Friday, October 01, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog for Vaginas

So I finally got around to watching The Vagina Monologues.  I still haven't read the book which (no surprise) my library doesn't have in its shelves.  (It also doesn't have the dvd.

I guess the word "vagina" is too risqué here in the Bible Belt.

Would the word cunt be better?

I wrote about the significance of this word for me and mine here.

For Rei's birthday, I bought her a copy of the book Cunt and gave it to her.  I gave a copy to my mother as well.  Why not?  We are obviously quite comfortable using the word around here.

Which brings me back to this dvd because the fact is I was in tears through most of it.  I was reminded of how removed most women are from their bodies, how some of the older women hadn't even seen themselves in a mirror.  I listened in awe and laughter and tears through the whole thing because my experience is so damned different from most women's.

I grew up with Our Bodies, Ourselves and had no concept of not being sexually aware.

I was very young when I began to ask questions about where babies came from.  I was relentless in my pursuit of the truth.  And my mother delights in telling the story about a time when I was sitting with her on a bus and a very large man came onto the bus followed by his equally enormous woman holding a very large infant.  I stared, mouth open, and followed this couple with my eyes as they settled themselves across the aisle from us.  Then, in a voice as loud as my mother's memory can make it I said, "You mean that baby came out of that woman's vagina?"

Everyone on the bus laughed and my mother thinks that the couple was from another country and she assumes that they could not understand what I said.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking on her part.  After all, it was the '60s and I was a mere child of 3 or 4 loudly exclaiming over things that good girls simply did not discuss in public.

My mother called it a pookie, rhymes with cookie or rookie.  My pookie.  I learned a lot about it when Our Bodies, Ourselves first was published.  I learned about the mechanics of it and the psychology of it.  And 30 years later Eve Ensler is doing an off-off-Broadway show about it.  I learned about menstruation and ovaries and self-breast exams and that you could order your very own speculum so you could look inside yourself, if you wanted, to see the cervix.

That was in 1973.  I was reading and rereading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, trying to see the signs of my becoming a woman because I didn't see sex as indicative of my being a woman.  I knew that my entrance into Womanhood began with my first menstrual cycle.  And I knew that I, being a normal and healthy young woman, would someday be graced with this gift of monthly cycles.

Someday . . .

The summer after my first kiss, I was reading Forever. . ., given to me by my mother's boyfriend (and future husband).  I think he was shocked when he read the first sentence:

Sybil Davison has a genius I.Q. and has been laid by at least six different guys.

Quite an opening line.  And the novel, which was hot off the presses at the time, was a way for me to make friends that summer at camp where I was hoping for three things:

  1. to have a great time with my best friend Love
  2. to find my "first kiss" and maybe share a second kiss
  3. to maybe finally get my period
There's a story in there but it doesn't have to do with my vagina or anyone's vagina.  

The interesting thing about these three books, two of which deeply informed my adolescence, is that all three were banned at one time or another.  Two of them remain on the most banned books list to this day.  

And women still can't talk about their vaginas!  We have incredibly intelligent women who call it a vajajay.

For the record, I do not have a vajajay.  I have a cunt or a vagina and sometimes even a pussy but never ever a vajajay.  I don't even understand why seemingly intelligent women would be self denigrating and in such self-denial about their bodies that they couldn't loudly and proudly call it like it is.  

I have a vagina.  

These same women, no doubt, have used the word penis on television.  I confess, I can't say this for certain.  I'm too afraid to google or search on youtube for "famous woman's name" + penis because I really do not want to see what I might find.  

But the fact that the word penis can be said on television suggests that vagina is also safe to say and so long as mature, intelligent women self-censor themselves by cloyingly giving their anatomy truly ridiculous and childishly insulting nicknames, I can't help but wonder why I expect men, with their penises, dicks, cocks, etc. to take us seriously.

Albeit, Michael, in Blumes banned book Forever . . ., calls his penis "Ralph."  I still think Blume felt it would reduce the necessity of using the word penis over and over again.  And anyone who has suffered through reading some bodice ripping romance in which these things are called "manhood" or "throbbing member" can only say, "Thank you, Judy, and, with all do respect to every poor boy out there who carries the name Ralph be thankful your middle name isn't also Richard."

I know I wasn't the only girl of my generation who devoured this novel.  I was later surprised to find out that some parents didn't want their darling daughters to read the book.  Why?  Because it talked about abortion?  Birth control?  Sex?  

I was fortunate.  My mother didn't prohibit me from reading any book. One would even think she went out of her way to shove volatile literature into my hands.  Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues was a personal favorite a year later.  Not sure if it was banned but I remember thinking about how the cowgirls living on the ranch were opposed to feminine hygiene products designed to mask the "offensive" nature of a woman's natural state of being.  

That was the year I finally got my period.  I was fourteen and my mother, when she found out, threw her arms around me and said, "Thank goodness.  I thought I was raising a boy."

Her and me both.

I think my mother did a great job of raising me to be incredibly comfortable with my body.  That's why I cried a lot while watching this dvd because I realized that a lot of women are not taught to be so self-aware or self-honoring.

Seriously.  How self-honoring is it to use the word vajayjay?  You want to be taken seriously, for anyone including yourself to see you as a Woman, then sound like one.

I have a vagina.  

(This reminds me of the scene in Boys on the Side where Whoopi Goldberg goads Mary-Louise Parker into saying the word cunt. Cunt!  CUNT!!!)

So I can't get a copy of The Vagina Monologues from my library because they don't have a copy.  They do have copies of the following, however:
You can find these books in the reference section.  You can't borrow them.  You can't actually take them home and read them.  You have to stay there, in the library.  They are only there for reference.   You wouldn't want to, you know, go home and actually study the subject.

And perhaps that is the problem.  Parents don't want their little girls to read about sex and their bodies because knowledge is power and if they (we) actually got in touch with our bodies, with ourselves, we wouldn't think it cute or tolerable to call our vaginas anything but what they are.  

We damn well wouldn't put up with "vajayjay," I know that much.

I also know that if more women were in touch with their own power, they wouldn't be encouraging their daughters to read Twilight.  As I said in my review of Forever . . ., I would rather my daughter, my grand-daughter, and every young woman I know read Judy Blume over Stephanie Meyer any day of the damn week.  

But there are other books, more contemporary books, that deal with a young girl's sexuality in a positive way.  Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat, for instance, is a wonderful book about a young girl whose life is filled with magic and love.  This novel, and the ones that follow, offer a look at love in the time of AIDS, an element that is missing from Judy Blume's book.  These novels, for all their fantastic and magical realism elements, are so far superior to Meyer's oeuvre that I am outraged.  

Both Meyer and Block join Blume in being banned.  Meyer, though, is banned for vampires while Block and Blume are banned for sex.  I guess that's because the perverse and emotionally abusive relationship in Meyer's novels is a) more acceptable than fucking and b) is consummated only within the confines of marriage.  

Yes, because marrying an abusive jerk is better than making love with someone who truly cares about you and your well-being, because love is all about pain and suffering and danger and has not a damn thing to do with caring or compassion or genuine sharing.

Grrrrrr  . . .

Probably, by the time Bibi is a young girl and I am looking around for a young adult novel to share with her, there will something else, some other young adult voice out there who writes honestly about sex and sexuality, whose books will be banned because even then women won't be encouraged to believe that they have a vagina between their legs and that maybe, just maybe, it's okay to call it like it is.  

I have a vagina.  

And you . . . ?


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. I can only nod to all this. Although, I don't really use "vagina" often, firstly because it sounds a bit "medicinal" to me (and thus kind of "distant"; even more so in German). Secondly because it's a bit restricted since it only means "the hole". As for English words (I only ever read "vajayjay" in a comic and thought it was a funny personal nickname -- didn't know it's so widely used in the US!), I prefer "cunt" too. I like the sound of it and it's much more inclusive (of all the other important parts). My favorite button was made by this lovely lady (who you probably know as a zine-lover):
    Unfortunately, it's not in her etsy shop anymore. It says "CUNT is not a bad word". :)
    As for the good young adult novel -- maybe, until then, it will have been written by you? (I'd buy it!) ;)

  2. Ephi, I didn't know about Amber so woohoo and than you. And I concur--vagina does sound a bit technical. I wish that vajayjay were a rarity but you can see here that it is more ubiquitous here than it ought to be anywhere:

    Erin, I am so happy you're in our family. You make us all happy.

  3. Growing up I was in the household where it was not talked about. I also grew up in an abusive house and it's definatly an area that has taken years and therapy to be able to read/talk about.

    It's still a word I struggle with. For me it I dunno........

    Definately given me lots to think about.

  4. Patches,

    My mother grew up in a Catholic home where these things weren't talked about either and she had to swallow a lot of her own discomfort to get to raise me differently.

    I just don't understand grown women talking about their vajayjays. You would never hear a man talk about his weewee or peepee or in any way infantalizing himself.

    But growing up in an abusive home, there are other far more important things for you to deal with, approaching always with delicacy and mindfulness. It must be exhausting.