Thursday, March 17, 2016

Saint Patrick, pray for the activists.

March 14, 2016


Dear Diary,

In 2004, Guerrilla Girls On Tour! appeared at John Carroll University - a private, coeducational, Jesuit Catholic university located in University Heights, Ohio. Weeks before our show the University received emails protesting our booking, namely because we were pro-choice co-sponsors of the March For Women’s Lives held in Washington, D.C. the same year. John Carroll’s PR department decided that in order to quell the protests they would issue a statement, explaining to concerned students and citizens that Guerrilla Girls On Tour! is “wholesome and fun, with a decidedly Christian message.”

Guerrilla Girls On Tour’s mission is to advocate for equality and justice, two basic principles of Christianity. Our message, however, is that reproductive rights are human rights.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Church we are pro-choice and support Planned Parenthood.

So, what’s a Guerrilla Girl On Tour! to do when booked, twelve years later, at another Catholic University (Seton Hall) and, four days before you are to appear, discover that the University has “lost” your paperwork and demands you sign a brand new contract with new stipulations which are impossible to follow? (They wanted, among other things, for us to provide our own insurance in the amount of three million dollars and to list Seton Hall as an additional insured).

Was the University playing politics? Did they wish to censor Aphra Behn’s scheduled talk at Seton Hall entitled, “Act Like A Feminist Activist?” Was someone afraid of the “F” word?

Statue on campus of Seton Hall University 

Guerrilla Girl On Tour!, Aphra Behn’s talk, is about her early work as a member of the Guerrilla Girls. In 1997 Aphra led the GG’s foray into  addressing gender parity in theatre. The contents of Aphra’s talk would be deemed by any layperson, priest or nun to be anything but controversial.

Universities are supposedly institutions of free speech. Censorship is in direct opposition to the search for knowledge. What was going on at Seton Hall?

After summarizing and submitting the content of Aphra’s talk to the Dean she was able to proceed with her talk as scheduled The students and faculty who attended were open to ideas. During the Q and A one student asked if Guerrilla Girls On Tour! believed in LGBTQ rights. Yes!  Absolutely, we do. Another asked about transgender rights. Yes! Yes, again. Transgender people are discriminated against in all aspects of their lives and deserve equality on a range of issues.

In the end the Seton Hall talk was an eye opener. The search for knowledge continues, even in places with policies that attempt to thwart free speech. Our experiences as activists and artists and feminists teaches us that we are enriched as human beings by sharing our ideas. We are reminded that there are women and men on the front line of the fight for equality, working for the free and open exchange of concepts, even within the sacred walls of colleges and universities where ideas are supposed to flourish.

Yes, Guerrilla Girls On Tour! certainly are fun; some of us are even wholesome. Our message remains: the end of sexism will mark a more peaceful, just and equal world.