New Book Explores Religion, Sexual Ethics
A new book co-edited by Alma College’s Kate Blanchard explores the complicated relationship between religion and sexual ethics.
Lady Parts: Biblical Women and The Vagina Monologues contains written monologues by a variety of authors, including six former Alma College students, who imagine how women in the Bible would tell their stories if they were prompted by The Vagina Monologues.
Blanchard, associate professor of religious studies, co-edited the book with Jane S. Webster of Barton College in North Carolina.
“When Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, came to speak on campus in 2008, I found her surprisingly inspiring,” Blanchard says. “I also was moved by a student production of the play. Not long after that, I became aware of a number of Catholic colleges that had banned students from producing TVM on their campuses, because the view of sexuality in the play was not ‘biblical.’”
Blanchard started thinking about what kind of sexual ethics do appear in the Bible. In 2010, she gathered a group of religious studies and women’s and gender studies majors for an independent study on feminist biblical interpretation. Each student wrote a research paper about one biblical woman of her choice, such as Eve, Jael or Prisca. They also wrote creative monologues, which were performed on campus, she says.
“Since I am not a biblical specialist by training, my contributing students really impressed and inspired me with their research and their creativity,” she says. “They learned a great deal about the biblical characters they studied, and they also put a lot of themselves into the monologues. That process wasn't always easy, because topics like rape, incest or abuse can be quite emotional.”
Another challenge of this project was to strike a balance between personal authenticity and faithfulness to the text itself, says Blanchard.
“Despite being a sacred text for many people, the Bible really does bear the terrible marks of ancient near-Eastern sexism and misogyny,” she says. “It also seems to condone horrific violence against women, so anyone who seeks to get something out of the Bible today really needs to wrestle with that reality. That said, biblical stories can sometimes be quite comical, and some of our monologues demonstrate a dark sense of humor.”
Dolly Van Fossan, a 2011 Alma graduate who contributed the “Eve” monologue to the book, says she still thinks it is incredible that this project, once a fun idea tossed around the classroom, has turned into a tangible reality that can be purchased on Amazon.com.
“I saw this project as an opportunity not only to express my creativity and spirit as a writer, but also to protest sexism, homophobia and other oppressions that are frequently perpetuated by traditional interpretations of the Bible,” she says.
In addition to contributing to readings of sacred texts that are more just and helpful to women, Blanchard says she hopes Lady Parts helps further the mission of V-Day, a nonprofit organization founded by Eve Ensler that works to end global violence against women and girls.
Posted: Wed, January 23rd, 2013 at 1:25PM