Last night, my friend Krista brought an interesting news item from our alma mater to my attention. It seems that, during a parade, a Carnegie Mellon student dressed up as the Pope and handed out condoms. If that were the end of the story, then I’d probably say, “Yes, I can see how that’s offensive, but I can also see how that protests the fact that the Catholic church has such a backwards view on birth control.”
But the story didn’t end there.
You see, the young woman was dressed as the Pope… from the waist up. She was naked from the waist down, and she had shaved her pubic hair into the shape of a cross.
Krista started a petition (now closed) asking Carnegie Mellon to respect the diversity of its students, issue an apology, and create a forum for the university community to discuss religious tolerance.
I thought a long time about whether or not to sign it. Then, I decided I would sign it. But as I sat there trying to type why the issue was important to me in that little box that Change.org provides, I couldn’t come up with a concise reason.
Thus, this blog post was born.
As a liberal, I like freedom of speech and expression, a lot. Even though freedom of speech and expression don’t legally apply in this case, as CMU is a private institution, I want them to. I want to live in a society where these freedoms exist relatively all the time. I thought, what was it about this incident that offended me so much? Because it does offend me. I used to be Catholic, and, although I don’t attend church, I do consider myself to be Christian. Was it just my Christian sensibilities that were offended? Should I lighten up?
The young woman shaved her pubic hair into the shape of a cross. That was the part of it that offended me. Sure, you could make a case that she was signifying that the Church wants to own our vaginas. But, more likely, she was trying to offend people.
So I decided to change the scenario.
What if she had been dressed in a hijab, and had shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a crescent and star or, again, a cross (perhaps commenting on what she believed Muslims think of Christianity)? What if she had dressed like a Nazi, and shaved her pubic hair in the shape of swastika? (I came up with that before I read the news article, by the way.) What if she wore pants, but airbrushed herself black, and had painted “n-gger” across her naked breasts? You would have the Muslim, Jewish, and Black communities, respectively, in an uproar. But because the symbol she used was a cross, the symbol of the world’s largest religion, somehow that’s OK? It’s funny?
I don’t think it is. I think this woman disrespected, not just the Catholic church, but all Christians, when she decided, “Hey, wouldn’t it be kind of cool to shave my pubic hair into a cross?”
Furthermore, if the university takes no action, it’s opening the door to allowing and condoning behavior that is even worse.
CMU’s President Jared Cohon did apologize, and state that the university is “investigating the matter and following our procedures to determine if disciplinary action is warranted.” I hope they find that they have. I have to imagine that they will, if for no other reason than the young woman violated laws about public nudity. Cohon also stated that, “This act was highly offensive.” So, at least he acknowledges that.
My regret is that I didn’t sign the petition last night, because I wanted to write this blog post first. I wanted to copy and paste the URL into the little box on Change.org. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to do that, and to stand (metaphorically speaking) with Krista, our mutual friend Jenn, and the others who signed the petition before it was closed.