I’m going to begin this little column with something we’re taught never, ever to do – start a piece of writing with someone else’s quote.
But when you read this next piece, I’d like you to think about your body, your vulva, your vagina, your sex, orgasm and pleasure (or lack thereof)…
‘To love women, to love our vaginas, to know them and touch them and be familiar with who we are and what we need. To satisfy ourselves, to teach our lovers to satisfy us, to be present in our vaginas, to speak of them out loud, to speak of their hunger and pain and loneliness and humor, to make them visible so they cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our center, our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed…’
That’s by Eve Ensler, creator of the 1996 award-winning The Vagina Monolgues. You might’ve heard about it. In 2006, New York Times called it the ‘most important piece of political theatre in the last decade’.
Maybe it’s too political (Or wordy? Or intelligent?) for mainstream publications to print, but I couldn’t help thinking about it when flipped to page 126 of the latest Women’s Health (May 2015) issue to read up about the ‘21 secrets my vagina would share if it could talk’.
I mean who wouldn’t want to know, right?
To give you some background, I was checking this issue out because I’d been asked to give a little yadda yadda about their annual sex stats. But I got stuck on this ‘vagina’ page and couldn’t let it go. It’s mesmerizing.
First off, readers are presented by images of a beaver. Yes, an actual beaver. Because lad language and imagery denigrating women’s body parts is so hilarious. Ha ha ha.
Incidentally, ‘beaver’ is a derogatory word associated with the pubic area, not the vagina, and it’s believed that the term originates from the 15th century when sex workers were expected to wear merkins made of beaver pelt when a lice epidemic forced everyone to go bald.
But I digress.
Next to all the beavers, is a quote smack-bang in the middle of the double-page spread from Josh Burt, under the header ‘What he’s thinking down there’.
It’s a short piece, but it gets the message across you apparently need to hear about what men think about your vagina:
‘I approach vaginas with a sense of anxious doom…’, ‘Let’s face it: vaginas look gross, they smell weird and break every rule of being dainty and feminine by daring to grow hair around themselves…’, ‘Men talk about tits and bums until the cows come home, but few will admit to being a “vagina guy”.’
And more than just looking and smelling terrible, you can rest assured that trying to figure it out is also just too much of a challenge. ‘Frankly we’re too busy working out the mechanics to offer some real artistic appreciation,’ he says. ‘There’s just too much to figure out… .’
Fortunately, the piece ends on an uplifting note: ‘There are no good or bad vaginas, they just are. We love them with unthinkable passion.’
Well that’s good to hear. You’re ugly, gross, smelly and your orgasm is super complicated to figure out, but we like fucking you anyway.
Now, I actually have no problem with Josh’s opinion. It’s his opinion and he is entitled to it.
My question is why a women’s magazine chooses to highlight this very narrow, body-shaming view? It’s not difficult to find men who actually like – heavens, even love – women’s bodies. Hell, if you can’t find a man, I know many lesbians who would happily provide their thoughts on the joy of the pussy.
Do we need to hear a man’s view tell us we’re ‘smelly’, ‘gross’ and ugly? Do we need pictures of big, hairy animals with captions saying it might be time for a wax? It’s no secret that women have enough trouble trying to accept their bodies, is it really necessary to body shame their genitals as well?
Should we expect more from our women-centered magazines?
In an industry that is driven by highlighting shortcomings can we expect change in the language used to speak to women? Can we move away from old, patriarchal views that other and shame women’s bodies? Especially when there’s a move to educate around a topic so habitually objectified, shamed and misunderstood?
How do we expect to hand down or share healthier views on sex and body, to our daughters, sons, sisters, friends and the men in our life, if the mouthpieces of our time – the women around us – are still telling us we’re kinda gross and unacceptable?
I know there are magazines doing some good work towards this and I know that Women’s Health is not the only women’s magazine dishing out this thoughtless, everyday misogyny. But if you’re going to punt a whole ‘sex ed’ type section about what my vagina is telling me, at least get it right.
Because my vagina would rather speak Eve Ensler than Josh Burt.
And frankly this kind of ‘let’s stop being crappy to each other’ conversation is getting boring now.
For more information about how to critically view what you read, visit VagendaMagazine.com.
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