Speaking our bodies without shame

Sometimes the diversity of topics that I read about on the internet comes up and smacks me in the face.  Actually, given the topic I’m about to embark on, I kind of wish I hadn’t used that metaphor.

This afternoon I read a few blogs/articles that discuss the same theme in two very different contexts.  In one corner, the evangelical Christian corner, is a discussion of author Rachel Held Evans’s struggle with her publisher and Christian booksellers to publish a book that at some point (or many points, perhaps) uses the word ‘vagina.’  One of the best discussions I read on this topic was Dianna E. Anderson’s “Hello world, I am anatomically female”.  She does a great job of discussing why it is important that we speak the name of one of the female sexual organs/areas without shame and without euphemism.  It is especially frustrating for Christian writers who have seen the words ‘penis’ and ‘testicle’ in books sold in Christian bookstores.  Vagina is a very clinical (as Anderson demonstrates by listing many, sometimes cringe-inducing euphemisms) term for one part of the female genitalia, and hardly one that should make use think titillating thoughts, unless we’re so repressed that any mention of genitalia causes us to squirm.  I tend to agree with commenter Alise who wrote that she prefers to teach her children to use the word ‘vulva’ since most of the time that’s what we’re talking about anyway, but, of course, that isn’t to avoid the use of the word ‘vagina,’ since it is the correct and unshameful word for that part of the body.

In the other corner was an article that reminded me profoundly of the gap that sometimes exists between Christians and the rest of the world.  It was also discussing the use of a specific word for female genitalia, one that would make most shoppers in an evangelical Christian bookstore drop a book like it was a hot poker.  The article in question is an op-ed by feminist Laurie Penny entitled “In defence of the ‘C’ word” which seeks to encourage feminists to use the word ‘cunt’ as a sexual-power-word.  She wants to reclaim the word so that it is no longer “a nasty name for a nasty thing” as she tells us Francis Grose’s 1785 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines it.

Now, I encourage you to read Penny’s article, but I don’t entirely agree with it.  Maybe I am just being the Christian prude that I’m sure I am, but I am not happy reclaiming the word ‘cunt’ because it is still too often used as a vicious insult by misogynists.  I don’t feel empowered by using that word to describe my genitals because I feel that it reduces me to my genitals.  My vulva, vagina, clitoris, uterus, etc. are important and precious parts of my body, but they are not my whole body, nor do I wish to identify with them any more than I would want to identify with the soles of my feet or the parts of my mouth.  Furthermore, ‘cunt’ has been used primarily as a reductive insulting term—as the 1785 definition strongly demonstrates—and since misogynists are still using it in that way, I doubt that it can be appropriated by feminists in the same way that ‘queer’ has been by the LGBTIQ folks.

So, on the one hand evangelicals are blushing over the word ‘vagina’ while on the other some feminists are encouraging their sisters to shout the word ‘cunt.’  Yet though they are divided by extremes of ideology, both issues come down to the same thing: the question of whether or not women should be ashamed of being, well, women.  Although I don’t want to be reduced to my genitalia, nevertheless my sexual organs, my vagina among them, are important to defining my sexual identity.  I experience the world differently because I have a vagina (etc.) instead of a penis (etc.).  I refuse to think of my vagina as something I should be ashamed of and I refuse to let it (and usually, by extension, myself) be objectified as nothing more than a receptacle for a penis.  Now that I mention it (the penis), I’m also uncomfortable with the penis being nicknamed things like ‘prick’ or ‘dick’ since often this language is utilitarian and reductive.  It doesn’t account for the richness of the human sexual experience and the depth of intimacy between a man and woman that goes beyond physical arousal.  It focuses pornographically on the physical organs and separates them from the unique and precious individuals—each made in the image of God—that possess them.

So, no, I don’t want to call my fellow feminists “cunts” either as a compliment or as an insult.  Nor do I want to euphemistically avoid naming a sexual organ by its name.  I have a vagina.  It has many uses, and, because of its nature, has and will continue to have a very important effect on molding my identity as a woman, and I won’t apologize for that.

Your guide for today will be…

I’ve considered starting what I like to call “a real, grown up blog” for a long time.  Years ago, when blogs were called by their ancient moniker “weblogs,” I was recruited into keeping one by another “user” that I suspect was actually some sort of bot that sent me spam to rope me in.  At the time—back at the turn of the millennium—most blogs were nothing more than online journals.  This was in the years before MySpace and, of course, Facebook, and we early bloggers were experimenting in what is now called social media, or, barely-censored-self-disclosure.

Blogging has come a long way since then and the best blogs available in the “blogosphere” are those that read almost like syndicated regular news columns.  These best-of-blogs are topical, well-written, and rarely merely recording the daily events and emotions of the writer.  The world now has Twitter and Facebook to cover the need to self-disclose regularly.  Our blogs, then, become the spaces in which we communicate our more organized, deeper thoughts, instead of records of what we’ve eaten, read, watched, or seen on our way home on the bus, although sometimes they might reflect on those things, too.

Choosing a topic for a blog is difficult for me.  I consider myself a collector of ideas.  I have an eclectic range of interests and I enjoy spending time making them fit together in my head.  The most important idea in my life is my belief in Jesus Christ.  Everything else I do or think is filtered through my relationship with Him.  So this blog will have a lot to do with Christianity and how Christians—or at least this Christian and her husband—interact with our culture.  I am also a feminist.  I like to own that term, and will probably spend some time in future-posts-coming-very-soon unpacking what it means for me.

I love the culture of geek that has sprung up on the internet over the past…well, more or less as long as there has been internet!   I am a “gamer” insofar as my favourite pastime is playing PC-based video games, especially Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG or MMO, and this is the last time you’ll ever see it written as anything but MMO), but I also love reading and watching science fiction and fantasy.  I think that qualifies me for at least some geek-cred, though as in all things there may be other boxes to tick depending on who’s doing the ticking.

Finally, I have always had a keen interest in current affairs and politics, with a deep streak of something resembling socialism that’s motivated by my true Liberal Bleeding Heart.  I hurt when I see others hurting, and because of the way my mind works, I tend to see the Big Picture ways in which our society is causing/exacerbating/ignoring those hurts.  All of these elements will no doubt come out in my writing, since I don’t think I have the energy to start and maintain multiple blogs, and, frankly, I like playing with the ways in which they all fit together.

I look forward to journeying with anyone and everyone who is interested in walking alongside me, virtually speaking, for a little while.