“Vagina” is not a dirty word, although legislators in the state of Michigan seem to think so. Recently, in response to the debate over a strict anti-choice bill that places onerous obstacles in the path of women seeking legal abortion, State Representative Lisa Brown used the word “vagina” in her responding remarks. She was subsequently barred from speaking on an education bill as her words were deemed offensive and in violation of house decorum.
Censoring her speech represents the underlying tension of sexual conversations and policies in the United States where the Puritan values of our early nation battle against later movements toward sexual liberation. Of course, the irony is clear, although painful: Men who abhor the word “vagina” are quick to regulate it through law and religious decree.
However, the women of Michigan were not silenced for long. In response, they performed the award winning play, The Vagina Monologues, by activist and playwright Eve Ensler on the steps of the capitol. In the name of free speech and female autonomy, Michigan lawmakers and actors performed the play that celebrates the power of female anatomy and validates women’s complex feelings about their sexual organs while also confronting the violence done to the vaginas of girls and women regardless of age, nation, or sexual orientation. Moving beyond arguments of free speech and abortion rights, Ensler cogently told the Associated Press, “If we ever knew deep in our hearts that the issue about abortion … was not really about fetuses and babies, but really men‘s terror of women’s sexuality and power, I think it’s fully evidenced here.”
In fact, the epicenter of the so-called conservative war against women seems to reside in the vagina. Conservatives are against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo. Conservative legislators also want to prevent women from receiving contraceptive coverage through their health insurance providers while asserting the primacy of the conscience of religious employers and lawmakers over the conscience of women. The same state legislators who can’t say, or even hear, the word “vagina,” whether in Michigan or Texas, apparently do not feel the same compunction against legislating invasive and mandatory vaginal probes. (In women’s best interest, of course!).
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Perhaps lawmakers should be required to have a vagina before regulating vaginas because in that case the discussion becomes less ideological and more real. The world looks very different when the vagina lies between your legs instead of between the pages of your law books.
If lawmakers were really concerned about women and their vaginas they would vote for the Violence Against Women Act, which was debated earlier this year in Congress, with Democrats largely favoring and Republicans opposing. The real violation of vaginas is not in saying the word, but rather entering one without consent. Vaginal decorum in state legislatures means not prohibiting the word, but rather appropriating funds to test rape kits to identify sexual assault perpetrators.
The November elections are ahead and voting matters as much as vaginas. Some of the names on the ballot are vagina-friendly, and others, not so much. While some legislators give lip service (pardon the pun) to vaginas, their rhetoric of support for women does not match the reality that their votes act against the best interests of vaginas by denying women sexual education, contraception, and reproductive rights.
And by the way, while you are pulling the lever on behalf of vaginas, learn to say the word proudly. It’s not the vague “down there” or even the trendy “vajayjay.” The vagina is a wonderful tubular tract, responsible for much pleasure as well as being the wondrous birth canal. It’s not a word or a body part of which to be ashamed. Let’s celebrate vaginas and work to give the lucky woman who possesses one the freedom to control it.