Katie Roiphe wrote a pretty damn ridiculous article about how we need to stop saying “vagina.” Maybe it would have been more effective to say something like this:
If I could expunge a single trendy cliché from common political cannoning, it would be the tired, conservative trope of thinking they can control what women do with their bodies. You know what I mean. The self-consciously sexist, outrageous, sleekly regressive dropping of ideas that in any rational society would be considered ludicrous? As in forcing women to subject themselves to violating trans-vaginal ultrasounds in Virginia? Or the strange concept that lying about healthcare choices to women is a Constitutional right? Or misogynist Daniel Tosh’s suggestion that it would be hilarious if an audience member was gang raped? What about Arizona’s attempt to push through a 20 week abortion ban?
The main problem with the in-your-face-misogynist talk is not just the showy, patronizing hint of the pleasure you take in forcing your sexist ideas on everyone, it’s the all too real and destructive forces they unleash on the lives of women—and particularly working women, women of color, immigrant women, and LGBTQ women. The whole set of rhetoric revels in its refusal to acknowledge women as human beings, and it relishes so much and so flamboyantly in that refusal that it becomes a puritanical obsession with controlling women—which is to say that people like Katie Roiphe are completely missing the point when they claim that feminists saying “vagina” are doing the same thing you are.
After all, if the word vagina were really just silliness, would there be attempts to legislate its use? Would female members of political bodies be chastised for using it? Probably not. Hubaballoo. Now that’s a silly word. Let’s make some laws about it! No? Oh right, it doesn’t have anything to do with maintaining the second class status of an oppressed group. My bad.
Your misogyny is so predictable and cliché that its political efficacy should have vanished years ago, and yearly productions of The Vagina Monologues would really be a celebration of women’s bodies rather than a political act that is often the target of repression. Remember those signs we’ve seen at women’s rights marches, like “Keep your Boehner out of my Vagina” and “If I wanted the Government in my Vagina, I’d fuck a senator” and other variations? If sexism didn’t exist, and people weren’t treating women as body parts instead of a human being, we probably wouldn’t have written them in the first place. Do headlines like “Conservative lawmakers have been feverishly at work enacting laws designed to shove the whole government into your vagina” have a certain “shock” value? I would argue yes. But it’s got nothing to do with the word vagina and everything to do with fact that conservatives will go to seemingly any length to legislate women out of personhood. Instead of feigning shock at women using a word that correctly names a part of many of their bodies (instead of a weird fucking euphemism—and there are some weird ones), perhaps you should take this as a wake up call to stop the war on women. All this focusing on feminists using the word vagina is taking away from the real issue at hand—you are a group of misogynist pigs.
(Incidentally, Roiphe suggests—with no trace of irony—that we should talk about Roe v. Wade instead of vaginas, but if you have your way, we won’t be able to talk about that either.)
Some will argue that by using the word so casually and constantly, they are reclaiming it, and therefore affirming their power over their own bodies. I think that most of us, however, are just exercising our right to calling a body part by its name. We don’t think the word vagina is dangerous or damaging. That would be you. You’re imagining this as an attack, when you are the ones who are attacking us!
It seems you’ve gotten into Roiphe’s head with some nonsense that the only people who talk about vaginas or the policies you place upon them are “narcissistic, navel gazing, urban, liberal elites…using this word and irritating and shocking some theoretical Southern senator,” and that women are being irrational for using it rather than “seeing or taking in the nuances of the political landscape and discussing them.”
So, a reminder: there isn’t a whole lot of nuance to this battle. Either women are people, or we are not. Either women have bodily autonomy, or we do not. Either we have abortion access, or we do not. If you can’t figure out which side to choose, your side has already been chosen—the side of oppression.
I am so tired of all this woman-bashing, victim-blaming, anti-choice hysteria. Will we ever leave this high school nonsense behind?
(Oh, and by the way: I, too, am weary of Naomi Wolf—but probably for different reasons than you.)