Why is the word “vagina” still such a taboo? Last month the e-book version of Naomi Wolf’s latest book: Vagina: A New Biography, was listed as V****a on Apple iTunes and the word was replaced throughout the book’s description. There was such a public outcry that Apple relented and the full word was used again. But it was probably the best publicity the book could have had.
In the USA on June 15, this year a female politician, Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown, was barred from speaking for one-day, on the floor of the Michigan state legislature for saying the word “vagina” during a heated debate over a draconian anti-abortion bill. In an opinion piece for The Detroit News, she talked about her speech and her colleagues’ reaction:
“I used that word because we were debating a women’s health issue. Vagina, by the way, is the correct medical name of a part of women’s anatomy lawmakers want to regulate”.
“One of my counterparts, Rep. Mike Callton said: ‘vagina’ is such a disturbing word that he would never deign to use it in the presence of women or ‘mixed company’. This was said by a man who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.”
Three days later several thousand people flocked to the Capitol lawn to protest against the one-day silencing of Lisa Brown and another colleague Democratic Rep. Barb Byrum, who was also blocked from speaking on the legislature’s final day of session before its summer break.
Brown, Byrum and several others performed The Vagina Monologues, a play about how women are sexually oppressed and how they can resist and heal. Eve Ensler, the play’s author flew in from California for the occasion.
The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written in 1996, Eve Ensler originally starred in the production but when she left the play it was recast with three celebrity monologists. The play has been staged all over the world, including a successful run in Australia, and a television version has been produced. Eve Ensler and others also launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over 75 million USA dollars, for women’s anti-violence groups through benefits of The Vagina Monologues.
A recurring theme throughout the play is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment. Every year Ensler adds a new monologue highlighting current issues that affect women around the word. In 2003, she wrote a new monologue about the plight of women in Afghanistan, titled “Under the Burqa.”
In Australia we had a first by Johnson & Johnson launching a campaign for a TV advertisement for their Carefree Acti-fresh liners. The commercial features a naked woman openly mentioning discharge and the word “vagina”. Advertising specialist Jane Caro believes that women don’t want their body parts to be referred to in euphemisms any more, it is time “to call a vagina a vagina”.
The Advertising Standards Bureau has received many complaints since the ad screened but most were about the nakedness of the woman. They were not surprised, a spokesperson said because sanitary products and condoms always attracted complaints.
In the UK however, Femfresh, the brand specialising in feminine hygiene has been caught in a social media storm with its advertisements calling the female genitalia all sorts of infantile names. Negative comments continued when they kept posting images on Facebook and public telephone boxes like: ‘WooHoo for my Froo Froo” or I am proud of my Pompom! Other posts used euphemisms to refer to the vagina as ‘flower’ , ‘mini’ ,‘ muffin’, ’ lady garden’ , ‘kitty’ , ’nooni’ or ‘down there’.
But then again I could not believe the statement that Attorney General Nicola Roxon made when she was a panel member on the Q & A program (ABC TV) that she makes her 8 year old daughter refer to her vagina as her “front bottom”.
Melbourne photographer Philip Werner, who grew up in Germany believes that in Australia there is a lot of shame around the body, nudity and genitalia. He is in the midst of creating a coffee table book called 101 Vagina the book will contain black and white images of 101 vaginas accompanied by a message from the participant. He is opposing unrealistic body image expectations and shame around the vagina.
Before somebody says I use the word “vagina” wrongly (some people find it important to lecture us that we should be “vulva conscious”). Yes the vagina is the canal inside the body, behind the vaginal opening and the outer part is called the vulva which includes the clitoris and the labia, the inner lips.
But as we already have discovered how incredibly uncomfortable the word “vagina” is for so many people, let’s not make it any more difficult and stick with the word.
In the long run, calling a spade a spade, or a vagina a vagina, can only make it easier for people to discuss sex and intimacy with their partners.
Maybe that’s the best reason to finally get over “vagina phobia”.
What do you think?