When V-Day founder Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues came to town, I was teaching my first college course and had every intention of announcing the groundbreaking activist play to my class, just as I had with poet Amiri Baraka’s upcoming reading and the new art exhibit at the campus museum. But once I stood in front of my students, I couldn’t bring myself to say the word vagina. I couldn’t even write it on the chalkboard. I choked.
That was 12 years ago, and I was 23—the same age at which my grandfather had begun teaching college half a century earlier. His trick to looking older: “I grew a moustache.” Not having that capability, I resigned myself to looking and feeling young. Apparently too young to say shocking words in front of a classroom full of 18-year-olds. When I eventually saw Ensler’s play, it brilliantly dramatized the inability of our culture—and me—to say vagina, and all the whacky euphemisms we use instead, from hoo-ha to punani to (my personal favorite) coochie snorcher.
Naturally, I was able to announce the next performance of The Vagina Monologues to my class.
And today, we can talk about vaginas anywhere, writes Jezebel: “Marketers have taken a cue from Eve Ensler—that was fifteen years ago, by the way—and decided that they can shout ‘vagina’ all they want.” Still, the internet world was set aflutter after presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has “very dangerous consequences” such as causing mental retardation, prompting novelist Ayelet Waldman (of controversial “I love my husband more than my children” fame) to tweet the dangerous consequences of not being vaccinated for HPV—namely that it caused her cancerous cervical lesions. (A bioethicist has since offered $10,000 to the charity of Bachmann’s choice if she can offer up medical record proof of her retardation claim, reports Slate.) It’s easy to turn Bachmann’s eternally nutty gaffes and misinformation into a joke, but as Feministe says: “[S]ometimes [HPV] causes cancer. And that’s no joke. And putting a real face on an incredibly common, sometimes cancer-causing disease is important.”
Our culture has long been comfortable talking openly about men’s genitalia. From Senator Bob Dole’s memorable Viagra commercial to every semi-crude dad on every family sitcom, personal penis references are old hat. Thanks, Ms. Ensler, for opening the door to important public conversations about the vagina.