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The Power of a Word

Christiana's picture

Health educators and feminists are understandably concerned about the demonization of the word "vagina."

On June 13, 2012 Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown's use of the word led to her censure. In the aftermath a state representative declared the word "vagina" so offensive that he wouldn't say it in mixed company.

Now Idaho High School science teacher Tim McDaniel is being investigated for saying "vagina" during a sophomore science class on human reproduction. No fewer than four parents complained about his use of the word.

Helene Martz and I had a conversation about this topic last night on Christiana's Psychic Café. She felt as I do, that this is another way to disempower women. That the "offensive" word refers to a specifically feminine body part is evidence of the misogyny that is working its way into the fabric of our society.

We must find a way to normalize words that describe our bodies. Teaching our children to refer to their genitals as "wee wee" or "pee pee" or other pet names is a huge mistake. Bowing to a misinformed public who prefers not to hear word "vagina" is another.

The underlying message is that women are bad, sex is bad and our bodies are bad. Turning the vagina into a Voldemort-like thing whose name shall not be spoken can only hurt our society in the long run. We must remember that the vagina is the pathway to life for us all.

And, as Helene pointed out last night, this is another attack on science. The teacher and the lawmaker both used the proper scientific term, and both were punished for it.

A society that tries to marginalize both women and science seems very dangerous indeed.

If we are not permitted to speak the word "vagina" now, eventually those with vaginas will not be permitted to speak.

When people's sensitivities become squeamish about scientific facts, eventually decisions will be based on those sensitivities rather than on facts.

It is interesting, too, that as the acceptability of the word "vagina" decreases, the acceptability of rape seems to increase. We even have a buzzword for that now - "rape culture." It may be that the freer we are in speaking of our bodies the safer our bodies will be.

On the other side of things, there are young artists such as VulvaLoveLovely who create pillows, jewelry and statues in the shapes of uteruses, vaginas and vulvas. I had never really before understood why I might want to wear a vulva around my neck. Now I get it. To honor our bodies in art is to love ourselves. It may be that the only way to fight misogyny, or any kind of hatred, is with love.

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