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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Vagina, vagina, vagina (in honour of the Michigan Legislature)

Today is the day that Facebook went all vaginain response to recent events in Michigan. Here's the story as it appears on Michigan State representative Lisa Brown's official website. There has been widespread and international coverage, for example in TimeCBS News and the CBC. Here's a rough summary:
While debating a bill that would restrict access to abortion, Lisa Brown, an elected representative, remarked that "I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’"
Given all the possible names representative Brown might have chosen to use, it's truly remarkable that state representative Mike Callton found her language "so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women."
Representative Brown's use of such explicit language so shocked the non-vagina'ed members of the Michigan legislature that Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas banned her indefinitely from speaking in future house debates. Apparently this is the first time that a lawmaker has been barred from participating in house debates, in other words, from doing the job that her constituents elected her to do. Remarkably, calling a vagina a vagina is the most shocking language that the Michigan legislature has ever been subjected to. All I can say is that Michigan must elect a tamer crowd than the rowdy Canadian politicians I see during Question Period.
These events have galvanized feminists and pundits alike, in venues as diverse as Forbes, the Huffington Post, and Britain's Guardian newspaper

As the Guardian noted, vaginas aren't dirty, even in MichiganHaving said that, most of us don't know where to go to learn more. In honour of Vagina Day, I offer these links as a fertile entry into the wonders and mystery of vaginas.
  • You can freely view the documentary, The Perfect Vagina, and be surprised, as I was, at the growing demand for cosmetic surgery to correct perfectly normal labia and vulvas (often misnamed vaginas).
  • And, if taming your body with cosmetic surgery isn't enough, you can also buy a product to deal with your inadequate vaginal skin colour.
On the other hand, how do we know what a normal vagina looks like, anyway? If you are a woman, and not a gynecologist, bisexual or a lesbian, chances are you haven't seen very many up close. And, face it, things do have a tendency to all hang out as we age. Is it normal? Shouldn't I look like I did when I was a little girl? And what do other ones look like, anyway? 
  • It's questions like this that inspired my friend Alexandra Jacoby to start her amazing project, Vagina Verite. She even published a book this year. Great project, and a great site.
  • Another artist has taken a more sculptural approach, creating the Great Wall of Vagina.
For information about what goes on around, about and through the vagina, you should check out the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CeMCOR), a fabulous resource for women who would like to know more about menstrual cycles, ovulation and perimenopause from a medically informed, woman-centred perspective. For the last 15 years I've been working with Dr. Jerilynn Prior, a pioneer scientist, clinical endocrinology and feminist advocate who founded and is the scientific director of CeMCOR, which resides within the Division of Endocrinology in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

Also, check out the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, a multidisciplinary group of feminist researchers and activists with an interest in the menstrual cycle. Our blog, Re:Cycling, is worth following.

I was surprised to see how much vagina-positive material I could find on the internet. And gobsmacked to find that my google search turned up nary a porn site in the top 2 pages. Go figure.

I'd like to think that we are living in a world of more gender equality than when I was a child, but it turns out that having a vagina can still attract some nasty attention.
After all of this, I still don't really understand why saying the word vagina was deemed inappropriate in a debate about, well, legislating what a gal can do with hers. Maybe it is a modern echo of the old fears about the Vagina Dentata. And, if the predictions of this futurist-artist is correct, men should be afraid, because it may only get worse.

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