I clicked on the article because of The Word.
The word in her title. The word she was writing about.
Because, quite frankly, I’m thrilled about all the bandying and plan to perpetuate the bandying as much as possible to erase some of the clinical (or pornographic?) overtones of the word.
IF I WANTED THE GOVERNMENT IN MY VAGINA I’D SCREW A SENATOR!
I ♥ MY VAGINA!
Does that make you uncomfortable? Me shouting the word vagina at you? Why? Is it a bad word? A word better left uttered in doctors offices and biology classes? Because if it does make you twitchy then perhaps you would agree with me that the more the word is used, the less stigma it holds, the less power it has to shock. Which is kind of what Katie Roiphe is saying; I guess I just disagree with her on what that all means:
The main problem with the in-your-face vagina talk is the showy, childish hint of self-congratulation at one’s own utter lack of puritanism. The phrase revels in its plain-talking refusal of conservative delicacy, but it revels so much and so flamboyantly in that refusal that it becomes part of the same puritanical obsession. Which is to say the feminists who are so childishly flouting conservative squeamishness are buying into the same set of values or dancing around the same maypole as the squeamish right wing.
Why not rise above the silliness? Why play into the puritanical obsession? Those shouting the word from the roof tops in that particular, self-conscious way—not to mention cartoonishly anthropomorphizing a body part—are proving themselves equally transfixed by what should be a banal biological descriptor.
I absolutely get what she’s saying and yes, many women are using the word in exactly the way she describes, with a “childish hint of self-congratulation at one’s own utter lack of puritanism.” But I like that. The trendiness of the word feels good. It doesn’t feel like I’m triumphantly thumbing my nose at “conservative delicacy” (although wouldn’t that be a huge bonus?); it just feels like I can comfortably discuss issues pertaining to my womanhood and utilize the word without drawing my shoulders forward and stage-whispering, as would have been my way a few short years ago.
What’s so silly about that? Would you prefer vajayjay? Taco? That’s not too silly, right? How about pussy? Seems pussy would be more in the interest of nose-thumbing at conservative delicacy, no? Or how about C U Next Tuesday? Should we start trying to take that word back? Would Roiphe prefer one of these terms, or would she rather we publicly discuss our vaginas by just alluding to them? Vagina is the biological term, right? And as one of the commenters to Roiphe’s article so astutely points out, “the fact that the word can be at all considered ‘puerile’ in usage speaks to the overwhelming degree of sex-negativity in our culture. If talking about penises and vaginas is considered childish, what exactly does that say about our general acceptance of the ubiquity of human sexuality?”
Exactly. Roiphe would have you believe that choosing not to use the word is a way of “rising above the silliness” and not playing into the puritanical obsession, but what’s so silly about utilizing a word that biologically describes a very important body part of mine and using it in whatever way I see fit, be it privately, on my blog, or as part of political and intellectual discourse? Am I just simple-minded, or is tiptoeing delicately around the word, or retiring it because some professor thinks it’s childish and overly trendy, a much bigger nod to those who seek to control my vagina?
In her article, Roiphe claims the word vagina no longer has any shock value, that it “has become such a cliché that any element of surprise (and therefore political efficacy) it might have had years ago, say in the era of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, is gone.”
I wouldn’t say uttering the word vagina has lost it’s shock value. Not when a female State Representative for the state of Michigan was just censored for using the word on the house floor. In fact, Eve Ensler, Mz. Vagina Monoluges herself watched the debacle unfold on national newscasts and as Lisa Brown, the State Rep. at the center of the brouhaha says, Ensler “didn’t just see a group of mostly male legislators freaking out about ‘vagina.’” She saw them trying to shut women up at the same time they were trying to pass laws about our health.
So shout the word, I say. From rooftops, in blog posts, and in your local government buildings.
But even if Roiphe is correct in her assessment that the word has “entered into that phase of its life cycle that is shopworn cliché, it is no longer fresh or startling. It’s simply irritating, predictable, boring” – Isn’t that’s a good thing?
Vagina talk shouldn’t be shocking or silly. It should just be. And the fact that so many women have shouted it in protests, have scrawled it on poster boards, or joked about it in blog posts on the state affairs down there after giving birth, has let all the clinical steam out of the word and allowed us to just use it in whatever way we want to use it.
And that’s the way it should be.
Now, Roiphe, that wily minx, predicted my very argument:
Some will argue that by using the word so casually and constantly, they are reclaiming it, and therefore affirming their power over their own bodies. But one of the reasons not to succumb to the temptation of that argument is that the word-drop confirms a certain perception about narcissistic, navel gazing urban, liberal elites. To try so hard to be shocking, or to be ironically referencing the fact that you are not being shocking, is in fact, in any kind of political discourse, to reduce the level of the conversation to you; to draw attention to yourself—“Hey look at me! Aren’t I cool for using this word and irritating and shocking some theoretical Southern senator?”—rather than, for instance, seeing or taking in the nuances of the political landscape and discussing them.
She’s missing it. Stop parsing the usage! The fact that it’s used at all is fantastic and Roiphe’s insistence on being annoyed by and intellectually dressing down the women she claims use it just to be childish or to thumb their nose at conservative delicacy just confirms her own narcissistic, navel-gazing elitism.
The point is that by overusing the word it becomes exactly what it is – just a word. Neither shocking or boring. It’s just a word. Why must it contain political impact? Why should we care if it loses it’s political impact? If I come up with a catchy vagina slogan to support my pro-choice stance – great. I’m not trying to be shocking, I’m trying to be clever and if another word better fits, great again. That’s not reducing the political discourse, it’s encouraging it, is it not? And even if I am trying to be shocking, so what? If Roiphe thinks that’s silly or juvenile that’s her own issue, not mine. However, if the reaction to State Rep. Lisa Brown’s utterance of the word is anything to go by, we have a long way to go before we get to the point that the word isn’t an ear burner to a large number of the population.
I think the person with the biggest issue about vaginas is Roiphe herself. We all aren’t using the word to debate politics, freak out conservatives or as an attempt to be hip feminists. And even if we are, that’s a good thing. It’s helping desensitize what used to be a ridiculously clinical word uttered by no one but gynecologists and health teachers and even then, not so much. Standing atop a mountain of intellectual condescension is no better a reaction than the male legislators in Michigan who went to great lengths to silence a woman who dared speak in opposition to a measure that would limit access to health care for women.
Photo Credit: DizzyMissLizzy