Twice this week, I listened to the principals of Women of Antigua, the performing-arts activist group, talk about their upcoming productions of The Vagina Monologues and When a Woman Moans. At base, the events seek to raise awareness and, thus, prevention of abuse/violence against women and girls; and to do this, the performances are often provocative. Well, those who didn’t know that before had it made plain to them on Thursday, when, in an Observer AM interview, one cast member said she was doing a piece called “The Little Coochie Snorcher….”
Well, through the radio, I could almost see the reaction on the host’s face; and after I had my good-good laugh, I got down to some serious thinking. Because, just as Anika warned (and WOA very well knows), there are people out there who are very easily offended; and, today, I want to explore why… .
Some years ago, in this column, I talked about how women are conditioned, from little-girlhood, to be either ashamed of, or self-conscious about, their bodies, especially the region lying mid-south. I spoke, then, of hearing a young mother boast about her newborn son’s “heavy toolbox,” when you and I know, Sisters, that we will never live long enough to hear a woman speak – not even in whispers – about her daughter’s development, or lack of it, down there. Rather, by the time the infant gets to toddler stage, she will have learned to pull her frilly little pink frock down; and by primary-school age, she will know, without being prompted, to keep her legs primly together. In fact, I remember, very well, how girls would cry when some rude little boy would stick a piece of mirror under their uniform hems and call out the colour of their underwear – for he had discovered what was to have remained secret and had, so to speak, let the cat out of the bag… .
But, bad as all that was, it was not the worst; for our mothers and grandmothers had to get Nature herself in on the act. It was not enough for these unfortunately warped women to bawl out on their offspring, “Come down from there right now! Little girls not to climb trees!” – there being at ground level males who might be looking skyward, I suppose – but they added injury to the insult by pronouncing, “You will make the magoes sour!” Now, tell me!!!
Just a week ago, in the company of a friend from abroad, I excused myself to go to the Ladies Room. Coming back, I asked if he was okay, since he had remained in the car while I was gone. “I’m a man,” he reminded me, boastfully. “I can go anywhere, anytime.” Now, ain’t that the disgusting truth? And never will he be condemned for cotching up against a tree or a light pole. After all, men are not brought up to be ashamed of how they’re made – as the designer of the Men’s Room urinal will prove to you.
Meanwhile, I’m sure you will remember, just a few months ago, that a gentleman wrote to a columnist in this newspaper, protesting that he didn’t like the idea of his wife being treated by a male gynaecologist. It sparked a serious discussion, moderated by a counselor, and then an all-out audience debate one night in The Snake Pit. As far as I was, and am, concerned, however, the matter could have been summed up in a chauvinist phrase I learned from Eddie Murphy: “Whose [vagina] is this?”
You see, this man’s attitude is just another demonstration of how women have been taught – and have bought into the idea – that they do not “own” themselves. Not even when they supposedly “belong” to themselves. For instance, I have never understood how a sister could sit down in a church and listen to some male preacher tell her that it is a sin or abomination or perversion to get intimately acquainted with herself. She didn’t borrow it from someone; she doesn’t owe the bank on it. It’s hers; as in her-self. How can it be wrong for her, who owns it, to please herself, but completely all right for some feller she marries – 25 to 30 years after she’s had it – to do with it what pleases him?
After brainwashing like this, is it any wonder, in this 21st century, that adult women, big people, are still uncomfortable acknowledging what my mother’s eldest sister – born in 1906 or thereabouts – used to call their “little self?” Acknowledge? Try erase, instead. Think of all the silly names and the euphemisms women have attached to their vaginas over the centuries, none of them embracing or empowering. Then think of all the titles and the qualities with which men endow their penises: The respect inherent in a “Mr Johnson;” the importance accorded the “main vein;” the endurance and strength associated with those names of metallic derivation. And even the anguished bereavement amidst the cries of “Willy dead! Willy dead!”
Meanwhile, Willimina, the immortal, sits shrouded in silence, lips sealed against any self-promotion. To tell the truth, I don’t even like the word “vagina,” you know. It sounds so removed, so clinical, so medical book-ish, like “angina” or some other terminal affliction. Personally, I prefer to hear it called something that evokes affection, celebration, attachment – like Oprah’s moniker, “Vajayjay.” Now, isn’t that a happy sound? Isn’t that a name that inspires you to get to know its owner better? Isn’t that a description that makes you want to meet a sister on the street, give her a high-five, and say, “You go, Girl!?” Vajayjayyyy… It just rolls off the tongue; doesn’t it?
That’s why I’m encouraging women to take their daughters and their mothers, next weekend, to experience the monologues, and then, hopefully, have a meaningful dialogue about whatever they’re calling it now. Because it’s time – beyond time – that women stopped moving like an apology, and started making good on Maya Angelou’s lines: “… Does it come as a surprise/That I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?”
And aren’t diamonds meant to be a girl’s best friend?