Ever since I heard about Representative Lisa Brown's censure for using the term in this post's headline on the floor of the Michigan legislature, I've had trouble getting the 1980s pop song "My Sharona" out of my head. It's playing, over and over, but with "vagina" instead of "Sharona." My, my, my, whooo!
I know I have to take this kerfuffle seriously, but it's almost beyond sarcasm: it's just flat-out funny. So it's okay to legislate what women do with their body parts—or, pardon me, how they should be punished by having their choices taken away from them if they dare to have sex that leads to conception—but not to use accurate language to talk about it? As I'm sure you've read by now, one Michigan Republican, Representative Mike Callton, actually said as much, saying that Brown's comment "was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women." Really? Because women don't know that they have one? Because women don't know that you know that they have one? Among the other things that Brown discussed was her adherence to orthodox Jewish law, including keeping kosher—and noted that the bill would violate her religious freedom, because Jewish law mandates abortion if a woman's life is at stake, valuing the woman's life more than that of someone who has not yet been born. I'm with Brown, who said,
"I really had no idea it would have this effect on people," Brown said Friday. "It's an anatomically correct term for woman's anatomy. It actually exists in Michigan statutes in three different places. This bill was about abortion. That doesn't happen without a vagina."
Sometimes I think I grew up on another planet from some of these people. As children, my brother and I knew only the terms "penis" and "vagina" for the body parts that we used for urination. I can never remember any sense of shame or embarrassment about either the words or the genitals: both "penis" and "vagina" had an emotional valence roughly equivalent to "shoulder." As a result, the appeal of the Vagina Monologues completely escaped me. Eve Ensler's theater piece starts with the presumption that the word is shocking because the reality of what happens to women is, literally, unspeakable—and that if we can speak the word, we can start naming some of the ways that those who own them are violated. I didn't grow up with the unspeakability presumption, or the sense that anything was wrong with my body. But clearly a lot of people did. And so I'm thrilled to hear that the Vagina Monologues is going to be performed tonight on the Michigan legislature's steps. If anyone needs that lesson, it's the Michigan legislature's leadership.
Because here's what the incident tells me: people who want to regulate abortions, like those Michigan Republicans, grew up with a sense that women's bodies were shameful, that sex was shameful, and that any woman who dared even think about owning her own body without embarrassment had to be punished, shamed, silenced, or forced to bear a child. I'm sorry for those people. I'm sorry that they're bringing up their kids that way. And thank God for Representative Brown telling them to get their hands off my, my, my, my, my, my, wooo!
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