If you inquired as to why #VaginaMovieLines was trending on Twitter on Thursday, June 14, you found out that Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown was blocked from speaking on the state House floor, presumably as punishment for uttering the word “vagina” during a speech against a proposed ban on all abortions past 20 weeks.
Her exact words:
“Finally Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”
In video of the speech, there are cheers, then the sound of a shocked and angry gavel follows. The next day, Michigan Speaker James Bolger said Brown and colleague Rep. Barb Byrum, who was proposing legislation to ban vasectomies except when necessary to save a man’s life, were banned from speaking because they “failed to maintain the decorum of the House of Representatives.
You can argue that it wasn’t that Brown said “vagina,” which is, as she has pointed out, an anatomically, medically correct term, but that it was the sentence in which she said it that made the comments indecent. (Personally, I thought the conclusion to her speech was witty and that it skillfully pointed out that lawmakers essentially are trying to force their beliefs on women and their bodies.) But then you must ask why Byrum was silenced, too. For saying “vasectomy?” And what did Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, mean by “what she said” and “it” when he said, “What she said was offensive. It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.” Say what? Vagina? No means no? While a man could say, “’No’ means ‘no,”” it wouldn’t make any sense for any man to say, “I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina,” so “it” must refer to “vagina.” He wouldn’t say “vagina” in front of women?
To repeat my tweet, sir, what grade are you in?
The over-reaction of the Michigan House reminds me of something an exchange I had several years ago with an eighth grade boy at a church-sponsored tutoring program. I gave the middle school children an assignment to rewrite a song filled with slang in standard English. He found a rap and asked, “What if the slang is for dirty words?” He pointed to a word on his computer and said, “Like, this word in this song means vagina,” then covered his mouth with both hands.
I told him, “God created our bodies, and everything he made is good, but how we use our bodies isn’t always good.”
I’m tired of women’s and girls’ bodies being seen as inherently bad. Every stage of girls’ sexual development—breast buds, hips, menarche, etc.—is met with awkwardness, shame, disgust and division. Boys make fun of you, you to compare yourself to other girls, and grown women and men judge you because of things that happen to your body naturally.
That’s right,Michigan. Vaginas are natural and normal—and if you’re Eve Ensler or Georgia O’Keefe, they’re downright inspirational—but they’re not offensive, not meant to be legislated, and not cause for silencing women who speak out for them.