Two Heroines/Plural Form of Vagina/A Weird Thing I Keep at My Desk/A Tee Shirt I Want, or: You Go Girls!
According to every woman-centered historical reference I have read – from M Esther Harding to bell hooks – the containment of women’s sexuality was a huge priority to emerging patrifocal religious and economic systems.
Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, by Inga Muscio
No, this is not about Benedict XVI…this is about trouble, right here in River City!
A few years ago, my wife and I went to Milwaukee for a nice weekend. We stayed at a fabulous Bed and Breakfast whose proprietress was prone to bralessness and talked about her vagina a lot. This reviewer would not hesitate to recommend it to you as America’s most hospitable Bed and Breakfast; however, this reviewer’s wife would demur.
But I haven’t told the complete story. See, the proprietress made frequent reference to her vagina because the day before we arrived, the Bed and Breakfast completed a successful run of their very own production of The Vagina Monologues. Which I’m told is an international sensation and involves frank talk about what is (apparently) a very taboo subject.
Something about that play makes women goofy because, here in Minnesota, two nice, wholesome young women are suddenly flaunting their vaginas all over the place (link is workplace appropriate but I wonder if you need a Star Tribune account to read the article – here’s the gist of it: two young women in Winona, Minnesota (where I guarantee you will see a bald eagle) wore buttons to school which read “I [heart] My Vagina!” I know, I know, it’s going to be okay. Anyway, hysteria ensued. A ban was issued by the principal. Enter the ACLU. Now, kids in Winona are buying tee shirts that read “I [heart] My Vagina” for girls and “I Support Your Vagina” for boys. Proving once again, in the words of Joe Camel, “if you want to reach the kids, make [the product] taboo or forbidden.”).
Setting aside my skepticism about the nature of the boys’ support, I, in a dead panic and out of sheer terror, am left to ask:
Dear God, what will stop these girls from loving their vaginas!?! How can we instill a nice, healthy, traditional, self-hatred in these young women to make them more like too many other young women in the world? If we embrace vaginas, what’s next? Clitorises?
In an effort to calm down, I hit a scale model vagina with a stick (I keep a scale model vagina at my desk). Then, I channeled my fear and ignorance into some research and this is what I found out:
According to the Oxford American Dictionary (I was afraid to type “vagina” into Google here at work), Heald Colleges Edition, which bills itself as “the most authoritative paperbound dictionary of American Usage,” (and which I really keep at my desk) “vagina” is defined thusly:
Vagina (va-ji-na) n. (pl. -nas, -nae, pr. –nee) the passage leading from the vulva to the womb in women and female animals. Vag-i-nal (vaj-i-nal) adj.
In other words, this is not unique to women, but it's also common to female animals! Vaginae, if left to roam free, could get out of hand in a hurry. Can we return to shame and fear and ignorance and suppression and oppression post haste?
Last year, on the recommendation of a good friend, I read “Cunt: A Declaration of Independence” by Inga Muscio. It was educational and a wonderful way of confronting the campaign to marginalize, shame, attach taboos to, and otherwise hate on the vagina. I feel much damage is done by trying to make vaginae something other than what they are. Vaginae are nothing to be afraid of, in fact, they are wonderful and miraculous. I would have been so much more impressed with the reaction of the school principal in Winona, Minnesota, if she would have flown headlong into whatever distraction the buttons caused by having a V-day at school and used it an opportunity to educate instead of as an opportunity to add to the fear and ignorance (as quoted by one of the students at the center of the controversy: "The principal said that by wearing the pin, I was giving people wrong ideas," Rethlefsen said. "That I was giving an open invitation [to guys].").
(BTW does the principal have a little pronoun problem? The buttons read: "I [heart] My Vagina,” not “YOU [heart] My Vagina.” See the difference? It’s subtle.
I’m sure the community would have demanded a response, and I’m sure the response would have been fueled by conservative voices, demanding that all references to sex (and health and history) be stricken from the face of the earth.
But, to me, references to vaginae are not just references to sex, but also references to biology, to physiology, to womanhood, to art and theater, to body love, to beauty, to birth, to mystery, to miracles, to positive self-image, to healthy self-esteem, and, (sadly and) as these young heroines so elegantly point out, to fear, to ignorance, to suppression, to oppression and to shame.
Now, if I could just get my hands on one of those tee shirts…