Vagina bombing

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A few months ago, I attended and later walked out of a performance of The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler’s 1996 collection of interview-based, first-person narratives about the female sex organ. It wasn’t that I was offended by Ensler’s tales of love, birth, rape, and sexual awakening. I was just… bored by them.

 

What had seemed daring and insightful when I first witnessed it as a teenager now seemed tired and out of date, a well-intentioned but ultimately ill-fated attempt to be edgy and “liberated.” I winced at the tale of Bob the vagina connoisseur, for whom women’s genitalia offered a window into their souls. “[Your vagina is] who you are,” Bob tells Ensler’s monologuer. “You’re elegant and deep and innocent and wild.”

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As Germaine Greer urged in The Female Eunach, I have tasted my own menstrual blood and inspected my vulva with a hand mirror. But my vision of female empowerment is not one in which the vagina takes on some mystical, quasi-spiritual significance. It is one in which I am no more defined by my reproductive organs than I am by, say, my elbow.

 

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But the vagina, it seems, is having a cultural resurgence – if it is possible for a part of the body that is shared by 51 percent of the population to resurge. It is at rallies, scrawled in black ink on placards protesting rape culture and infractions on reproductive rights, and in viral online comedy videos featuring Hollywood actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Judy Greer. It is smattered over the blogosphere on fourth wave feminist websites such as Jezebel, Feministing, and the one you’re reading right now. Next month, Gen X titan Naomi Wolf will publish a new book titled simply, Vagina: A New Biography.

 

Forget the Playboy “pussy”, the Grey’s Anatomy “vajajay”, or the Tony Abbott-style “precious flower.” These days, it’s all about the vagina-bomb: the casual, tongue-in-cheek referencing of the technical term for female genitalia at any time, place, or opportunity.

 

Like Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, the recent deluge of vagina talk is designed to push boundaries; a typographical poke of the tongue at those who are more squeamish, more conservative, or less empowered than the person using the term. But the new vagina dialogues are also less earnest than their 1990s counterparts, rooted more in internet age irony than in spiritual awe of the female body.

 

There can also be an undercurrent of posturing to them, a note of – as professional pot-stirrer Katie Roiphe put it in a recent article for Slate  – “Hey look at me! Aren’t I cool for using this word and irritating and shocking some theoretical [conservative] senator?” The implication, of course, being that it is not shocking and not cool.

 

Roiphe argues that vagina-bombing plays into “the same puritanical obsession” with the female body that it is ostensibly making fun of and challenging, the one that suggests that vaginas are so powerful and dangerous that they must simultaneously be discussed constantly and not mentioned at all.

 

But while vagina talk sometimes veers into self-congratulation, it has re-emerged for good reason. Women’s bodies are hot political property right now, with 2012 seeing a major debate over birth control in the United States, public complaints over the use of the word “vagina” in a panty liner ad in New Zealand, and the founding of a controversial “pro-life club” at the University of Sydney in Australia. Then there is the American politician who was too disgusted to even say the word out loud (although he was perfectly happy to legislate the body part it referred to), calling it simply a “V.”

 

Cumulatively, such tales point to a culture that still believes that women’s bodies are dirty and embarrassing, and that women’s pleasure is perverse and taboo. The kind of culture that, perhaps, could do with a little more vagina talk; with a vagina connoisseur like Ensler’s “Bob”, even. Vagina-bombing is born as much out of frustration as it is out of self-conscious rebellion.

 

And if talking about your vagina is no longer as edgy as it once was, perhaps this latest resurgence – direct, unflinching and deliberately casual – is perfect for the present moment. Just as one might talk about their elbow.

 

27 comments

  • So is it ok to say vagina in the comments section now?

    Commenter
    Senn Sore
    Location
    Brazil
    Date and time
    August 20, 2012, 10:03AM
    • No.

      Labia, clitoris, hymen, vulva, ovary, penis, glans, vas deferens, testicle, scrotum, pube and pubic are OK...

      Or are they?!!! :-)

      Commenter
      Steve_C
      Location
      Blue Mountains
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 12:00PM
    • apparently it is but c**t is to be avoided for the next few years

      Commenter
      pooty
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 12:52PM
    • @pooty - maybe we have to take it slowly to get to c**nt. One * at a time.

      Commenter
      rudy
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 4:00PM
  • Heh, heh... you said the "E" word.... :-)

    Commenter
    Aqualung
    Location
    Sitting on a park bench...
    Date and time
    August 20, 2012, 10:07AM
    • I don't know, I do find it utterly tedious when young feminists like Clem Ford and the like, talk about their vaginas and the infections they are currently experiencing in their nearby organs on social media sites such as twitter. It just strikes me as odd and affected not to mention self conscious and stilted to be talking about their genitals in a public forum. I would no more be interested in their vaginal talk than talk of the penis amongst men.

      On the other hand when men choke on the word and think it disgusting then I can see that society is still very phallocentric. Men love pussy but not vagina. Somehow vagina is much more intelligent, assertive and therefore scary whereas pussy is much friendlier and approachable.

      I know there are important issues here but it seems kind of self indulgent, there has to be something more substantial for feminism to sink its teeth into. Western middle class feminism is becoming too navel gazing. I need something more than this. Nice article though.

      Commenter
      Melissa
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 10:22AM
      • Love the generalisation there Melissa! We truly haven't left the 60's - "All men are afraid of vaginas" is as out of date as "All vaginas are disgusting and shouldn't be mentioned".

        Here's a test. Substitute the word 'penis' for 'vagina' in the above. I am sure you will see then how ridiculous it all sounds, and I bet the same people who would have been offended by the original article are still offended.

        Commenter
        Engo
        Date and time
        August 20, 2012, 1:05PM
    • Correct. The Vagina is next year's Ford Edsel.

      Commenter
      Maria
      Date and time
      August 20, 2012, 11:06AM
      • "I am no more defined by my reproductive organs than I am by, say, my elbow."

        Who wants to be defined by the wenis? (i.e. the soft skin on your elbow).

        Commenter
        Funny
        Location
        Bone
        Date and time
        August 20, 2012, 11:12AM
        • While it seems a commendable achievement to be able to use the correct terminology for female genitalia in broader conversational situations and circumstances (though I dare say if one dropped "labia" or "clitoris" into general conversation one might still encounter stunned reserve!!); it strikes me as an empty achievement when mention of the corresponding male anatomy elicits a look of gasping horror!

          Toss a "glans", "scrotum" or a "testes" or two into general conversation and witness the rapid creation of empty space around the deluded fool who thought uttering them was some form of gender equality.

          It's almost amusing, that in my role as a life drawing teacher, I use the words the dictionary defines as necessary when indicating parts of a drawing of the human nude that students inevitably encounter as part of their art education, with the sort of casual familiarity that 4 decades of professional exposure have ensconced - and even the most 'raw' of male/female student barely raises an eyelid when I do: yet, I'd bet London to a brick, that in a different environment, they'd think me an ill-mannered boor or a provocative and insensitive oaf if I used some of those same terms.

          That's the problem with some of these "issues". A few hot-under-the-collar gals or guys, whip themselves into a frenzy over something that has nothing to do with their angst and as a result; quiet, well-mannered and unassuming people get bombarded with drivel that has it's genesis in misguided interpretations of behaviours that have little to nothing to do with what's been irritating their activist colons since their first breathe.

          Basically, the World is full of penises and vaginas intent on shoving what they feel determines "equality" or "freedom" down the throats of the folks they feel are laissez-faire.

          Commenter
          Steve_C
          Location
          Blue Mountains
          Date and time
          August 20, 2012, 11:16AM

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