a bird and a bottle

All together now: Vagina

This seems fitting for International Women’s Day/Blog Against Sexism Day.

How many times do we have to go through this? Vagina is not a dirty word, people. Not a dirty word.*

Yesterday came news that three young women at a New York (state) highschool had been suspended for performing the piece “My Short Skirt” from the Vagina Monologues. The part they recited reads:

My short skirt is a liberation
flag in the women’s army
I declare these streets, any streets
my vagina’s country.

Their principal claims that they were suspended not for saying vagina, but for insubordination because he told them not to say vagina. Right. Because that makes so much more sense.

Amanda over at Pandagon took apart the Principal’s rationale (and those of the others who have a problem with words like vagina or scrotum):

But as you can see from the dust-up over the word “vagina”, it’s not about the words themselves, but about the concepts. The fury over “The Vagina Monologues” has never been about some mysterious substance inside the letter V-A-G-I-N-A that causes people to lose their minds. The fury is over the themes of the play and Ensler’s attempt to get to fight back against misogyny. Add this little dust-up to the evidence bin—it’s hardly a happy coincidence for the principle that the theme of female freedom would have be excised alongside the forbidden word. When he says that young people were exposed to this passage, is he mad that 14-year-olds learned that women have vaginas? Or is he mad that teenage girls are exposed to the idea that there’s something wrong with a world where women don’t feel free to walk down the street without getting randomly punished for having vaginas? I have my suspicions.

Today, the Times (in an article by my college classmate Anahad O’Connor) has more on the story. And, damn, those young women rock. The students charge that — despite their principal’s claims — they never agreed to refrain from saying vagina. They emphasize that they didn’t do this to be defiant of the school administration. They just believed — rightly — that vagina is not a dirty word. As one of the young women, Elan Stahl, puts it:

“We did it because we believe in the word vagina, and because we believe it’s not a bad word. It shouldn’t be a word that is ever censored, and the way in which we used it was respectable.


She and the other two girls, all honor students, wanted to read the passage because it had inspired them to “embrace our bodies, our femininity and our womanhood,” and that they had gone out of their way to choose one of the least graphic sections.

“We wanted one that we felt was more appropriate for the setting,” she said. “The use of the word vagina in this piece wasn’t sexual, and the piece and the context of the word is empowering.”

I couldn’t say it any better myself.

*NB: I think the label “dirty word” is in and of itself damaging. Words are not inherently “dirty” or “bad” — it’s the connotations laid upon them culturally that make them offensive. And particularly with respect to words that represent body parts. As I have noted in comments on other blogs, to say “vagina” is a dirty word inevitably leads to the correlate that vaginas are bad or dirty or shameful.


1 Comment so far
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that’s awesome! (the young women, i mean. the principal’s an idiot)

Comment by maxwell

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