I saw a discussion about this on the ODeck the other day, so I thought some people might be interested...
Thoughts on the word 'vagina.'
I taught my daughter the correct words when she asks, but everyone cringes in horror when she discusses this body part, using the right word. I've explained the outside parts are not called a vagina, but that's the opening leading to her uterus. Then, she was done with her questions for now about that, and she started discussing the eye and how cool that was, too. Nobody minds the word 'cornea.'
No one ever uses vulva or discusses the labia minora and labia majora. That, however, is what everyone actually sees, most of the time, when they look at naked women.
I remember in high school hearing the guys call each other "vaginas" as an insult. So, to them, a vagina was more than a body part. It meant something powerless and weak. The same for "pussy," which is a slang word
I remember watching a friend give birth and realizing, whatever the metaphorical possibilities, a vagina and its fellow parts, are really strong.
I was reading about the controversy surrounding the "Night of a Thousand Vaginas," which was fighting restrictions to abortions in Texas, a very worthy cause. The following problems arose. There was a protest to using the word 'vagina' because it leaves out the women who don't have a vagina, creating a blindness and emphasizing a difference between women who are born with a vagina and women who are not. In other words, the word 'vagina' is being coded by some as a word to deny them access to their own gender.
My final conclusion, after weighing all arguments as best I could was ... both sides were right. So, I don't really know what to do with that.
Here are the tweets:
Let me explain this in two parts.
First, the word 'vagina' is treated as a dirty word in our culture. You can't even say it on television at primetime. Of course, this is nonsense. It's the name of a body part. That's it. However, in our culture, it is also used as a metaphor or simile, often to denote weakness. It's the "dirty" way of being called a "girl," another word co-opted as a marker for weakness or as less than. Taking back this word is both a symbol of strength and an assertion that our body parts are not dirty or evil or wrong in some way.
In regards to the event, it was a catchy way of asserting strength and feminine energy, whatever that might mean, over the ideas of abortion restriction. That is, a woman who can get pregnant has a right to control her own body and make her own decisions about it.
I think that's important. I like the idea of bringing the word 'vagina' back to both its clinical importance and make it a word that denotes strength and not a name some seventeen year old guys call each other at a sports practice while a bunch of seventeen year old girls can hear them. It's a microaggression, to hear someone use your body part, associated with your sex, as an insult. So, it's really important to take it back.
So, I agree with Plimpton that it's simply not going to be okay pretending that isn't still a problem. I actually had trouble with some of the tweets of the doctor. First, she intimated that putting any energy into bringing the word 'vagina' back to a better place was a white feminist thing to do. I don't get that. I'm pretty sure POC who are ciswomen don't have gnomes down there. And, it's only one thing to be done. There are other things that can happen at the same time. It's not like working on reclaiming that word is going to take away from other pursuits in the world of feminism. I felt like that was a problematic moment in her discourse. Also, I did not agree with her call for a boycott of the event, because it might actually take money away from a person who needs it. In the tweets, she urges people to directly donate, but once you've thrown some shade on a worthy cause, it's probable some people could simply not donate at all. :/ So, that I did not like.
Now, the second part, I agree absolutely that it is hurtful to not find a way to make it clear, in the title, that women aren't just vagina-holders. Some women don't have vaginas, but are women nonetheless. Some women have had surgery to have vaginas, and they are women as well. Some men have vaginas as well. Gender and sex are two different entities, and it's bad to be blind to those real and actual people. Saying "Night of a Thousand Vaginas" leaves some women out of the conversation. And that is not okay at all. Being transblind is bad, bad, bad. The doctor was utterly right to mention it. Transgender people, gender non-conforming people, genderqueer people—all deserve to be heard.
Still, telling women to be silent about the word 'vagina' is also very bad. Plimpton was correct to stick to her guns on those ideas.
So, there you go. I have no solution. I present you my mind in full. Tell me if I'm an asshole. Tell me if I'm not. Those are my current conclusions. Thanks for reading.
Some Really Terrific Thoughts on these Subjects:
**I changed this video to a link because I think it's more appropriate that we link directly to his forum.