Vaginas are having a moment.
They were highlighted in a recent NYT article, when three major TV networks declined to air Kotex ads using the V word. Replacing it with "down there" was deemed inappropriate by two out of the three. Vajazzling is currently the rage among certain sets, although I'm not sure who they are. Jennifer Love Hewitt popularized the rhinestone treatment on late night TV, laughingly admitting to George Lopez that she was, in fact, currently vajazzled. Let me set the record straight before we go any further: even though many say the process is encrusting one's vagina with crystals, they're actually affixed to the lower pubic area, just above the vulva. If one were to attach shiny bits to an actual vagina, menstruation and/or sex would quickly destroy the design.
Mooncup, a popular menstrual cup company based in the UK, just launched a Love Your Vagina initiative at which they ask for people's favorite vagina pet names, along with sharing information about their product and menstrual management alternatives. After scanning the list, I can't help but mention: The Box Office. Tunnel of Love. Field and Stream. Boris. Love muffin. Rufus. Seventh Generation has been on the streets talking to women about organic cotton tampons and how important it is to take responsibility for what we put in our vaginas.
So, what to make of all this vagina talk?
While on the one hand, open conversation about a body part that's always been shrouded in secrecy is a good thing. But, there's an asterisk. As illustrated above, the conversation isn't always so open. We live in a society in which language is a powerful tool. Advertisers and the media shape cultural mindsets through carefully crafted campaign messages. And when those messages are shrouded in euphemisms, does anyone know what it is we're really talking about? In FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation (with Susan Kim) we talk about the effective strategies in femcare advertising, how we've all been trained, on some level, to know what four wall protection is, what wings are for, that super absorbent isn't always referring to diapers. If you check out most period product packaging, the word period or menstruation almost never appears, and yet, we still know what it is we're looking at. By not using proper terminology, we confine factual talk to behind-the-hand whispers.
It's a woman's body that bears the brunt of this bad language habit. Saying Aunt Flow is in town or mentioning that one is on the rag does nothing to promote conversation. And referring to vaginas with cutesy sounding names (Mrs. Winky anyone?) can be seen as demeaning, infantilizing. Selling a service called vajazzling is misleading when many women often don't know exactly what and where their vagina actually is. I can only imagine the discussion between a woman and her gynecologist, should she be having trouble with her jujubee. Or peach. Or sex tunnel.
We don't call noses booger blowers. Underarms aren't known as smell pits. People don't refer to penises as ramrods or love sticks on national television. So why do we say ok to vajayjay?
A vagina by any other name isn't a vagina. It's a not-particularly-effective work around at a time when straight talk about our bodies is long overdue.