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.

  1. June 15, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Okay, THIS may be your best line yet: “If you place your hand on the bathroom mirror at midnight and whisper vagina, one will not appear and devour you.”

    • Liz
      June 15, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      I second that, LOL

      • June 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

        hehe, thanks! 🙂

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

      *grin* Thanks, Jim!! Glad that you liked this.

  2. June 15, 2012 at 10:02 am

    My daughter says penis and vagina, she’s six. She thinks it’s hilarious when her friends get uncomfortable when she says the word, so she’ll yell “vagina!” sometimes when she’s with them. I don’t understand why my six year can hear the word vagina, but the house can’t.

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:53 am

      I love your daughter. Seriously. She’s awesome. I hope she always has that kind of confidence. Good for her for not being embarrassed!

  3. June 15, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I’m a veterinarian and I have clients come in all the time who just can’t seem to spit out the words for any of those places.

    Me: “Where is the blood coming from?”
    Client: “Her…parts.”
    Me: “Which parts?”
    Client: “Her…you know! Down there.”

    It’s okay to say it…vagina! We have to communicate – the anatomical name is okay. 🙂

    • Jessica
      June 15, 2012 at 10:38 am

      I say “lady bits” to my boyfriend if the topic ever comes up because it makes him squirm slightly less. Hahaha

      • June 16, 2012 at 8:49 am

        I’ve been known to say lady parts, but it’s more just me being silly. I like silly. 🙂

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

      Oh, gosh, that’s so awkward! “Down there” is a euphemism that is okay for little kids who are just learning, but adults? No, damn it. Just no!

  4. Jessica
    June 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Excuse me, my vagina and I are leaving now.

    Now, I never walked up to strangers in my youth and asked them about penises or vaginas, but like you I knew what they were called. And maybe it’s because I have one that I have never really been uncomfortable with most things having to do with one. (Okay, fine, there was a time when buying tampons or condoms filled me with shame, and I honestly don’t know whether that was stemming more from my own issues or the world I live in, but I digress). However, men, I have noticed, even if they prefer sex with someone who has one, are highly uncomfortable discussing anything involving vaginas. That is, of course, until they want to put a new law in place detailing what we all can or can’t do with them. And in light of how often that has been happening, I find it simply ridiculous that the word vagina would be deemed offensive in such a context. I’m pretty sure it’s a totally legitimate term that has every right to be involved in a conversation regarding women’s health rights and abortion. It’s kind of a key player. And yes, the comment in question was snarky, but it was also totally legitimate, and I honestly think THAT is what everyone is so worked up about, the fact that she called them on the fact that they are so intent in sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. I honestly think that’s why she got the reaction she did. Because she didn’t just say vagina. She confronted the lawmakers who are so intent on controlling our bodies and told them to butt out. And no one wants to think about what might happen if enough women realized they should be saying the same damn thing.

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:51 am

      I really loved her comment, because it wasn’t snarky without a reason. It was snarky with a purpose. It was, “hellllo, I have a vagina, damn it! What’s going ON here?” Also, I never understand why buying tampons scares some people. They don’t bite, damn it! And you’re right: she was confronting the lawmakers and that (along with VAGINA) made certain people uncomfortable. But come on! Grow up. It’s just a body part. *shakes head* THank you for such a great comment, Jessica!

  5. Frank
    June 15, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Well said! I read this story yesterday and was kind of flabbergasted that they can talk about controlling what a woman does with her vagina, but are appalled when they say vagina. This world…

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

      Frank, I know, right? What the hell IS that about? *shakes head* Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. June 15, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I would give a great deal to hear you give a rendition, in your own style, of Maude Lebowski’s speech about vaginas (etc.) as put forth in The Big Lebowski. Too – as previously implied – I find strange things funny. So it all kinda fits, I guess.

    And if you’re not into the, uh, whole brevity thing, there are always “hoo-hoos” and “ta-tas” and “danglies”.

    Since I’m working comparison to film for all it’s worth, I commend to all and sundry the film adaptation of Brighton Beach Memoirs by way of providing some insight into men and how they feel about The ‘Giner. At least, in almost thirty-eight years of living, I haven’t seen a better attempt made in popular culture to do just that.

    From where I stand properly-brought-up men who aren’t gynecologists see the whole business – that is to say, the vagina and its role in life both as conceived and as lived – as a mystery, and best left that way. Give away too much, and you spoil the ending. As for the rest… do we really need to go there?

    On the other hand, at twenty years old I got into the habit of keeping menstrual calendars in my head whenever frank talk – whether conducted deliberately or offhandedly – about circumstances makes it feasible to do so. I have also been known to buy feminine hygiene products without trepidation and without the need for a second trip to the supermarket. Life in general, and relationships in particular, are so much less fraught with the potential for awkwardness if you can do that, lack of uterus and endometrial tissue on my part notwithstanding.

    If we start from the proposition that assigning a word to a thing gives it meaning, then this reluctance to call vaginas and penises by their true names speaks more for the influence of religion than anything – why else would you take meaning away from them, unless it was for the sake of some virtue held to be yet more significant than thoughtful engagement in the more-sublime activities that are rather more difficult (or at least complicated) without them?

    Finally, there IS real power there – in a woman’s root chakra, if you will – that scares most men half to death… and many of those who aren’t thus frightened are instead prone to being made stupid by it, enough so that the ordinary name for this power sounds a bit vulgar when rolled off the tongue of anyone who refuses to accept it. I can’t excuse these facts, and I think they point to something literally pathetic about human existence, but I can’t deny them either.

    That, folks, is a different matter entirely.

    Thanks for reading, hope you didn’t mind.

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

      Ben, thank you very much for such an involved, lengthy comment! I really appreciate you giving this post a read.

  7. Anonymous
    June 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    ALI, that is totally amazing!! Good for you and your parents for teaching you the correct things in life! It reminds me of my own little story with Danielle. When her mom first taught her the V and P word, she was so excitied and proud to learn the real names of the body parts., I remember being amongst the family and Danielle started to go to each of her Aunts and Uncles and telling each of them that they have Penis’ and Vagina’s!!! They were a little taken aback by her discovery, but actually commended her on her knowledge of the correct names!! The innocence of youth!! Great story Ali!! You tell yours better!!! xoxo

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

      Allen (I’m guessing that’s you — you forget to put your name in, silly!) — that is a great story. Thank you so much for sharing!!! 🙂 xoxo

  8. June 15, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you for doing a post on this! I feel like sometimes I am limited on what I can say because when you speak you have to think about what you are saying before you say it. But sometimes I can’t help it and I get tired of people’s “feelings” and whether they’ll be “offended.” Tired of it! I just want to say it how it is, without sugarcoating. Ugh, sometimes. Just ugh.

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:46 am

      You are very welcome! I’m all for telling it like it is. There doesn’t have to be anything cruel about speaking that way. Just honesty. It’s reasonable. 🙂 thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. June 15, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    good post! I love it. Carry on!

  10. June 16, 2012 at 12:12 am

    I have a really funny story about my son and one of his more precocious questions about penises (penii?), but I’m saving it for when I need to embarass him. In the meantime, I think all the female members of the Michigan house (if there’s more than one – ha ha) to come to the floor wearing duct tape over their mouths with the word “VAGINA” written across it. Any of the braver men can do it too.

    • June 16, 2012 at 8:44 am

      The duct tape idea is brilliant! I agree. Also, definitely save that story about your son. That is a precious commodity. *grin*

  1. June 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm

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