In a revelation that will shock exactly zero readers of this blog, I must confess that I’ve always been obsessive about using words correctly. About knowing both literal and connotative meanings. About finding le mot juste for every occasion.
Add gender into the lexical mix? At that point, “obsessive” becomes, well…
Lemme put it to you this way. I still feel pissy about the idiotic joke made by some fellow Unitarians when I was 11 and the UUA was revising the official church hymnal to remove gender-exclusive language: “Maybe we should just call this new HYM-nal an IT-nal, since you hate men so much.”
[Picture here a tween-sized Alice, hands on her hips, fuming at her male peers. . . and more than a few grownass male grownups.^]
In those days, if I heard you call someone a “girl” who was clearly a grownass female grownup? Them were fightin’ words, far as I was concerned.
I’ve since mellowed on this particular issue, though violators still risk getting called out as asshats on my blog. It’s not that final victory has become ours [isn’t that right, Dr. Asshat?], but the gendered-language battle, like language itself, moves as a constantly flowing river. Besides, now that “You’re a girl?!”/”No. WOMAN!”-style exchanges have reached the status of TV cliché indicating “strong female character ahead,” it’s clearly time to set my sights elsewhere.
That’s right, folks. It’s time for the grand showdown of vulva vs. vagina.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Otherwise, consult your gynecologist.
It’s become almost a handshake by which feminists recognize one another online. A coded knock that earns entrance into the speakeasy. A password that enables members of the resistance to distinguish friend from foe.
“That’s not a vagina.
“It’s a vulva.”
It’s the primary reason I wish webpages could be corrected with sharpies. So I could send you pictures of the Great Wall of
Vagina Vulva. Or laugh with you at how Snopes pixelated the vagina vulva cookies purportedly brought to snack time by a 2nd grader’s mom. Or pick out our favorite vagina vulva cupcakes together.
Dr. Jen Gunter, OB/GYN extraordinaire, recently channeled her own irritation at how the word “vagina” gets used as a stand-in for everything in the lower reproductive tract of people with uteri by creating this super-useful, highly-technical diagram:
As Gunter points out, there are substantive reasons [namely, health and pleasure] why this distinction matters. But even if there weren’t—even if we were talking about nothing more than semantics, and “jeez lighten up / you know what I meant / why does it matter”—I’d still be riding my high horse on this one. After all, people don’t constantly mislabel the other guy’s sexual anatomy the way they do mine.
Nobody goes around defining intercourse as “testicles-in-vagina [you mean ‘penis’ / aw jeez lighten up] sex.”
Which is why, when I shared this story about Flirtmoji’s new set of fun, definitely-NSFW emojis a few weeks ago on Facebook, I prefaced my post with a brief “yes, we all know these are vulva-not-vagina emojis” disclaimer, and my friends mostly commented not about the language but about which cartoon vulvae we liked best. (I’m partial to the blue-and-purple chubby one in the top row, myself!) I didn’t think any more about it until a week later, when the story changed.
One of the changes? In the new round of press, every headline now refers to them as “vulva emojis.”
It’s the age-old story of eggplant meets taco, eggplant loses taco…
Continue reading “Quiet please. The vulvas are talking.”