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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Adolescent Culture

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 5, 2004

"Yeah, I cunt stand it, joked a passing student yesterday about the myriad signs promoting the "cuntageous" Vagina Monologues, which opened March 4. The performance has come to St. Olaf for the third time to infuse the campus with frank discussions on female sexuality and body acceptance. But does St. Olaf really need this stimulation, or is it over the top?

St. Olaf students live in interesting times and face provocative cultural issues. The recent Super Bowl scandal involving Janet Jackson's nipple caused a media storm, which focused on her nudity -- not the overt sexuality of the entire half-time show. Associate Theatre Professor and Director of Media Studies Bill Sonnega said of the incident, "We watched it [the half-time show] in my media studies class, and what was interesting is that the students focused not on [Jackson], but on the choreography of Kid Rock."

Sonnega also marveled at how the focus of the issue became a breast, rather than how the breast was revealed. In the show, Justin Timberlake reached across and ripped Jackson's bodice off, which was "clearly an act of male aggression," Sonnega said, "if not an act of rape." Some men in his class rolled their eyes at this comment, said Sonnega, "as if such an interpretation is pushing the boundaries of a meaningful analysis."

It makes a strong statement about gendered sexuality when it's more of a problem to have female nudity than to have male aggression. "Sexuality is the key component to our self-understanding," said Associate Family Studies Professor George Holt. People on campus seem to be torn on the issue, essentially saying that, while St. Olaf reflects national trends, it does not necessarily follow them.

"If sex was like the media says it is, there would be no intimacy," said College Pastor Bruce Benson. "I think the better part of us knows that orgasm is just the tip of the iceberg. The exposure and connection & to another person is what we're really seeking. And there is no way to talk flippantly about that part of sexuality....We don't know how to talk about sex and intimacy, so we'll talk about cleavage, or learn to say "cunt" and think we're with it.

Conversations about sexual issues change in a public context. "There's a tendency to be casual about things that are serious, like pornography," Associate Pastor Jennifer Koenig Anderson said, specifically in reference to the way the Messenger's Sex Column talked about the issue. There is a naïveté about that, which, especially at this age, needs to drop away.

Part of the St. Olaf curriculum is designed to move students past such naïveté. Holt, who teaches a class on human sexuality, said that, "Sexuality is value-laden, and sex is not. Sex is just a physical dimension of who we are. Sometimes our rhetoric is too much about sex and not enough about sexuality."

A perception exists that female sexuality is easier to talk about than men's. "I feel like men are slightly suppressed in sexuality," Annie Olson `04 said. "[An ex-boyfriend] once said that he didn't know how he was supposed to act, because there were no role models for strong men who supported women."

Olson helped direct and is performing in the Vagina Monologues with Rachel Dixon `05. "I don't think [the Vagina Monologues] is a girl thing," Dixon said. "It reflects how open the campus is [to sexuality], but I think there is an inequality on campus. Females seem to feel more able to discuss issues & the dialogue seems to be between women, about women."

Dissent and skepticism is also expressed on campus. "The Vagina Monologues is okay just because it is pop culture, Seth McNaughton `04. He went on to say that sexuality as a whole is repressed on campus, and is only acceptable when it comes from off the Hill.

Nolan Hunt `07 expressed his unease with the Vagina Monologues as well, but as a forum focused on blatant sexuality. "I feel weird about going to the Vagina Monologues, because what do people think if I want to go to something called that?" He added, "I think I would still be uncomfortable no matter what the genitalia was."

Anthony Haugen `04 related the Vagina Monologues to femininity discussions in general. As a gay man, he often feels left out of the conversation. "I feel like if you're not a girl you shouldn't be discussing it at all," he said. "But on the other hand, I don't know if I want to be involved, either."

There are more women on campus than men, which is about 56 percent female and 44 percent male. Yet studies have shown that, even here, women speak up in class less than men. The situation is paradoxical at best, and is reflected in how St. Olaf talks about sex and sexuality. It is also reflected in the reactions to the Vagina Monologues.

"I don't know why [the Vagina Monologues] feel safe here," Associate Professor of English Karen Cherewatuk said. "Whereas my female students have a hard time speaking out in class. These women have a tendency to enter the conversation only when it's really safe."

"Especially on this campus, everyone is afraid to talk about [sex] because they don't know how," Jason Vogen `04 said. "[Sex] is a taboo subject for half of the campus, and the other half is the most comfortable with it and think its funny and that everyone should do it."

Of course, at St. Olaf, no discussion would be complete unless we consulted the non-secular concerns. "Religion generally enters the dialogue [about sex] in the form of prohibitions," Benson said. "I'm still looking for more conversation about how religion looks to find in the other a child of God, a spirituality, a connection... and not whether oral sex is okay with God or not."

St. Olaf, for all its forums, still has more talking to do. "The campus has a feeling of modesty," said Olson. "There is a conservative atmosphere, though most people are not conservative politically."

To whatever degree it occurs, however, progress is made in acknowledging sexuality at all. "Talking about [sex] is better than not talking about it, but [the general discussion] is not at its most fruitful & [it's] the most titillating, but it is not [getting] at the most meaningful part, Benson said.

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