V-Day

So. Vaginas.

I wanted to have something personal and worthwhile to say. I tried. I spent the night and morning hoping I’d be able to add to the conversation. I can’t. I feel like an outsider trying to sound important. A middle-class white guy playing at understanding discrimination and how dehumanizing it is to the people it targets.

I don’t have a vagina. I never will. I’m going to be a white dude for the rest of my life, and I’m going to be treated a certain way because of it. The only stories I have about real discrimination are other people’s. I feel those stories, sometimes very personally, because they’re indignities and hurts inflicted on those I love. They’re still other people’s stories. They’re once removed. I try to save my projection-into-other-people’s-problems for fiction. Outside of my land of fictional make-believe, pretending to get it feels too much like condescension. Too close to suggesting that what ladies really need is a man to take up the charge and win this battle against sexism for you.

That doesn’t mean I’m blithe about the recent volcanic eruptions of sexism and racism we’ve been seeing recently from politicians, pundits and media critics. Quite the opposite. Though it’s not the events themselves that really bother me. Yes, silencing a woman for saying vagina on the House floor is insulting, demeaning and frankly insane, but it’s a symptom.  In some ways, symptoms like events in Michigan are a painful blessing. Cancer is untreatable until you know it’s there. A lot of people simply don’t realize how pervasive discrimination is. Politicians silencing women for using the biological term for one of their body parts makes it very, very hard for people to deny that there is a cancer, and that it’s going to get worse until we treat it. In a very cynical way, I’d like to thank the Michigan GOP for keeping sexism in the public eye.

If not for them, people wouldn’t be gathering on the steps of the Michigan house to protest. It wouldn’t be visible. It wouldn’t be public. Discrimination hates daylight. Even the worst discrimination, the kind that leads to murder, torture and genocide, survives by cloaking itself in other issues. No one wants to think they’re biased. They want to think they’re enlightened, acting on a keen understanding of the inherent weaknesses of others. Today, a lot of people are going to bring the sunlight, and I hope it makes a difference.

Fight discrimination. Say vagina in public. Refuse to be silenced. Make them admit their sexism in public. Make them defend it.

Not for me. I’m affluent and come equipped with a caucasian penis. If you’re a target of discrimination, vaginal or otherwise, do it because you should never believe defiance isn’t your right. If you’re vaginaless like me, do it because you should, because it’s right, and because not having anything meaningful or personal to add is no excuse to be silent about your support.

Vagina.

Vagina.

Vagina.

Fight until the battle is won.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

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36 Responses to V-Day

  1. Erica M says:

    Well said, Eric. Sometimes, when the dum-dums put themselves in the spotlight, the greater service is found in highlighting not the dum-dum, but the very cause he was trying to suppress. I love it when stupid people get the smarter, but quieter, ones to speak up.

  2. I am in love with this post, Eric!
    Off to share it!

  3. Julie says:

    I will never understand what is so offensive about vaginas. Maybe people are scared of them? That they might have teeth?

    Anyway, great call to action.

  4. Carrie says:

    Vagina!!

    Yes you are right, what is needed is some light shone on those who want to discriminate and legislate someones body and gender. And I hope the light destroys their petty and pathetic attempts.

  5. Christie says:

    Well said. I could hear you through my computer screen chanting “vagina, vagina, vagina.”

  6. Fun and true and honest. You are going to be white forever?

  7. Kristin says:

    I have to admit, it’s taken a while for me to appreciate the sound of “Vagina.” Penis is such a happy-go-lucky word. The long E, the progression of softening in the sounds – it all makes sense.

    VAGINA always sounded very serious to me. I like the word itself more now. It’s a word that has a peak, a point. The issue with all this, of course, is that the poor Labia gets completely ignored.

  8. Delilah says:

    Bravo! Vagina’s are friendly.

  9. Mayor Gia says:

    I agree – if they hadn’t been so obviously sexist and discriminatory in their reaction, it wouldn’t have drawn so much attention to it.

  10. The discrimination may be once-removed for you, but you describe it with great immediacy. Well done!

  11. Vanessa says:

    Vagina is a good word. Penis is a good word. Just so long as I never have to chant Anus.

    I agree with you though on every point you made. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend discrimination has been eradicated, but it hasn’t. Pretending it isn’t there won’t make it go away.

  12. Ooooohhh. I’m going to get it for this…

    This case seems more a matter of professional decorum than hysterical misogyny. For a state representative to tell her (mostly male) colleagues that she was “flattered that you are so interested in my vagina” is simply in poor taste. Nowhere does the censure of these women (for one day, mind you) indicate that it was brought about by the mere use of the word “vagina”. They behaved in a way that doesn’t elevate the debate, doesn’t elevate the role of Representative, and they were duly reprimanded for that.

    And for what it’s worth, I would respond the exact same way if a male representative told his colleagues, “I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my penis”. It’s inappropriate from either perspective.

    Does that make me a sexist or misogynist too?

  13. Joe says:

    What’s so bad about vaginas? I love them. Can’t get enough of them. Kellie has limited my ration to one.

  14. Rachel says:

    What Michael says is, in part, factually true – Republicans are claiming that the censure is not over the word vagina, but rather, over the phrase, “No means no.” Apparently that’s tantamount to accusing someone of being a rapist. I talk more to that point on my blog, if you want to check it out it’s the entry “Vagina Vagina Vagina.”

    Unfortunately, what many people don’t seem to be getting is that this is not just a discussion about Michigan. It’s a discussion about the wider national conversation, where women are in fact being constantly barraged with threatened and actual physical harm for expressing their right to bodily sovereignty.

    Michael, if you think this is just about Michigan, please widen your perspective to include the recent laws and bills sent to vote in Georgia, Texas and one of the Dakotas. Please remember that when recent debates took place in our national legislature, no woman was included in the committee that was investigating whether or not health insurance should be required to pay for birth control. Rush Limbaugh is still on the air after calling a young woman some very rude names when all she did was ask to have her voice heard.

    If you had to wake up every morning and go into a situation where people were talking about your body and your health – for example, birth control is actually prescribed in a majority of cases for purposes other than contraceptive use, and there are women who depend on it for the treatment of hormonal imbalances and other issues – what would you consider a reasonable amount of indulgence before your patience snapped? Before you felt the need to speak plainly and get your point across?

    Some might label you. But I understand that you haven’t grown up in a world where there is a legal question as to whether someone might be required by law to insert a foreign object into your body, against their judgement of medical necessity, in order for you to obtain a medical procedure that was ruled to be protected and legal over 40 years ago. I understand that you have not faced a question of whether, in the face of life-threatening medical conditions, your doctor will either a) be able to refuse you treatment or b) be prohibited by law from saving your life. I understand that these aren’t considerations you necessarily take into account when you’re looking for a job, that there aren’t states you’ve labeled as “off limits” because of these considerations.

    I understand that it is highly unlikely you will ever be faced with the situation of one poor woman I read about several months ago, whose fetus died inside her. Because of laws restricting a woman’s control over her body in her state, the doctors were prohibited by law from inducing labor for this woman, and she was forced to carry a dead fetus inside her until her body physically rejected it. But hey, that’s fine. That’s what cows and pigs do. (And before you accuse me of hyperbole, that’s a direct quote from the committee on *agriculture,* which was tasked, in Georgia, with deciding whether or not these decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, or whether the state should insert themselves, unwelcome, into the relationship.

    I understand that there is a woman in Indiana who’s just been sentenced to decades in jail because, when she tried to commit suicide after discovering her lover was married, the baby she carried died and now she’s been convicted of murder.

    Vaginagate and its aftermath is not just about one situation in Michigan. It’s about, as Eric says, the endemic cancer of entrenched sexism in this country.

    If you choose not to step back and see the bigger picture, then I think you’re cheating yourself of an opportunity to broaden your perspective and connect with others.

    I hope you decide it’s worth taking a wider view of the national landscape.

  15. Thanks for your response, Rachel. I cannot say that I share your views of an entrenched, cancerous sexism in our country.

    As for a wider perspective on this issue, I can assure you that I have one and that I hold to it as dearly as you do to yours. You are correct in saying that this goes beyond one small instance in Michigan, but my goal was merely to respond to this post specifically. I even clicked through to a couple of links (yours included) before I posted my comment — something I don’t usually do — just to make sure I understood the catalyst behind this post.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this important issue.

  16. Amanda says:

    Very well said!

    In terms of the commenter who said it was just in bad taste — there is a lot more said in government that is in a lot worse taste that doesn’t even get a moment’s notice.

  17. Eric says:

    Michael, Thank you for your response. I’m going to need to reply from a couple of different angles.

    1) I think it’s unfair to project ourselves into situations we will never be party to and use our hypothetical response as proof of something. I take you at your word that you’d be fair, but that’s irrelevant. I didn’t post about what you’d do. I posted about what they *did*. I imagine, like me, you’ve never seen a proceeding in the MI house, which means we have no idea what the normal range of politeness is there. Assuming it’s like, say, the US congress, which I have seen…let’s just say I’ve seen plenty of unpunished impoliteness.

    2) This next thing is directed at MI’s congress, not you: This politeness thing? It’s a really common tactic men use when they want women to keep quiet. I’ve seen it used against friends. I’ve seen it used against my wife. What is charmingly direct in a man is an offensive attack by a woman.

    “Oh, ma’am, it’s not that I disagree with what you were saying. Maybe you have a point, but I can’t tell because you’re just being so mouthy. Downright, how shall I say it?, *bitchy*. You need to have a seat and calm down before you disagree with us.”

    This is one of those areas where, being a dude, it can be hard to understand how often that happens. We don’t get the “It’s not what you’re saying, it’s your tone” response with anything like the regularity a woman does. Decorum is the gentleman’s sword against those with a *right* to be angry. She was being impolite? Good. I’m sure she thought the bill in question was, too.

    3) A largely male body is passing a law. This law largely affects women. A woman who opposes this law gets up and disagrees in a way that makes them uncomfortable. The largely male body silences the woman in response.

    See, it’s not even really about the word. That? What I just described? Is sexism. And it happens a lot. Men telling women what’s best for them, then finding some excuse to keep them from flapping their bitch mouths and making them uncomfortable.

    Was it impolite for me to say, “bitch mouths,” like that? Yup. Would I say it on the MI house floor? A thousand times yes.

    I’m not going to ask anyone to be polite about being degraded or diminished, because doing so puts them on an unfair playing field. What it says is this: not only are we going to tell you what to do, we’re going to tell you how you can respond. We’ll decide who is shrill, histrionic, mouthy, crazy, out of line, or just plain bitchy. It says we’re fine if the bullies not only steal your lunch money, but punch you for complaining. Defiance is impolite.

  18. NYPinTA says:

    Well said.

  19. This is just SO AMAZING. I am definitely sharing it. And I love what you wrote. All of it. Well done.

  20. I really enjoyed reading this and your comment response. All very thoughtful and well put.

  21. Yup, you are totally right. We can’t all live in a bubble where all is right with the world. It’s not. Thanks for standing up for the vaginas. You’re a good guy.

  22. I tend to talk about vaginas at the most inopportune times. Lord knows what the Michigan GOP would do with all of us. If we *all* say it, is it still taboo? Keep raising your voice.

  23. aboleyn says:

    Eric I can not possibly say how much I love the response you posted in the comments. It sheds a clear light on behavior that has gone in for far too long. An assertive man trying to get his point across is considered passionate. A woman hysterical. Woman get these labels all the time in an effort to silence them. Words do matter. People have a certain perception reading or hearing certain adjectives and it seems the once given to women are never the same as those used to describe men for the exact same attributes.

  24. i applaud you joining in and up for a fight that may not “be yours” but as we are all humans, they are all ours aren’t they? i also applaud respectful disagreement with others on issues – i believe these conversations will help turn the issue over until its seen on all sides in our minds.

  25. Kenja Purkey says:

    What a thoughtful, insightful and self-aware post. Nice job!

  26. Thanks, Eric. I can tell you are impassioned about this, which makes for an interesting debate.

    I guess where I’m at a loss is in understanding how it’s wrong for me to “project” myself into this situation, but you somehow feel free to dissect the latent, raging sexuality roiling inside these women-hating Republican gorillas they have running the government up in Michigan.

    All I said in my original response is that, based on what I read after spending upwards of 30 minutes clicking through links on your post and others’ posts, this situation did not seem to me to have the markings of an all-out hateful attack on women (or the use of the word “vagina”). I wasn’t projecting myself into anything. I was merely responding to what I read in your post and what I observed in my other reading.

    As for the character of these men, I don’t think that either of us has any real idea of what they are like on the inside. All we can do is judge them by their words and actions, and I do not get the impression from this event that anyone acted out of hatred for women, or fear of disagreement, or sweaty palms from hearing the word “vagina”. And while you may judge their stance on abortion as a telltale sign that they want to control and oppress women, others may view it as a genuine respect for the life growing inside of pregnant women.

    And for a guy whose adopted son had a 17-year old birth mother who sat in an abortion clinic twice and couldn’t go through with it, I can certainly appreciate and understand their valuing an unborn life. That doesn’t automatically make them or me a women-hater.

    Thanks for allowing me to take up so much room on your forum. These are obviously important issues with impassioned people on both sides. While we could debate this until our fingers are pounded into bloody stumps, but I will bow out and let you have the last word (as if I really had a say in that on YOUR blog :) hahaha).

    Thanks again!

  27. Carissa says:

    Michael, your inability to independently view women and pregnancy is an argument I would never be able to reconcile with you. I don’t know if you noticed, but Eric never discussed abortion.

    Women are human beings exclusive of their ability to reproduce. He seems to understand that we wish to be viewed as such and that is why I respect and applaud his opinion.

  28. Carissa, the Michigan house was debating an anti-abortion bill – that’s pretty much the epicenter of this entire issue. But you’re right, Eric didn’t bring it up directly.

    And if you think that somehow my comments indicate that I somehow don’t believe that “Women are human beings exclusive of their ability to reproduce”, then you are right, we won’t ever be likely to reconcile.

  29. Rachel says:

    *rolls eyes* “Janet, you ignorant slut.” #RockeyHorror #NoSeriouslyHorror

    Michael, you are putting words in peoples’ mouths. Even Rick Santorum and his wife admitted there was a point at which they valued her life over the life of her unborn, premature, second-trimester fetus.

    I will give you the respect of responding, point-by-point.

    1) Eric’s point regarding the wrongness of male insertion of self into the #vaginagate debate is based on the fact that he is not at risk of being subjected to these discriminatory laws. Based on that thesis, your complaint about his projection is invalid. If you don’t care to address the blog on its thesis, you’re screaming into the wind. Good luck with that.

    2) Re: commenting on this and other posts. One theme I’m noticing in multiple interactions with #sayvagina/#vaginagate detractors is the automatic equating of “women’s health rights” with “abortion” on the part of those opposed to the actions of Rep Byrum and Brown. That is not a productive way to converse about an extremely complex issue with multiple facets. Please stop being deliberately antagonistic on that front if you want to have a productive conversation.

    3) There is no such thing as an “abortion clinic.” Many clinics specialize in women’s reproductive health services. One of many of these services is the termination of a pregnancy. They also provide birth control, free health screenings, STD testing and more. The woman who gave birth to your son was extremely brave and deserves to be respected, but if she had not chosen to do so, that too would be a difficult choice worthy of respect.

    4) Eric absolutely addressed your concerns re: civility and you chose to respond about abortion rather than how women are involved in conversations and how they are responded to. Which shows a particular level of disrespect and disinterest in actual discussion.

    Don’t know about others on this blog, but I’m done feeding the troll.

  30. Forgive me for breaking my promise, Eric, but I wanted to clarify something:

    It’s clear that many people think that my inclusion of the abortion debate was some sort of detour to a talking point. It was not. First, this entire topic centers around an abortion bill. The representatives who were censured were opposing the bill by saying that legislating abortion = too much fascination with their vaginas. Second, when you talked about the men exerting control over women, I assumed you meant by way of anti-abortion legislation. My point in bringing up abortion was to challenge the idea that abortion legislation is a cover for sexist woman-control.

    Regarding your view that women are sometimes treated differently when being assertive or direct, I admit that does happen. Let me repeat the essence of my very first comment by saying that this case, in my opinion, was not about assertiveness or disagreement, but about a de-elevating of the discourse by going from the assertive to the crude. My primary defense against the charge of sexism is the fact that only these two women were censured. The Michigan house has many more women — and most were likely just as passionate and disagreed as genuinely about this issue. If ALL of the female reps. were censured because of this, then I would stand with you against such blatant sexism.

    Ultimately, I’m not disagreeing (or “trolling” to some) because I want to be a jerk, I’m just trying to humanize your opposition. Hanging the title “sexist” around the necks of opponents is a debate-ender, and most of the people with whom you disagree have very legitimate, honestly-held concerns. Sexism exists, but when we throw that term around at anything that looks at us sideways, it only makes real sexism more meaningless.

    And the only reason I’m spending so much time on this is because I respect your views, and as a fellow YeahWriter, I want to encourage more connection and communication. I could have left a one-sentence compliment or simply clicked to the next blog on the grid, but I wanted to give what you wrote the attention it deserved. It stirred a response in me and I responded.

    And that’s what it’s all about right?

  31. “I’m affluent and come equipped with a caucasian penis.” I want that on a T-shirt that I can wear ironically.

    Thank you for describing/decrying this phenomenon so well without resorting to “white knight” or
    “sensitive pony-tail” language. I sometimes don’t even know what to say when I read stories like in Michigan because I can’t believe how blatantly discriminatory people still are.

    Then, other times I know exactly what to say: Vagina.

  32. Eric says:

    Michael,

    Thank you for staying in the game and responding. Seriously, I appreciate it, and you’ve made a real effort to make your point and stay engaged with this despite taking shrapnel in the process.

    I won’t lie: I found your reply very frustrating, because it wasn’t responding directly to anything I said, but shifting into areas I was deliberately avoiding. The bill under debate was certainly an abortion bill, but the issue isn’t Rep. Brown’s stance on abortion, but that she was a woman silenced while defending her views on a bill that would affect women far more than men.

    The problem – and this is why I made the projection comment previously – is that you’re making this about you. Your experiences, your concerns, your decisions. It’s not about you, any more than it’s about me. That’s what my post was trying to say in the first place: This isn’t about me. This is outside of me. This is something I can only understand and respond to from a distance.

    Seriously, don’t listen to me on this. Listen to the women who are and have been speaking. Listen to them about how this situation made them feel. How it relates to the experiences they’ve had being diminished or silenced. You’re giving the Michigan house the benefit of the doubt: Maybe try giving the women hurt by what they did that benefit. That’s all I’m asking.

    Listen to them. Hear what they have to say. Don’t argue, at least not right away. Just listen. And then try to see the world and the actions people take through their eyes.

    Thank you for your time and your responses.

  33. Really good conversations here – but I have to say that there is a particular highlight in “sensitive pony-tail language.” That’s a whole ‘nother set of images. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that in Michigan, the point about decorum was made AFTER all these loud-mouthed vaginas started complaining. Which is to say that “decorum,” as has been pointed out here, is way, way too often a cover for “shut up, woman.” I live in the Middle East and before we moved here, my husband (a sensitive pony-tail type guy, albeit without a pony tail) said “nah, you wont’ notice anything different; it’s really westernized, so nah, there’s no gender stuff going on.” The first time I walked outside, it was different. Gender stuff all over the place. All of which is to say that, with all due respect, it’s really hard to see sexism and racism on all its deeper levels if you yourself are not of the group that’s being marginalized. So. Me and my vagina will continue to insist that the perspective of the hoochie should be heard – and loudly – on all matters that pertain to the hoochie, and the person attached to said hoochie.

  34. Kristin says:

    Control over our bodies and our right to free speech are always touchy topics. My mind-callouses on these subjects are pretty solid, and I didn’t read Michael’s original comments as terrifically obnoxious. But that maybe have been because I expected much more radical responses. I think it’s a good point about decorum, but it should be evenly applied. I can’t be bothered to look it up, but was the Georgia state representative who likened women to sheep and pigs disciplined? Seems a lot more offensive to me.

    I’m willing to accept this response/explanation for WHY the representatives were disciplined. I don’t agree that it’s justified, but I don’t agree with a lot of what is done on the floors of our governmental houses.

    Mostly, however, I don’t agree with removing the voices of constituents from the debate.

    copied from http://www.mlive.com:

    UPDATE: This is from Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger:
    To set the record straight, Rep. Lisa Brown was not gaveled down nor sanctioned because she said the word vagina. She also was not sanctioned because of her gender, her religion or even the topic of the bill she was debating. She was sanctioned because her comments on Wednesday were interpreted by several members of House Republican leadership, both male and female, to be comparing passage of pro-life legislation to the rape of women due to the use of the phrase, “no means no,” which is commonly used when discussing rape prevention. That was deemed to be crossing the line and disrupting the decorum of the House of Representatives. That’s why she was gaveled down and was not recognized to speak on the House floor for one day, which was Thursday.

  35. Mel says:

    Kristen, my #vaginablog was written in response to the sentiment behind Adler’s update, you can find it here.

    Michael: I hope you are still reading the comments here. And I hope you read my blog entry linked above, and see why I feel that this bill and the censure of the Representatives who spoke out is an issue of sexism.

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