John Jay High School

Wasn’t it just International Women’s Day? Couldn’t we celebrate instead of attacking women?

Update: Contact phone number for John Jay High School in NY: 914 763-7200 Leave a message with the principal in support of the Megan Reback, Elan Stahl and Hannah Levinson.

I got a link to the censorship taking place at John Jay High School in the mail today. Seems women’s bodies are still dirty and unsuitable for children (er well, it’s okay if we give birth to them — lots of them in fact). It doesn’t matter that these girls defied the order not to say the word “VAGINA” — that order was Wrong. There is nothing wrong with what these three girls did, nothing at all. I’m glad to see support from the community, and how it’s crossing borders into Canada and soon will go beyond. Hopefully it will come from far and wide and this school’s admins will realize that rules like this try to make women feel ashamed of their bodies. I’m especially glad to read this quote from Dana Stahl, Elan Stahl’s mother, “To me, they were reciting literature in an educational forum and they did it with grace and dignity.” Way to go Elan!

I wonder if there are other words associated with women’s sexuality that are not allowed at this school? Like rape? Could you imagine a school where girls are not allowed to talk about rape? Scary scary — what we do not hear does not exist, right?

I’d like to see the principal apologize to these girls and the community and tell us that he does not think women are shameful, sexless, dirty and offensive. I’d like these girls to organize some mandatory workshops for staff about the importance of a healthy attitude towards women’s bodies and how this is directly linked to women’s position in society (i.e. the end of misogyny). The staff could get a special certification at the end of the workshop (which includes writing an essay on the topic) — maybe “Gynophile”? or how about this classic: “Teacher”? These workshops would be adapted for the students at the school too because they’ve all been told now that “vaginas” are a problem. I’m not looking forward to seeing how that plays out in their futures. What do you think Megan, Elan, and Hannah? Actiongirls would be happy to help!

Here is the entirety of principal’s statement. He’s insisting that the girls are not suspended because they said vagina but because they said vagina when they were told not to say vagina. This is sooo not cool. Mr. Leprine, really, it gets easier the more you say it. And as for kids hearing it — it wasn’t that long ago that they were sliding through their mothers’. They’ll be okay. Maybe even better than okay.

March 6, 2007

Dear John Jay Community Members:

I appreciate the concerns expressed by students and parents over the monologue issue that occurred last Friday night at the “Open Mic Night.”

John Jay High School recognizes and respects student freedom of expression in the context of the school setting. That right, however, is not unfettered, particularly when an activity or event is open to the general school community where it is expected that young children may be in attendance. The challenge is to balance the rights of student speakers and the sensitivities of the community. The School’s response to that challenge was to pre-audition the students before several faculty members for the “Open Mic Night” and to determine the suitability of the intended presentations for the audience. In many cases, younger siblings, often elementary age, attend these types of events. This event was also being videotaped for the local cable television channel.

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. When a student chooses not to follow the directive, consequences follow. The students did not receive consequences because of the content of the presentation.

There is a clear difference between putting on a production of a play such as “The Vagina Monologues” and an open performance at the microphone of an excerpt from the play before unsuspecting parents and their children. In the first case, the community would have been aware of the nature of the production and could have made an educated decision to attend or not to attend based upon that knowledge. In the case of the “Open Mic Night,” the community was invited with the expectation that the pieces presented would be appropriate for the general community, including younger children. Parents and community members did not have the ability to make an educated decision about the appropriateness of the content of the presentations for younger children.

There is also a clear difference between what is read and discussed in the classroom and what is presented in an activity open to the entire community. Our judgment was guided by the forum, the audience and the students’ commitment. Our decision was made in a considered, careful and thoughtful manner.

Rich Leprine,
Principal JJHS


7 Responses, Leave a Reply
  1. Julie
    09 March 2007, 11:43 am

    Ugh! I’m especially appalled by the principal’s insistence that “vaginas” are not suitable for the audience of young children. Perhaps if female children were exposed to something as celebratory as The Vagina Monologues, they wouldn’t grow up to consider what’s between their legs “private”, “unmentionable”, or “ugly”–as one of the monologues suggests. Perhaps male children would then grow up to see what’s between our legs as something so much more than an object to be conquered. Anyway I was always quasi-ashamed of my vagina and definitely whispered the word when I had to say it–that is in connection to yeast infections or pap smears–words that I also whispered. When I read the Vagina Monologues I was able to say the word with pride and more importantly, look at my own vagina with pride–not to mention begin a loving relationship with her. I remember reading the collection and having my grandmother and stepdad talk about modesty. I told them that was another word for shame. Anyway, this incident really inspires me to want to mount the Vag Monologues. Is anyone interested?

  2. Candace
    09 March 2007, 12:50 pm

    I’m glad things are better for you now. That play was a turning point for a lot of women – I know it was for me and it sounds like it was for you too.

    Did you want to do a piece for Cliterature? Actiongirls is still looking for submissions, with a show date tentatively in early April.

  3. Julie
    09 March 2007, 3:27 pm

    Sure. So I take it then that Cliterature isn’t only for original material? I’ll dig out my copy of the Monologues and send you a submission.

  4. Candace
    09 March 2007, 4:41 pm

    It’s for any material you want to contribute — 2d, 3d, theatre, poetry, music, etc. I’m thinking of doing a bloggy commentary on John Jay High School.

  5. Dirty Words « Sexpositive
    30 March 2007, 11:54 am

    […] I have to say that I agree with Femilicious here, when she says, […]

  6. Ryan
    20 March 2008, 8:57 pm

    Hmm. I’m a man, and I just ran across this on a weird, misdirected google search. I’d just like to say that I’ve always found it nonsensical that children are shielded from the exact nature of their private parts until they are ‘old enough to handle it’. I don’t have a vagina, so I have no experience with knowing what it’s like to think that it’s dirty or something to be ashamed of, but I’d have to agree with the sentiments of the women here that it might lead to less shame and embarassment and more celebration of the greatness of what it means to be homo sapiens sapiens (aka human beings) if such things were put out in the open.

  7. Christina
    05 February 2009, 1:01 am

    Ever notice how the word penis is constantly said on tv, but the word VAGINA is never said. Or at least nowhere nearly as much as penis is said. The word vagina, or the topic of vagina’s are almost never brought up on tv. There’s nothing dirty about the word vagina.

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