It's about that time - time for women all across the country to come together in groups to recite from the sort of feminist bible that is Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.
There have been plenty of criticisms of Ensler, most notably for her fixation on vaginas as the thing that bonds all women together. Because - and I'll bet some of you may not know this - not all women have vaginas. Some women have had cancer, for example, and had to have their vaginas removed. (If that sounds strange to you, it's probably because we think of vaginas as holes, as the absence of something - but in fact, vaginas are muscular organs, and pretty amazing ones at that.) Other women may be intersex and may not have a vagina at all. And then there are also transwomen, who may or may not have vaginas, who may or may not see vaginas as something that is especially womanly or central to the definition of "woman". (And remember: there are also transmen with vaginas.)
She's also come under criticism because her interviews reflect a mostly heterosexual vaginal reflection. Because - and you probably knew this already - all those people with vaginas? They're not all heterosexual. And, let's face it - queer women frequently have more positive feelings about "down there" than do het women. I mean really - totally different conversation.
But the thing that's been bugging me most about Ensler is her insistence on the word "vagina" when what she and her narrators are talking about are actually vulvas.
The vulva, for the unitiated, would be the "outside part," the part with the labia and the clitoris. (And yes, I was just recently reading on someone's blog - I wish I could remember whose - a question about "innie" and "outie" vaginas. As someone pointed out, an "outie" vagina would be a very, very bad thing. It would be a prolapsed vagina. Ouch.)
And much of what Ensler's narrators are talking about is that "outside part" - hence, NOT their vaginas!
Perhaps this wouldn't bother me so much if not for the fact that there seems to be a real inability for pretty much everyone to call female anatomy by its name(s). We have no problem saying the words, like cunt and pussy, that have often been used as hateful slurs (thank GOD for feminists and lesbians and feminist lesbians who've led us in reclaiming these words). But when it comes right down to it, we can't talk about our bodies honestly.
"Why does it matter?" you may be thinking. Well, think of it this way. Would you ever refer to a scrotum as a penis? I think not. They are clearly two different things. So are vulvas and vaginas. Or, for a better analogy, so are mouths different from lips. And while we sometimes use the shorthand "mouth" to talk about the whole area, we can tell the difference between the lips and the tongue and the teeth and the throat. And we know where the uvula is.
Is it any wonder that we've got a significant population of people who can't find a clitoris on a map when we don't even know the difference between a vulva and a vagina?!
And, incidentally, to that nurse who asked me, when I was recovering from having given birth, if my "bottom" was sore, here's what I should have said:
"No, you nitwit! My 'bottom' is just fine. My 'bottom' did not just deliver a baby. My 'bottom' is perfectly content!"
But of course, I couldn't really correct a nurse, could I? I mean, what kind of vulgar person uses words the medical staff wouldn't even use - you know? And so the silence about "down there" persists, even among medical professionals, whom you'd think would have at least something invested in using proper terminology.
And as for the term "front bottoms": Good lord! Who came up with THAT?! My precious female parts are NOT the equivalent of an asshole!
So, women, I propose we reclaim the vulva. Let's call it what it is. Let's get t-shirts that read "It's a VULVA, you idiot!" And here's a little inspiration for vulvactivism...