The Vagina Dialogues
I had an acquaintance, a woman of about 50, who apart from being, um, odd in a number of ways, bemusing me on a regular basis, once pointed proudly at her crotch, telling me: “I don’t usually wear tight pants, ’cause I got a fleshy cocoon.” With that, she literally wedgied herself, demonstrating the fleshy phenomenon she was talking about.
I needed two long, actual Greenwich minutes to comprehend her words. Then only the unmatched self-control of someone who’s seen and lived through just about anything kept me from laughing like a madman.
Later on, the phrase acquired a cult status among me and my friends. Frankly, the matter is a good deal more serious.
By that time, I already had two children, both girls. I’d never asked myself how I’m going to call “that place” in front of my child, the so-called private parts. But the time came when I had to verbally designate it.
Boys are easy, just say “pee-pee” and you’re set. But how do I call my daughter’s down-there?
Truckloads of words have been written on motherhood message-boards on that topic. There are billions of suggestions, but I’ll focus on the ones showing up most consistently, any sort of a diminutive connoting that little “nothing” – woo-woo, foof, flump, tissy, pum-pum, minny, etc.
I have to admit, I like “minny” a lot. I got carried away one time, fantasizing how I’d introduce myself at a nudist beach: “Hi, I’m Ellie and this is Minny.” But it turned out this approach isn’t for me. I didn’t get it, and the feminist in me denounced it vehemently. After all, we call the hand a “hand”, and the foot a “foot”. Why should the female sex organs not be called they way they’re called? If we substituted an incomprehensible jumble of sounds for every word, our language would degenerate hopelessly.
“Mommy, mommy, Mitko fell and hit his mooshee, because Stoyan poked his googie into his kickee, and both of them almost broke their lallees.”
Not to mention that little girls grow up having a “flump” that turns out to be… something else! While boys have a pecker from the very start of their unequivocal lives!
The dreaded “butt” is even worse. The girl is left with the impression that everything down there is a butt just because she can’t take a good look at it, unlike the boys’ thing which is OBVIOUSLY not a butt. And it ends up with only the boys having a pee-pee and a butt, while the girls, poor things, only have a butt, starting just under their navel and ending somewhere on their lower back. Why would we be surprised, then, at all ignorant missteps we make at the start of our sex-lives…
Or how about not calling it anything at all? Seems the easiest way out, right? Here’s an example: “Go wash yourself down there… you know…” or “Does it hurt there?”, “You always wipe yourself down there, right?”
The mother’s look, conspiratorial, bespeaks deep mysteries, and the girl learns early on that the thing between her legs shall not be named, like you-know-who from Harry Potter. It’s something impossible to know and encompass, stalking through the Andromeda nebula, impossible even for the Hubble to observe and classify.
Of course, there’s a reason for all these infantile euphemisms: it’s the deep SHAME that society has ingrained in women and their perception of their own sexual organs.
Reacting to this worldwide conspiracy, when I had to start using a word for it, I, a proud and fierce feminist, put my foot down. “It shall be a VAGINA! To hell with prejudice! My child has a pair of hands, a pair of feet, a head and… a VAGINA.” So I started calling the down-there “vagina”. Everything went great, until my daughter went to kindergarten, throwing “vagina” around. Oh, the teachers’ shock, oh, the children’s mirth… (what are they laughing at, just lemme get my hands on them!)
“What, a “vagina”?! Who do you know this word from? What sort of movies do they let you watch at home?”
And so my daughter stopped calling the vagina a “vagina” and lapsed into wordless shame. My second one, however, was an unqualified success! She doesn’t care, screaming “vagina” the same way she does “crocodile”.
Despite my feminist hard-on, I’d be lying if I told you I’ve had an easy time saying the word myself. Even now, after ten years of repeating it, something gets stuck in my throat, and embarrassment overcomes me. The word is far from perfect, unfortunately, and rightfully criticized; the vagina is in fact only the inner part of the sexual organ, the outer one being a vulva (which includes the labia majora and minora). The latter is the most correct term, but all women find it irredeemably ugly.
And so, time passed, and I gradually quieted down. The more children you have, the more compromises you make, the more hatchets you bury. I don’t even have it in me to raise arms against “flump”. “Flump” is kinda cute. “Foof” is kinda cute too. It’s just not correct. We’ve all had nicknames as kids that our parents have given us in moments of unbridled love. Mine was Dodo. But I always knew my name is Elisaveta, and that I carried an Elisavetian soul. So, you go and use “foof”, but know that only a thing’s true name gives it power and meaning.
I hope body-shame has its own Enlightenment some day, so every little miss would have her beautiful eyes, pretty legs, wonderful smile and… you know. Say it for me; I’m still embarrassed to.