Over champagne today a friend referred to her “lady bits”. I mean she literally used those words. This was followed up by a comment about her “lady garden”… because, obviously, the terms vagina and pubic hair are unseemly and embarrassing. Which got me thinking about this dialogue of avoidance we engage in when we, women, talk about our bodies, and the potential damage it is doing to our place in society.
Of course, the first thing I did before writing this post was Google “words for vagina”. (*Note to self – delete browser history.) Aside from the ‘medical’ sites, the Urban Dictionary provides the most comprehensive holding for ‘vagina’. Unfortunately, most of these are also offensive. A collection of derogatory terms that have been used to diminish the power associated with the female reproduction system. In contrast the Urban Dictionary’s top definition (at time of posting) for penis is “tool used to wean and covert lesbians and virgins into useful productive members of society.” Offended? Yeah, me too.
On the flip-side, there are also screens and screens of posts dedicated to the naming of the penis. But rather than the names being terms of avoidance or just plain nasty, they are mostly about ownership, pride, strength and power. It’s a righteous thing, this naming of your penis. Of course, there are emasculating terms to describe a penis as well – ‘prick’ comes readily to mind, but mostly… roar!
Meanwhile, back in the world in which we are striving for equal representation, I found myself wondering if perhaps we were doing ourselves a disservice every time we misrepresented our bodies. Particularly as women. Language is a good indicator of social development and as such, your choice of vocabulary can either reinforce stereo-types or break down barriers. Testament to this is how men, through the use of selective language over the centuries, have given their penis and their position in society immense power. They are not unrelated matters.
The trick of course is in the rewriting of the dictionary – and as any linguist will tell you, that takes time. Languages evolve, and while the internet has helped speed up that evolution, ultimately the words we speak reflect our cultures, our traditions and educations – and of those who went before. And just as it takes years to learn a new language, it can take years to undo the damage caused by words spoken with ill intent.
The truth is that I am just as guilty of this as the next woman. I have many labels for my body, but few of them appreciative of this magnificent vehicle that gets me through life. I have love handles – which I don’t love other than in a sarcastic way, and are more about the man having something to grip while he thrusts his mighty sword into me (seriously…). I have batwings or, if you prefer, tuck-shop lady arms, as well as other various bits that jiggle to the wonder, amusement and sometimes disgust of everyone watching, and which I mostly try to strap down, hold in, keep hidden. I have cellulite, which was once a sign of wealth (i.e. you could afford to eat) and therefore fashionable, but wasn’t actually a household word until the early 1970’s. I’m hourglass shaped, which may account for why I am so good at being on time, but is under-represented in the fashion industry and mainstream media. I’ve been known to have cankles after a long flight when my body holds onto water like it’s in a drought. And on other occasions I simply refer to the whole package as ‘fatty boom sticks’.
There is a war being waged against our bodies and using our big girl words is important, even more so if you have children (little mimics that they are). Just like my lady bits – vagina, vulva, breasts etc, etc… there is a name and a place for everything. When we choose not to use them we run the risk of reinforcing stereo-types and undermining equality. We can’t afford to be complacent in this, or buy into it as ok and excuse it as humour. We are WOMAN – and while we are more than our bodies, they are also not mere trappings, designed for the entertainment or ridicule of others. Our bodies are a part of our character, our strength, our purpose, our power and deserve respect and love. They are after all, the vehicle that allows us to bring light, joy, intuition, innovation, laughter, perspective, balance, compassion, kindness, patience and love into this world. So go on, be a big girl. Say what you mean, mean what you say xx