A message from my vagina
Ever since Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was silenced for saying ‘vagina’ while arguing against proposed anti-abortion bill two weeks ago, I’ve wanted to write an angry blog post.
In response to House Bill 5711 (which would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, even when rape is involved, unless doctors can prove the mother’s life is in danger) Brown said: “Mr Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’” Which the Republicans found so offensive they had her banned from speaking in parliament the next day.
I thought that perhaps the moment had passed for my rant but the support for Brown has continued to grow, much to my delight, and on June 18th Brown performed the play “The Vagina Monologues” (with its writer Eve Ensler) in front of thousands of supporters on the steps of Michigan Statehouse.
In fact, by silencing Brown the republicans seem to have opened up a whole can of vaginas. So I’m going to jump on the band wagon and share my thoughts.
First of all, I think it’s great that Brown is trying to stop men regulating women’s reproductive systems. But this blog isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that the men who want to force women into having babies they may not be able to support, can’t even utter the word ‘vagina’ (at least not without their face screwed up in disgust).
At the time Republican Representative Mike Callton was reported saying “It was so offensive I don’t even want to say it in front of women,” on Brown’s ‘vagina’ usage.
Really? You think that women might be offended by hearing the medical term for something they use every day? The most worrying thing is that he is insinuating ‘vagina’ is an offensive, and therefore negative, term. I’m sorry Senator Callton, what have vaginas ever done to you – except bring you into this world, of course?
Unfortunately while I’m outraged, I’m not all that surprised. The problem may be a lot worse in the states, but I do see people getting a little squeamish around the V word even here at home. I apologise for being crass, but I have encountered plenty of young men who want to stick things in my private parts but not say the name of said parts out loud.
Even some women aren’t OK with the word. I’ve never been coy when it comes to language and I’m often accused of having a filthy mouth for saying ‘vagina’, ‘masturbation’, ‘sperm’ or ‘uterus’. All of which I don’t find offensive seeing as they’re descriptive medical terms for very ordinary things. What’s the big deal?
Famed feminist author Naomi Wolf is releasing a book this year called Vagina: The New Biography that promises to “reframe how we understand the vagina – and how, consequently, we understand women – Naomi Wolf makes the case that the vagina is so much more than a sex organ, it is integral to female wellbeing, and a catalyst to female creativity, confidence, identity and wellbeing.”
I’m looking forward to reading it, because I think vagina-love is something all women need. It’s only recently that I’ve become comfortable with my own vagina – how it looked, smelled and behaved – and feel much more self-assured and sexy as a result.
But beyond being squeamish about the actual vagina, what I’m trying to work out is exactly why the word is so uncomfortable for people, particularly compared to the word penis. Is it the word itself, or what it represents?
I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that so much more can go wrong with vaginas. Whenever you’re watching a medical TV show, there are terms like vaginal prolapse, discharge and tearing being thrown around. And all those ads where women wee themselves when they laugh? It’s pretty scary. But then again, it’s the centre of all life (not Voldamort), so should we really be afraid of its name?
I asked my boyfriend, who I think is quite an open-minded, lady-part embracing man, why he thought people still struggle with the word. “Because it’s a big mystery – we don’t know what happens down there,” he said. Sigh.
Unsatisfied with the answer, I asked our Chief Sub-Editor Nick Hadley (the only man in our office and someone who knows a lot about words) what he thought, and he had a few more insights. “There’s no reasonable middle ground, you say the ‘C word’ and sound derogatory or at the other end of the spectrum you sound sleazy. Vagina sounds so formal. I think va-jay-jay was an attempt to normalise the word, but that sounded like a joke.”
This is a good point, but maybe if we started using the word in less scary ways a little more often (more “You make my vagina really satisfied” and less “Vaginal cleaning products”) it would become more normal.
Perhaps we just need more sex education from a young age. If I ever have a son and he comes out of school not knowing where the clitoris is or cringing at the word vagina, I’ll be complaining.
What do you think, do you find the word vagina offensive? Do you think it’s bad that Brown was banned from speaking in parliament because she said the word? Do you think ‘penis’ is more acceptable? Why are men still so scared of our vaginas?
Fiona MacDonald is filling in as a features writer while Clair Weaver is on maternity leave