A high school’s hosting of a controversial play focused on female anatomy is drawing fire from local residents.

Students and staff at Amherst Regional High School in Amherst, Mass., will perform Eve Ensler’s ”The Vagina Monologues” on their campus this Saturday to culminate a week of related events.

Eve Ensler

The organizers say the purpose is to draw attention to violence against women and girls, but John R. Diggs, a local physician and international speaker on youth and sex-related issues, says the event has the potential to damage “the culture of the school.”

“Even students who do not attend the performance are altered by the tone and content of conversations that follow,” he wrote in an open letter to school officials.

“How can we complain if a student makes a comment about a girl’s genitals after the precedent was set by a school play, under the aegis of a superintendent, principal and teachers?” he asked. “The aftermath of this may become legally actionable.”

The play’s monologues and discussions, based on interviews with more than 200 women, often evoke graphic images.

“The producers of this play are objectifying women in full view of our children,” Diggs wrote. “Further, the wholeness of woman is ignored, and the completeness of her humanity is caricatured into a single anatomical structure; one without a brain, emotion, or moral standing. This is much like the vocational viewpoint of a pornographer. Sexual violence against women is the result of them being discarded like objects.”

Preoccupation with sex and objectification of the human body are two key prerequisites for sexual assault, he said, noting statistics. The Department of Justice determined 19,000 sexual assaults occurred on school property across the country in 1999, with the majority of victims females.

In December, members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee and Superintendent Jere Hochman “gave their blessing” to the organizers to put on the Ensler performance, reported the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Mass.

”We hope that there are ways for our students to find their voice in their years with us,” Hochman said, according to the paper.

One student told the school committee she thinks the play can help women and girls learn how to talk about their bodies and their emotions.

”You don’t know how to articulate what you’re feeling,” said Kristin Tyler, according to the Gazette. ”I needed something to say and I didn’t know how to say it.”

Planned events this week include art displays, films, an open mic, debates and focus groups during school hours on topics such as violence against women; female reproductive rights; date rape; women and AIDS; and men and violence.

Also, the school will hold the “Clothesline Project,” a display with decorated T-shirts meant to convey women’s experiences with violence.

The events will culiminate with a performance of ”The Vagina Monologues” Saturday. On that day, the Gazette said, the high school will join college and community groups around the world in performing the play.

In his letter, Diggs said he would have thought the local school system “in particular would be sensitive to intentional erotization of the high school environment in light of the dismissal of a recent principal and a sports coach within the last three years for reasons with sexual overtones.”

He noted Amherst schools barred the showing of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” a musical, he said, “that features ethnic minorities in major roles, and deals sensitively with true love, overcoming prejudices, and standing courageously against bigoted mobs.”

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