This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post here
I went to an audition today, for my university’s Feminist Society’s annual performance of The Vagina Monologues. I did really want to take part, even if I didn’t get a part in the show. As I sat there, through the door I could hear another girl reading. And then I realised I couldn’t do it. What follows explains why: this is MY angry vagina monologue.
I sat there, and I could hear her read. Not all of the words. Only one in particular stuck out, and shame jabbed me every time she said it: vagina.
I have been a bad feminist. I thought I’d come so far and I have tripped and fallen flat on my face at one of the biggest hurdles of being a feminist- hell, of being a woman. Why can’t I say it? Why can’t I say any of those words? They’re mine, these ‘things’ belong to me. But I can’t say them out loud.
Everything to do with THAT AREA of my body, all these years I’ve been taught that I’m not meant to talk about. They’re bad words, and you shouldn’t say them in front of people. At first, we all accepted this because we were young and awkward and why on earth would we ever want to TALK OUT LOUD to anyone about anything to do with genitalia (giggle)?
In primary school, the school nurse took us girls off to a separate room to explain the ways in which we could soak up the blood that could start spurting out of us any time soon. For one week every month at school, I was paranoid that I would stand up and be horrified to see that I’d left a smear of blood on my chair. When you couldn’t go swimming, everyone knew full well why, but still you told the teacher you’d forgotten your kit or ‘didn’t feel well’. Even amongst female friends, we used the evasive, yet effective ‘time of the month’ (sometimes shortened to ‘TOM’) or my personal favourite, ‘the painters are in’, instead of just coming out and saying what we all knew.
My human biology class in fifth year was the first time I felt like I had a handle on what was going on at ‘that time’, but out of the people in my year at school, few girls (and many fewer boys) would ever learn. Even then, it was all about what was happening on the inside on the woman’s end- never once did I see a diagram of the outside.
Once it became apparent that pretty much everyone was having sex, still nobody said a thing. There’d be gossip about people outside the group who’d apparently been ‘up to things’, who was pregnant, or who maybe had an STI, but we were still all too damn embarrassed to tell our closest friends about our personal experiences of owning a vagina.
Reflecting on all of this only clarifies the VAGINA SHAMING that I’ve been exposed to for my whole life. Maybe there’s something in the very anatomical detail of it being ‘hidden’ (compared to the penis) that means you’re just not allowed to talk about it. It goes along with the idea that women ought to keep calm and carry on, suffering from month to month from excruciating cramps that ensure they can some day bear children. The word ‘vagina’ and its associated anatomical terms are on that invisible ‘bad words’ list that somehow everyone knows exists. Vagina, labia, clitoris are all words just as descriptive as penis, testicles, foreskin, but somehow deemed so much more shocking and offensive when used out loud. Offensive to who? Men are allowed to openly boast about penis size, some even scratch their balls in public (which is disgusting, by the way), while women have to tiptoe around the fact that there is more between their legs than a space to impregnate.
So why shouldn’t we talk about it? All I am asking is that females are allowed an environment in which they feel firstly that they can use real terms when referring to periods and other vagina things. Secondly, they should feel able to talk out loud to others about these things. Finally, they should know they never need feel ashamed for having a certain anatomy.
It might take me some time to get over my squeamishness (and my upset that I even feel squeamish in the first place), but dammit, it’s my word and I’ll use it if I want to. I have a vagina. And that is ok.