Minnesota high school student’s “vagina button” leads to free-speech stir

The button Carrie Rethlefsen purchased at a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” in March bore a simple phrase – “I (Heart) My Vagina” – with a big message.

“It’s meant to raise awareness” about violence against women and women’s rights, the 18-year-old Winona High School senior said. “And to get people to discuss things.”

School officials responded simply: Take off the button.

And that has unleashed a big uproar in Winona, Minn.

School officials told Rethlefsen she wasn’t allowed to wear the button, saying it was offensive and not appropriate for school.

“They told me that even if it’s not meant to be sexual, people are going to take it as a sexual thing and that’s going to give people the wrong ideas,” Rethlefsen said.

But she disagreed, arguing that by forcing her to take off the button, school officials would be contributing to the cause Rethlefsen was railing against.

“By tabooing words in school-like vagina-it gives the wrong message to people because it’s basically saying it’s not an appropriate term and it still makes vagina a dirty word, which is how people view it.”

Although the local media reported that she was threatened with suspension and explusion, Winona High School Principal Nancy Wondrasch said school officials never disciplined Rethlefsen.