Hey, Guys? VAGINA.
This is an embarrassing story, but I’m going to tell it anyway.
When I was a little kid, under the age of five, my mom taught me the words vagina and penis. She explained that boys were different than girls. This is something that parents teach their children, right? Except I took it to an extreme, as possibly only I am wont to do. You see, when out in various public places, I would march up to a human being (gender irrelevant) and ask them if they had a penis or a vagina. I should also point out that I was not a very meek or quiet child, that often there were male relatives with me, and that it was probably really difficult to keep a straight face.
My mother, being the wise woman that she is, didn’t want to discourage a) my curiosity and b) my use of the proper anatomical terms. There was no baby talk in my house. We didn’t refer to peeing as ‘making’ or penis as ‘wee wee.’ Things were called what they were/are. There were no ‘owies’ or boo-boos. There was, “I skinned my knee!” There was, “I fell on my head again!” There were perfectly accurate descriptions and descriptors.
So, as a five year old (it may have been a slightly different age, but I can’t say for sure), I knew the correct word for anatomical parts. Sure, it was embarrassing to have this tiny curly-haired brunette skipping up to people and asking perfect strangers what’s in their pants. But my parents NEVER once told me to hush or shamed me for using the correct words.
You can imagine my shock and dismay at THIS. Long story short: Lisa Brown, a female House rep in the state of Michigan, has been barred from speaking on the floor. You see, she was lobbying for medically necessary abortions (when the life of the mother is at stake), which is supported by her Jewish religion. She, boldly and awesome, asserted that she wasn’t asking anyone else to adhere to her religion, so why would her rights be curtailed by the religion of others’?
What actually got her in trouble, so to speak, was this statement: And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’
After that remark, she was kept from speaking about a bill on retirement of school employees. The speaker of the house cited that what she said (abovementioned) was so offensive that he wouldn’t even speak about it “in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Now, forgetting the fact that what Lisa Brown said has NO bearing on the retirement bill – what, exactly, was so offensive about her statement?
Are we REALLY afraid of the word *whispers* vagina? We do realize that this isn’t Candyman. If you place your hand on the bathroom mirror at midnight and whisper vagina, one will not appear and devour you. This is not a childhood horror story. This is not a character in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. This is a medical term. It’s no different than meniscus. Or kidney.
Here’s what the incident tells me: first amendments rights seems suddenly, erroneously dependent on one’s audience. Say the supposed wrong thing, and you’ll be silenced. Lobby for what you believe in regarding one issue – and you will be cut off from speaking on the rest of the issues. It also tells me that we have seriously odd issue regarding the body. There is nothing about Brown’s statement that isn’t fit for the mixed company of adults. And last time I checked, grownups run the government. In theory. (Where is Mark Twain when we need him? Oh, wait. Here – “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”)
I don’t understand the fear-worship that seems so pervasive, lately. Saying the word vagina or penis or testicle isn’t offensive, given the context. Sure, calling something a penis *might* be offensive, but that’s irrelevant. We are a country of freedoms and opinions. We are a country where we’re taught to say things as honestly as possible. In middle school health class, we’re taught about anatomy, tampons, and all that jazz. One would think that we’re more mature than a bunch of fifth graders. One would assume that boys and girls don’t have cooties, and that it’s okay to vagina in front of men. It’s just a word. It’s just a part of anatomy. Don’t make it something other than what it is.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m taking a cue from Ray Bradbury. I’m collecting my dinosaurs and my vagina – and leaving the room.