April 20, 2005

Filth Or Freedom

Is loving one's vagina grounds for being suspended or expelled from school? Apparently it is in Winona, Minnesota. It seems that two students at Winona High School saw The Vagina Monologues, and wore buttons to school that read "I [heart] My Vagina".

Two Winona High School students have found themselves in hot water with school officials.

Why? Because after Carrie Rethlefsen attended a performance of the play "The Vagina Monologues" last month, she and Emily Nixon wore buttons to school that read: "I [heart] My Vagina."

School leaders said that the pin is inappropriate and that the discomfort it causes trumps the girls' right to free speech. The girls disagree. And despite repeated threats of suspension and expulsion, Rethlefsen has continued to wear her button.

The girls have won support from other students and community members.

More than 100 students have ordered T-shirts bearing "I [heart] My Vagina" for girls and "I Support Your Vagina" for boys.

"We can't really find out what is inappropriate about it," Rethlefsen, 18, said of the button she wears to raise awareness about women's issues. "I don't think banning things like that is appropriate."


I'll tell you, I have some mixed emotions here. There is clearly some redeeming content here, designed to address an "Important Issue" in society. I don't particularly want to see that stifled. Given that we are dealing with high school students, it isn't like they are unfamiliar with what a vagina is, nor with the issues in question. So while I wish the girls would find a different way to address the women's issues (after all, one act in the play glorifies the sexual abuse of a young girl by a lesbian babysitter who plies her with alcohol) I don't find the button that disruptive. I think the school administrators have likely made a serious mistake in their handling of the situation.

The buttons were not disruptive, it seems, until spotted by a secretary. Later, one teacher appears to have completely over-reacted.

Rethlefsen said school officials first told her the button was inappropriate in mid-March when a school secretary spotted it. That started a string of visits -- and debates -- with teachers, counselors, an assistant principal and the principal. A teacher barred Rethlefsen from her classroom as long as she wore her button.

"The principal said that by wearing the pin, I was giving people wrong ideas," Rethlefsen said. "That I was giving an open invitation [to guys]."

The girls said they tried to explain that the buttons are meant to spark discussion about violence against women, about women's rights. But Principal Nancy Wondrasch said others find the buttons offensive.

"We support free speech," she said. "But when it does infringe on other people's rights and our school policies, then we need to take a look at that."

Wondrasch said she thought they had worked out a compromise with the girls, allowing them to set up a table in the school to discuss women's issues. But Rethlefsen said school officials are insisting that they review and approve any information the girls want to present.

And then comes the issue of the shirts that the girls have ordered. Again, that is political speech that is protected. Here is where the school has gotten particularly heavy-handed, even more that with the prior approval requirement for the information table, which doesn't strike me as particularly unreasonable except for the circumstances that led up to that "compromise".

Nixon said more than 100 students are expected to wear the shirts. She added that officials have threatened real consequences if that happens.

"They told us that if a single person showed up wearing them, we're going to get expelled," she said. "People are going to wear them anyway."

And these shirts are where I could see a problem arising -- actually the same problem that might have been feared by those who objected to the buttons. What happens when the first satirist shows up wearing a shirt that says "I [heart] My Penis"? What about "My Penis [hearts] Your Vagina"? The whole thing has the potential to spiral out of control. Do we want various and sundry vaginas and penises, each with a different message, wandering the hallways of the high school? Is the decision of the school administration really all that unreasonable?

Frankly, I'm not sure. On the one hand, I applaud the girls in question and their supporters for dealing seriously with a serious issue. On the other, I see the potential difficulties. I am, without question, loathe to see prior restraint based upon a mere hypothetical. And I don't see how or where a bright line can be drawn between supporting the constitutional rights of students and lat the same time letting them know when they have crossed a line. If anything, this case is much more difficult than the Day of Silence/Day of Truth conflict I wrote about over the weekend.

Still, in the end I have to side with the "Vagina Warriors". They seem to have learned their lessons well when it comes to exercising their civil rights. Here's hoping they have learned to do so responsibly and respectfully.

UPDATE: Well, today was t-shirt day in Winona. About 40 kids wore the shirts -- turned inside out -- and two wore them right-side-out. The two girls were suspended.

After all the radio interviews, after all the newspaper stories and television stories and hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, Carrie Rethlefsen ended her lesson in free speech and democracy today by doing a simple thing:

She walked into school with her "I [heart] My Vagina" T-shirt's message in plain sight. About 40 classmates had walked in just seconds before after turning their T-shirts inside out.

And, minutes later, she emerged with another lesson learned. The administrators at Winona Senior High School mean what they say. They sent her home for the day.

"I'm happy," said Rethlefsen, 18. "I got my message out there."

Also sent home was senior Katelyn Delvaux.

Congratulations, girls, for standing up for freedom of speech in schools.

» Zero Intelligence links with: Vagina Monologue buttons forbidden at Minnesota school

|| Greg, 10:57 PM || Permalink || Comments (3) || Comments

Comments on Filth Or Freedom

I totally agree with your conclusion. The key is what you said, "political speech". They have chosen a politically correct way to express their views. Also I do not have a problem with boys wearing "My penis hearts your vagina" t-shirts. It's true, we all know it's true, why are we always so afraid of hearing the honest truth? We as a culture have a weird relationship with sex. The great majority of us like it, our media outlets go nuts with it and yet we try to stifle one another when it comes to talking about it OPENLY and HONESTLY...why??????????

Laura H.

|| Posted by Laura Harmon, April 21, 2005 08:30 AM ||

Responsibly and respectfully, indeed. Now, imagine the The Vagina Monologues done in sign language.

|| Posted by mcconnell, April 21, 2005 11:04 PM ||

Sometimes I wonder if there is traumatic amnesia surrounding adolescence for most adults. It's clear that most adults in positions of authority have absolutely no sense of humor or proportion. No, strike that. Adults in positions of authority who have no sense of humor end up in the news after a stunt like this.

Yes, it's a serious point being made. It happens to be one I agree with (revealing bias) but just for the sake of argument - let's say that someone came to school with a shirt saying "Christian Identity is Half Right".

Would it be better to freak out at such an "obviously" racist shirt - or allow the wearer to take the lumps God gave them the horse-sense to expect? Perhaps there's a third way - like asking them what reaction they were hoping to provoke by it, and therefore discovering the real issue.

Broadening the context of an issue that has been relegated to "taboo, do not speak of this, it's tacky" when there are issues that arise on a daily basis simply because they are NEVER discussed is vital. If it isn't handled appropriately by adults , the problem simply continues.

This is now mission-critical to schools, parents and society alike; you see, simply refusing to discuss an issue no longer suffices. The information is available to any child who has access to the Internet. And they do. If you or your school filters content, libraries do not. And very likely their OWN computer does not - even if you think it does.

Especially if you are sure it does, in direct correspondence to how serious you are about protecting their "innocence."

I attended Catholic parochial schools. There may have been physical virgins there, but by 7th grade , I think I was the closest thing to an "innocent."

Now; an example from my own life. I was sent to a Jesuit boarding school in 9th grade.

There, I was forced to learn Latin. I came to appreciate Latin in time, but it seemed even more of an imposition than religion class then. So, in cahoots with others in my class, a phrase appeared on the board:


Fr. Cletus walked in, saw it, snorted, and erased it, commenting only that we seemed to have mastered the proper tenses and declensions.

In other words, he took it as seriously as the matter it deserved. The essence, of course, was not to say "penis," it was to see what a Jesuit teacher would do when the word "penis" appeared in a properly constructed sentence.

There is a deeper and more important issue here; and that is this; adolescents test adults all the time. Adults often see this as disrespect for their authority, or defiance, per se, rather than the consequence of failing the test.

The girls said they tried to explain that the buttons are meant to spark discussion about violence against women, about women's rights. But Principal Nancy Wondrasch said others find the buttons offensive.

"We support free speech," she said. "But when it does infringe on other people's rights and our school policies, then we need to take a look at that."

Wondrasch said she thought they had worked out a compromise with the girls, allowing them to set up a table in the school to discuss women's issues. But Rethlefsen said school officials are insisting that they review and approve any information the girls want to present.

They think this is a solution. And the girls in question know that the principle and teacher think this is a reasonable "compromise."

That does not mean that the girls will not discuss vaginae, women's issues, or bore/stroke compatibility factors in terms that would make a stevedore faint. They will discuss them, and probably on a more committed and expanded level, using this experience as the classic example that it is.

In order to avoid "offending" people (who really should be offended in a useful way), or dealing with the issue as a "pass-fail" test to see if they were "cool" enough to be trusted with serious issues, this school has pretty much established that the first time they will ever hear about an "issue" is when it's already beyond the point where it can be dealt with.

Worse yet, I'd say that is likely the most reasonable way for adolescents to deal with authority of this type. Network around it when possible, when not possible, provoke them into actions that will get them either fired or promoted.

This was the norm when I was in junior high and high school. If such an "issue" came up in front of a teacher or administrator, it was almost always a test. The good ones passed, the bad ones flunked. In no way was the "pass" dependent upon their approval or disapproval of the issue itself, it was based on their reaction to having to deal with it at all.

"Question Authority - Answers will count for 80% of your grade."

|| Posted by Bob King, April 26, 2005 09:41 AM ||
Post a comment

Remember personal info?



» Zero Intelligence links with: Vagina Monologue buttons forbidden at Minnesota school

Winner - 2014 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards
Winner - 2014 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Winner - 2013 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Winner - 2012 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Winner - 2011 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Winner - 2010 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Winner - 2009 Fabulous 50 Blog Awards

Posts by Category

Announcements (posts: 13)
Blogging (posts: 187)
Border Issues & Immigration (posts: 421)
deferred (posts: 4)
Education (posts: 685)
Entertainment & Sports (posts: 483)
Guns & Gun Control (posts: 65)
History (posts: 329)
Humor (posts: 88)
Israel/Middle East (posts: 44)
Medical News (posts: 54)
Military (posts: 273)
News (posts: 1570)
Paid Advertising (posts: 234)
Personal (posts: 108)
Politics (posts: 5261)
Race & Racism (posts: 281)
Religion (posts: 819)
Terrorism (posts: 884)
Texas GOP Platform Reform Project (posts: 4)
The Courts (posts: 310)
Watcher's Council (posts: 482)
World Affairs (posts: 345)


January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
December 0000



Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Powered By

Powered by
Movable Type 2.64

Administrative Stuff

Email Me
Syndicate this site (XML)

Advertising Disclosure


About Me

NAME: Greg
AGE: 50-ish
SEX: Male
OCCUPATION: Social Studies Teacher
LOCATION: Seabrook, TX
DISCLAIMER: All posts reflect my views alone, and not the view of my wife, my dogs, my employer, or anyone else. All comments reflect the view of the commenter, and permitting a comment to remain on this site in no way indicates my support for the ideas expressed in the comment.

Search This Site

Support This Site

Recent Entries

Who Is Regan Theiler And Why Was She Allowed To Spend Public Funds On A Sole Source Contract For Her Part-Time Employer?
Not My Idea Of A Stimulating Evening
About Trump's Liberty University Speech
Do Not Place The Secessionist "Texas Independence" Measure On The 2016 Republican Primary Ballot
Conservatives Vs. Liberal On Those Engaged In Violent Political Activity
Tom Mechler Makes His Case Against Moving The 2016 RPT Convention
Jared Woodfill Makes His Case For Moving The 2016 RPT Convention
Questions About Moving The 2016 RPT Convention
Reject The Call To Move 2016 Republican Party Of Texas Convention
It Is Too Bad That Political Parties Cannot Reject Voters Who Seek To Join, Stop Would-Be Candidates Who Want To Run


Watchers Council
  • Ask Marion
  • Bookworm Room
  • The Colossus of Rhodey
  • The Glittering Eye
  • GrEaT sAtAn"S gIrLfRiEnD
  • The Independent Sentinel
  • JoshuaPundit
  • Liberty's Spirit
  • New Zeal
  • Nice Deb
  • The Noisy Room
  • The Razor
  • Rhymes With Right
  • The Right Planet
  • Simply Jews
  • Virginia Right!
  • Watcher Of Weasels

  • Political & Religious Blogs