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.


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