It has come to my understanding that you do not like it when I talk about my uterus. I also understand you do not like it when I talk about my vulva or the other parts of my body contained therein. You have let me know this through numerous emails and phone calls detailing your horror at my lack of shame and decorum. You’d like what I wrote if I didn’t use such “vulgar” terms, you tell me. You’d like what I wrote if only I had a little more “decency”, you say.
A man named Dennis leaves me a voicemail to let me know I must be the world’s greatest masturbator because I apparently know all my body parts so well. He doesn’t mean this as a compliment.
And I hear you. Unless it’s in a demeaning way, Americans aren’t raised to talk about women’s bodies in specific terms. Instead, we teach children euphemisms for their body parts — coochie or piddlewiddle. Or worse, we teach the incorrect terminology — saying vagina when we mean vulva.
For decades, researchers and health educators have drawn a direct line from our inability to talk about our bodies in specific and correct terms to abuse and misinformation. This is the power of language. When a child, or any person, knows the correct language for something, they have power over it.
When you name your body parts, when you speak of them, you can better say, “No this belongs to me.” “No, this is mine.” When you can name your sexuality, when you can name your feelings and experience, you can find the words to express who and what you are. In a world that seeks to erase our reality, naming ourselves is a power not to be relinquished.
A large photograph hanging in the National Archives depicts the thousands of women who turned out on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2017 for the Woman’s March. This photo is displayed as part of a celebration of the centennial of women’s suffrage. But visitors who looked closely at the photograph saw that protest signs critical of the president and references to women’s anatomy had been blurred out. According to a story in the Washington Post, “One [sign] reads ‘If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED’ has ‘vagina’ blurred out. And another that says ‘This Pussy Grabs Back’ has the word ‘Pussy’ erased.”
In a statement to the Washington Post, the Archives tried to justify the erasure, saying they didn’t want to make political commentary or offend visitors. It’s a pernicious sort of editing, one that presupposes a woman’s body is political and offensive. It’s a move that tells people whatever the truth is about women, it’s worth blurring out.
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Be quiet, you are making things political. Stop talking the children can hear you! This is how our bodies and our truths get blurred out of the photo.
It this same logic that the Iowa GOP was operating under when they introduced legislation that would have prevented teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues without warning parents. Those laws, thankfully, did not survive the funnel. But there are other bills with this same intent. Laws that would change the wording of “fetal remains” to “bodily remains.” A newspeak reversal of power, to tip language against women and recolonize the language of our bodies.
It’s not my fault saying vulva is a political act. I was just born with one. How did my body turn into political commentary? How is naming parts of myself offensive? The struggle of a woman’s life is the struggle of naming ourselves and our experience in the face of erasure. It’s the struggle of truth against denial.
Here is the truth: My vulva is not a shameful and banished thing. It’s not something dishonored. It’s not something to be hidden or legislated into nonexistence. My uterus is not a mystery. My body is not a secret.
So, I hear that you are upset. I hear that you don’t like it. But as long as you keep passing legislation over the sacred parts of my body, as long as you refuse me autonomy, I’ll keep writing about my uterus.
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