In light of Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi’s arrest for her “obscene” vagina art, it’s safe to say that our society has developed some sort of vendetta against our vaginas (or has the extremely rational fear of getting eaten alive by our man-eating “Venus Flytraps”).
In part 1 of his memoir “My Vagina,” Nathan Schaaf divulges about his lack of knowledge regarding the “mysterious” nature of vaginas until very late in his life and, subsequently, blames the media and pop culture for their stigmatization of vaginas.
Schaaf makes some very valid points, comparing the over abundance of cis male-genitalia in pop culture, where the word “penis” cameos even in kid films like “ET,” to the discretion used when referencing vaginas. (He confesses that he hadn’t heard the word in mainstream media until he began watching HBO’s “Girls.”) The memoir goes on to mention an extensive (and hilarious) list of all the euphemisms for vagina often found in film, television, and magazines. Ranging from the short and sweet nicknames like “snatch,” “snizz,” “clam,” “poon,” “muff,” and “flaps,” to the eccentric metaphors like “pink palace,” “sausage wallet,” “pink taco,” “coin purse,” “axe wound,” and “meat curtain,” to my personal favorite, the middle earth themed tropes, “wizard’s sleeve,” and “dragon’s lair,” to the derogatory slurs like “cunt,” “pussy,” and “twat” to the Oprah Winfrey coined “Va-Jay-Jay.”
I vividly remember the traumatized facial expressions and melodramatic gasps of my classmates,’ (both boys and girls), in response to pictures of vaginas vs. their placid reactions to pictures of penises’ during the sex unit in my AP psych class. I shamefully admit, still residing in my “prefeminist” period,” I might have been one of the more dramatic of the lot. While it’s true that penises are certainly more mainstream than vaginas, I blame these differing reactions not entirely on the media, but also on the fact that more effort is required to actually see what a vagina looks like (often involving the use of a mirror). I believe that girls are also less encouraged by society and pop culture to “get to know their bodies” than boys are. Appraising something as being ugly or grotesque, is often symptomatic of a lack of familiarity.
It seems like this dearth of the word “vagina” in the media may also be a product of a vicious cycle. With most of the screenwriter slots being filled by men, who like Schaaf, learn to view the vagina as some sort of mysterious exotic flower, it makes sense that it should be depicted as such in their films. In addition, as Schaaf points out, many of those films that are written by females, such as Dawn O’Keefe’s 2007 flick “Teeth,” are often deemed to be “too edgy” and never seem to make it to the big screen (This may have something to do with the fact that most of the people controlling the accessibility of movies also happen to be men.)
Nathan Shaaf’s memoir raises some real pressing issues about how media censorship impacts our society and cultural sentiments and I’m very much looking forward to reading part 2 of “My Vagina,” which will be released on July 29!