A while ago now, I jokingly (sort of) declared a desire to create “Say Vagina Day”. It was a reaction to an apparent reluctance and distaste for speaking the word. New Zealand society mildly imploded in on itself when the word ‘vagina’ was spoken on a television commercial. Grown women appeared to be more comfortable using terms that made them sound like a pre-schooler than to use the actual biological term. So I started a minor campaign to get everyone I know to say vagina at least once a week. Now months later, I am hoping we’ll stop saying vagina.
The female genitals are amazing, diverse and complex. The vagina is one part of this system. But when we speak of them, the vagina is all we know, all we acknowledge. There is a reasonable awareness of the clitoris, at least amongst my friends, how widespread I am not sure. But concepts such a labia, pubic mons and the vulva often gets a look of confusion. We don’t have a strong understanding of the female sexual body, even on a basic anatomy level. And if women, who possess the bodies are disconnected from it, I can only imagine it is far more distant for males.
So now, when we talk about female genitalia, female sexual and reproductive organs, more often than not we simply say ‘vagina’. I agree it is better than not having anything to say, or (in my opinion) the worst option of using cutesy childish terms like ‘vajayjay’. But the fact that it ‘could be worse’ isn’t enough to stop pushing for better.
A recent article on The Telegraph website about an arts student that created knickers that depicted a women’s internal reproductive organs got me thinking. Just looking at the picture (see below) I had a mixed reaction of how great it was to have such a direct depiction, and at the same time worried that it linked female sexuality to her reproductive ability.
But it was reading the article further that caused this rant. These pants, in this article and elsewhere were quickly labelled the ‘vagina pants’. Why with all the diversity and potential information did it all get narrowed down to the vagina?
For me this speaks clearly of the construction of the female body, and female sexuality in its relation to the male. When we talk and teach about sexuality, we so often create it in terms of heterosexuality and reproduction. The vagina is often described as the tube the penis enters, or the channel the baby is born through. Vagina is able to be spoken about because it is constructed as a device for male enjoyment and fulfillment, sexual or reproduction. The current common construction is the vagina exists for the benefit of men.
Female sexuality, the female sexual body has variety and complexity. We still struggle to talk about it within the reference to male sexuality. There is an underlying need to validate our body in relationship to the man’s approval and use. The vagina becomes a male instrument, rather than a female one. Female sexuality on its own is still disapproved and negated. An example is depictions of female only, or female focused sexual pleasure get a higher age restriction in movies than a males. The biological and anatomical changes that accompany female sexual arousal are not discussed. The message becomes males get erections, get a physical response to pleasure, females spread their legs.
We need to be more aware of the female sexual body. We need to have an understanding of it in its complexity. We need to be able to think and discuss it in the absence of the male. We need to have words like vulva and labia as commonly accepted as vagina, penis and testicles. We need to stop limiting females sexuality to their vaginas.