A surprising amount of my time last week was spent thinking about vaginas. In part, this was because I had plans to attend the Friday night show of The Vagina Monologues on my campus. It’s always a great show, and this year, one of my students was directing it. During the course of the week, however, a former student of mine also posted a news story about the use of the word vagina on my Facebook wall. All of this led to me reflecting a lot of people’s comfort and discomfort with this word.
The Vagina Monologues does address people’s comfort, or lack there of, with vaginas (or vulvas – although the way the two terms are conflated is a topic for another post) and women’s sexuality. My focus was a bit different. I was thinking about the word vagina itself….
In the late 1990s, when I was a senior in college, I had the wonderful opportunity to see Eve Ensler perform The Vagina Monologues as a one woman show on my campus as part of the dedication celebration for the newly funded Women’s Studies chair which would allow for the formal creation of a Women’s Studies major. Since I was one of the students most involved with the program, I was given one of the few tickets for students.
Since so few students attended the show, Sunday brunch conversation the next day largely consisted of a discussion of The Vagina Monologues over dining hall french toast sticks. One of my friends was very uncomfortable with the conversation because I was consistently using the word vagina “in mixed company”. I try to be respectful of others’ limits, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how to talk about this show without using the word vagina. Plus, it’s not a slang or pejorative term – it’s a formal anatomical name for a body part.
Given that The Vagina Monologues were part of my plans for the week, this experience immediately came to mind when my former students shared a Jezebel.com post about a tenth grade science teacher facing investigation and possible disciplinary action for using the word vagina in an anatomy lesson. Seriously? Once again, this is a formal biological term for a body part. Yes, it’s a body part associated with sex and reproduction, but we need to be able to use these words.
When I teach Psychology of Women and get to development, reproduction, and women’s health, I typically have to spend a few minutes just saying vagina repeatedly until the giggles stop, the discomfort dies down, and we can actually move on with the content of the class. Yes, words have power – but we don’t get like this about the words knee or forehead. People run around in “Save the Ta-Tas” t-shirts. Why can’t we say vagina?
One of the fundraisers the students staging The Vagina Monologues did this year was to sell buttons that say “I ♥ My Vagina”. Yes, we should love our vaginas and the vaginas of our consensual sexual partners. I also think we should love the word vagina. Let’s stop being scared of this one. Don’t shush people if they say it in public. Don’t try to come up with covert ways of referring to vaginas without using this word. Just say vagina.
Vagina. Vagina, vagina, vagina. Va-gin-a.
Give me a V, give me an A, give me a G, give me an I, give me an N, give me an A. What’s that spell? VAGINA!
Come on – say it with me: Vagina!
Be loud. Be proud. Love and respect vaginas, but also embrace the word. Some words need to be normalized. It astounds and saddens me that this has not yet happened with vagina. Let’s change that starting today.