pull you over if they see you weaving.

    Robert, you are really mixing up your apples and oranges here. Probable cause for a police stop is not quite the same thing as disciplining students for engaging in protected speech. Your stuff about ‘going through channels’ is bizarre; you’re not citing to a “case”, but to a news story. The issue in the linked story is the students’ claims of religious freedom vs. the school’s claims that they were physically impeding other students.

  58. 58
    defenestrated says:

    Oh sure, they all show up after I’ve gone and looked like an ass!

    ;D

    Robert, what, then, is the point of that whole flow chart? If the actual validity of the claim isn’t what matters, just the plausibility of the principal’s belief in the claim, then the guidelines can be waived at any time – in which case, why even bother coming up with them?

    To extend your weaving analogy, you seem to be saying that even if the cop knows full well it’s Sprite, he can still choose to haul the person down to the drunk tank for the night. Why not? It’s within his job description to haul people down to the drunk tank, just as it’s in the principal’s job description to steer school events. Except that we’re somehow skipping over the question of what harm was or could have been done – in the case of both Sprite and vaginas, the answer is none.

    Ew, except the time I almost swallowed a bee with my Sprite. That would not have been harmless.

  59. 59
    Robert says:

    Mmm, delicious insects. As a boy, I was addicted to pedaling my bike to the top of a tall hill and then coasting down at insane speeds, until the Fly-Nostril Incident of 1976. So much for that cheap thrill.

    The validity of the claim matters, but the validity of any particular claim can only be established retrospectively. (Well, generally. There are claims that are obvious farcical, but this is clearly not one of them.) There is a real social convention that we don’t discuss genitalia in public, and certainly not in front of children. You may disagree with this convention; with reservations, so do I. But the convention exists, and it isn’t facially absurd for the principal to uphold it as part of controlling the discussion space that schoolchildren are engaging in.

    In other words, you’re arguing that the cops know it’s Sprite, and I’m arguing that the cops were in fact pretty sure it was Everclear.

  60. 60
    Bonnie says:

    If the 9th graders attending the high school forum haven’t heard the word “vagina” by now something is drastically wrong with both their education and their development as human beings.

    If the principal believes that the word “vagina” is an incidiary word, something is in fact drastically wrong with his world view.

  61. 61
    defenestrated says:

    Robert – The guy behind the counter of the sandwich shop told me with a totally straight face that if I had swallowed it, it would’ve been high in vitamin bee.

    Har.

    And, what Bonnie said. Because I’m enjoying the analogy, it’s like the cops just deciding the Sprite is Everclear and the rest of us believing that the deciding might make it so.

    I can see how a discussion of genitalia might, if nothing else, be really out of place at a poetry slam
    (Ok, I have to at least give it a shot:

    Between the vulva
    and the birth canal, or “womb,”
    is the vagina

    Huh. That wasn’t as hard as I expected.)

    but that’s not what this was. It was an empowering monologue (soliloquy, actually, but that’s neither here nor there) that employed the word vagina, and frankly part of the whole point of the play is that it’s ridiculous that the word for a body part has been turned ‘dirty.’ I tried to link to my post on the subject, because it had the full text of the monologue, but those comments never turned up.

    About that: Didn’t there used to be a “Your comment is awaiting moderation” message?

  62. 62
    defenestrated says:

    Aaaaand I got so distracted by my little vaginal haiku that I entirely forgot to actually get around to bringing it back to refuting the point: In an educational environment, the claim that using the clinical term for a body part is offensive does in fact strike me as farcical. If the claim was made sincerely, then to me that suggests that the principal doesn’t seem to have much idea of how to go about educating young people and probably shouldn’t be allowed to do so.

    And btw, these weren’t “schoolchildren,” they were juniors in high school – a year or two shy of majority. If you can drive but not name your own body parts at that age, there’s a problem.

  63. 63
    mythago says:

    There is a real social convention that we don’t discuss genitalia in public, and certainly not in front of children.

    “We”, in this case, are the children. This isn’t a question of a teacher talking dirty, but (as has already been noted) high school students using the word “vagina”.

    I’m not quite sure what you’re arguing, Robert, but it bears no resemblance to any reality of how the First Amendment applies to schools. I’m still waiting for an explanation of how a probable-cause stop is a good analogy for punishing students for speech.

  64. 64
    defenestrated says:

    Fuck! I just re-read my haiku (I was so proud!) and realized that in my zeal to make the syllables fit, I had entirely screwed up the anatomy.

    Sure, birth canal, womb, whatever.

  65. 65
    defenestrated says:

    See, Robert, that’s why we need to let teenagers talk about genitalia in schools. Otherwise, they might grow up and not know their vagina from their uterus ;)

  66. 66
    Robert says:

    If you don’t get it, I can’t help you, Mythago. Sorry.

    What I’m arguing is quite simple. The principal had the authority to make the call he did. That his call was, in the judgment of many people, incorrect, is immaterial to whether the authority exists. It does.

  67. 67
    defenestrated says:

    If the judgment of other people regarding the call is immaterial, then any student’s speech can be censored for any reason. Within your argument, the principal could just as easily have said “Students may not mention words that aren’t ‘purple’ or ‘bunnies.’”

    Sure, the students would all be stuck saying “purple bunnies” all day, but the principal would still be within his authority.

  68. 68
    mandolin says:

    “I can see how a discussion of genitalia might, if nothing else, be really out of place at a poetry slam”

    When the scrotum stupidity was happening, Charles Coleman Finlay had a contest for “best scrotum poem” on his blog.

    Here’s the contest announcement and entries:

    http://ccfinlay.livejournal.com/80360.html

    And here’s the entry announcing the winners:

    http://ccfinlay.livejournal.com/81071.html

  69. 69
    mandolin says:

    I was going to try to rhyme “vag,” and I got as far as “My personal pink badge of courage” before my brain waved a white flag and gave up.

    Instead, I give you this marvel of poor scansion:

    Censors urge us to keep hidden
    lady parts, for they are forbidden.
    We musn’t refer
    to things pink that purr.
    And for sure, they must never be ridden.

  70. 70
    Bonnie says:

    I. Love. Limericks. Poor scansion or not.

    A little old lady from New Palz
    Was famous, her pic in the hallz.
    “There is nothing finah
    Than to have my vagina
    In a barrel going over the fallz.”

  71. 71
    RonF says:

    Bonnie, if that was a response to my post, that’s not what I asked. You stated that it was not your mother’s job to enforce community standards. I asked in return by what criteria material to be presented by students were judged to be appropriate?? What were those criteria based on? Who made the decision on what material met those criteria and what material didn’t? Was a consideration of what the community would think of the material or how they would react to it any part in the formation of those standards?

  72. 72
    ArrogantWorm says:

    “I can see how a discussion of genitalia might, if nothing else, be really out of place at a poetry slam”

    That’s a sad concept. They need to get out more. It’s a favorite topic on some of the slams online I’ve read.

    If the principal decided that the word vagina wasn’t to be said, he shouldn’t have okay’d the monologue. The whole purpose of the Vagina Monologues, to the best of my knowledge, is so the word and concept of vagina brings a feeling of respect instead of getting shamed. Can’t do that in a reading of it if the word is censored out or changed. Okaying a change in the reading of a work is horrid, especially since the author(s) of the piece weren’t consulted, and fabrication is generally frowned upon.

    In other words, you’d think the principal would be against such a thing, but is instead for it. Weird.

    Rather like the limericks and poetry though, nice.

  73. 73
    defenestrated says:

    ArrogantWorm, obviously I totally shot this down by following it up with vagina poems, but what I really meant was, like, an anatomy lecture would be out of place. Which is what my haiku kind of was, except for totally inaccurate, and in verse form :)

    As for the rest of what you said – exactly. How, I ask again, were they supposed to introduce the piece?

  74. 74
    ArrogantWorm says:

    But but but! You can make an anatomy lecture into poetry form, and have it be both. Unless you mean, like, a lecture-lecture, dry voice and all. Be a bit dull for poetry that way. It doesn’t have to be one or the other necessarily. And, I gotta say, when I read I get visual and auditory pictures in my head and damn, while it was cute haiku, it was an odd visual. Ecstatic ya shot it down, though, was a bit confused by what you meant there, thought you were demonstrating it couldn’t be poetry by writing a poem. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen such arguments before! (sad thing is I’m not kidding)

  75. 75
    Radfem says:

    Boys will be boys and girls will be held to a separate standard to facilitate the boys in being, well boys.

    At any rate, these brave young women who yelled out the very dirty v-word have received another lesson from the curriculum of Sexism 101. Patriarchy maybe the language of this society but it’s not their mother tongue.

    Now of course, it’s time to expel them lest their revolutionary message spreads beyond their circle and throughout the general population of their academic institution and ends civility, order and life as we know it.

  76. 76
    defenestrated says:

    Hah, yes, I meant the dry lecture-lecture kind – it started as a very nerdy joke in my head in response to Robert’s comment that society doesn’t discuss genitalia in public, and…and the haiku was just me carrying it to its full nerdy conclusion, I guess. But, yes, I see exactly what you’re saying ;)

    There was a facebook group started in support of these girls, which I joined and sent out a big auto-invite for (I’m a theatre geek, so’re a lot of my friends). Two guys I dated in high school messaged me in response: the one was very supportive and posted a full anatomy-textbook description of vagina as a (kind of weird, I know) way of showing that support; the other said, “You…you invited me to your vagina?” All about you, buddy, alllll about you…

    Somehow, in my mind, that last paragraph was going to be an agreement with what RadFem said – or, rather, the sentiment behind the sarcasm :) – but on re-reading it, I have to admit that it totally didn’t end up serving that function. Sorry, RadFem.

  77. 77
    Mickle says:

    It was an empowering monologue… that employed the word vagina, and frankly part of the whole point of the play is that it’s ridiculous that the word for a body part has been turned ‘dirty.’

    I suspect that this is really why a lot people are saying the principal was stupid for making the rule and then enforcing it to such a degree.

    It would be one thing if he simply said that the subject matter innapropriate for the particular setting and left it at that. Something along the lines of ” ‘vagina’ is a normal medical term and it’s use is appropriate in health class discussions, but, within the school environment, discussions about sexuality should be limited to health class, and therefore so should the use of medical terms about sexuality.” Something I don’t agree with, but that is at least internally logical.

    What the principal said instead (whether he meant to or not) was: “Discussing sexuality within the school environment is perfectly fine and appropriate for high school aged students – to the point that even school performances may do so. But you can’t use any normal medical terms when doing so, we must hide behind juvenile euphamisms.”

    That’s just the sort of illogical rule twisting that adults do so often when dealing with teens that drives them bat-shit crazy – and makes them less likely to trust any of us.

    I’m very proud of these girls for making a stand for womanhood, but I’m also very proud of them for trying to force their principal to treat them as if they had brains.

  78. 78
    mythago says:

    Robert, I get the fact that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    A principal has the “authority” to order an extracurricular Bible study class not to meet on campus, but to permit the Atheist Debaters Club to use the AV room. Of course, he’d also be in violation of the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment. So your point is what, exactly? That if you wave your hands hard enough we’ll buy the drunk-driver analogy?

  79. 79
    Robert says:

    I’ve stated my point as clearly as I can; no use in rehashing it.

  80. 80
    mythago says:

    I guess that’s a bit more elegant than “nananana can’t heeeeear youuuu”.

  81. 81
    mandolin says:

    “I guess that’s a bit more elegant than “nananana can’t heeeeear youuuu”.”

    It does seem like a lot of threads end with you saying, “What about this point which you’ve consistently failed to address throughout the entire thread?” and Robert saying, “That point? Uh… nevermind, I no longer wish to argue.”

    I like to interpret this as you winning.

  82. 82
    Bonnie says:

    RonF – Whatdaya think I’m six or something? Thanks I can read. I’m extremely busy right now. And mom’s retired. I’m not going to harrass her for information just to write up a disseration for you.

    Sorry, I’ve said this before on another thread here: Not everything in the world is as you believe /want it to be. No matter how strongly you hold said belief. Look up items in dispute for yourself.

  83. 83
    Sailorman says:

    Robert,

    you are wrong.

    the principal has wide authority to censor student speech. this is correct.

    HOWEVER, that authority has limits (drawn from a fairly lengthy set of Supreme and appellate court cases–fascinating stuff. I happened to do moot court on this and read way, way, more than i meant to on this particular topic.)

    If the principal oversteps her authority (the key word being “oversteps”) then she is acting without authority and her actions are invalid. They become just like any other invalid action–whether it’s ordering kids to hop on one foot for an hour, or whether it’s ordering the school to fall to their knees and pray to Jesus.

    It is similar to rules placed on police officers. Cops can make arrests. But if they overstep their authority to make an arrest (by ignoring facts, being motivated by forbidden factors, etc etc etc) then they have made a “false arrest.”

    In both cases (cops and principals) the courts have the ability to make a retrospective judgment of whether the rule was applied correctly. they tend to be fairly lenient on behalf of the rule maker. but that does not mean the rule maker has carte blanche to do what they want with all the authority of the school.

  84. 84
    mythago says:

    mandolin, proving to the audience that your witness simply refuses to answer the question is an old lawyer’s trick.

  85. 85
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Wouldn’t refusing to answer a specific question be obvious, though? You’d think juries would notice. He tried to make a comparison that didn’t pan out to everyone’s satisfaction as an answer to various questions regarding the rightness of the principal’s authority, but he did answer the question to the best of his views and ability. I don’t think that’s the same as avoiding the question all together.

  86. 86
    defenestrated says:

    I don’t think that’s the same as avoiding the question all together.

    But my purple bunnies are feeling awfully neglected :(

  87. 87
    Robert says:

    OK, if you insist on an answer.

    If the judgment of other people regarding the call is immaterial, then any student’s speech can be censored for any reason.

    The judgment of other people is quite material. The principal is part of a chain of authority. He’s subject to a superintendent, or a school board, or something along those lines. Those people in turn are subject to authority higher than they.

    What’s immaterial is the judgment of a bunch of folks on the Internet somewhere, mine included, other than in the exercise we each employ as voters. Sailorman is right that an authority figure who exceeds her bounds is acting without validity, but it’s generally not left to the general public to make that determination.

  88. 88
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Point taken, he did beat a hasty retreat after the rabbits made their appearance. At least let him leave with some semblance of dignity for a bit, though. Besides, I’m sure other views could keep the purple darlings company in another thread. Lee seems to have quite a few to spare, they could hop over and visit him.

  89. 89
    ArrogantWorm says:

    Oooh, I typed too soon. You know, Robert, I’ve got strong admiration and occasional awe of your tenacity. It’s an admirable trait, as is being able to concede a point without an overabundance of bad feelings.

  90. 90
    defenestrated says:

    What’s immaterial is the judgment of a bunch of folks on the Internet somewhere, mine included, other than in the exercise we each employ as voters. Sailorman is right that an authority figure who exceeds her bounds is acting without validity, but it’s generally not left to the general public to make that determination.

    OK, fair enough that our opinion is pretty immaterial :) But insofar as the principal was supposedly upholding “community standards,” I’m not sure what could be material aside from the general public’s opinion.

  91. 91
    defenestrated says:

    And ArrogantWorm, thank you for joining me in pretending that my purple bunnies exist :D

  92. 92
    ArrogantWorm says:

    >.>

    I’m not sure what could be material aside from the general public’s opinion.

    Perhaps he meant that the general public elects the people who elect the principal? Or that elected officials elect the principal. They’re all supposed to come from the community anyway, but then, we all know how often that can get skewed.

    Otherwise, we’d have to take a vote of the masses whenever someone disagreed with an official’s decision instead of running it through our check and balance system, and I imagine that would make it much more difficult and time consuming to process a decision on wether Principal was right or wrong by community standards. I suppose, by that conclusion, that technically the general public’s opinion doesn’t really matter, because we’re sacrificing our direct voice for a single one (or a set of single ones) to get a faster system.

  93. 93
    Robert says:

    I suppose, by that conclusion, that technically the general public’s opinion doesn’t really matter, because we’re sacrificing our direct voice for a single one (or a set of single ones) to get a faster system.

    Correct.

    Although I appreciate all kind words and thoughts, it’s not so much tenacity as bull-headedness. Which does come in handy in battles-of-wills with the kids.

  94. 94
    mandolin says:

    “mandolin, proving to the audience that your witness simply refuses to answer the question is an old lawyer’s trick. ”

    Well, I still appreciate it. :)

  95. 95
    mandolin says:

    “The judgment of other people is quite material. The principal is part of a chain of authority. He’s subject to a superintendent, or a school board, or something along those lines. Those people in turn are subject to authority higher than they.

    What’s immaterial is the judgment of a bunch of folks on the Internet somewhere, mine included, other than in the exercise we each employ as voters. Sailorman is right that an authority figure who exceeds her bounds is acting without validity, but it’s generally not left to the general public to make that determination. ”

    Insofar as we are not members of the immediate community, it’s true; the school board does not answer to us. However, they do answer to the local community.

    In a more broad sense, our debate is significant because, to the extent this decision was predicated on an assumption that it would be considered acceptable by the American public, the hue and cry protesting it is evidence that some people are not okay with such censorship even of high school students, and this may affect other similar decisions when they are made later.

  96. 96
    Sailorman says:

    Robert,

    If what you claim were true, the line of judicial cases would be irrelevant. To be more exact: if the only voice that mattered were the community as set through its local school board, there would be no need for judicial review at all: if the school board approved the principal’s action, it would be de facto application of community standards.

    The reality is that this is federal law; federal law tends to be fairly wide-reaching. As a result, “community” as used in that context reflects a much LARGER group than the incidental community that most laypeople mean when they say “my community” or “our community.”

    How large? I don’t know–it’s a complex area of law. But your definition of community, and your arguments supporting your position, are incorrect.

    For what it’s worth, you have a limited truth in your statements: EVENTUALLY, the community standards are reflected in the decisions, since we all (technically) have a say in the president, and the congress, who appoints the Supremes, who actually make the decisions. But that’s pretty far removed, and I don’t think that’s what your argument is based on.

  97. 97
    Sergio Méndez says:

    Is funny to see Robert so enthusiast about the dismantelation of the public school system on libertarian grounds..isn´t this the personn who so enthusiastically supports state owned priviledge to heterosexual married couples over all others?

  98. 98
    mythago says:

    Robert is kind of a libertarian, but he hasn’t kicked his addiction to stern-father hierarchy.

  99. 99
    Robert says:

    Sergio -

    I support the extension of the civil privileges of “marriage” to all adult unions (including polygamous and consensually incestuous ones). I support returning or giving the word “marriage” per se back to the church(es); you can be married in your church, under its private rules, and/or have your union(s) recognized by the state, under their public ones.

    I’m not sure where the stern-father hierarchy enters into this.

  100. 100
    mythago says:

    Oh, admit it, Robert, we’re all pretty casual here.