10 things I learnt from reading 'The Vagina Monologues'
I don't use 'life changing' to describe a book very often, but I've got to use it now. The Vagina Monologues is a short play by Eve Ensler, and the edition I have has an absolutely incredible Foreword by Gloria Steinem. This was a quick, but heavy read, and although I would recommend it to anybody, I'll give the recommendation with a massive trigger warning for sexual assault.
I learnt so much from this short book, and had so many ideas reinforced that it's been hard to whittle it down to just ten things, but here they are:
1.) The word vagina doesn't get used enough. We need to reclaim it. Vagina's not a dirty word, it's a medical term just like penis. There's nothing wrong with saying the word vagina and we need to stop shying around it. Vagina vagina vagina.
2.) We're not really taught much about our vaginas at all. Sex ed at school is all about DON'T GET PREGNANT AND HERE'S HOW NOT TO. There's no info on how to take care of your vagina (please stop using FemFresh), or what's good/bad for it, different infections you can get, etc. Again, we need to stop shying around vaginas and what they're all about.
3.) A LOT of women still don't orgasm. Whether that's through sex or their own handiwork (ya get me), it's something that is still frowned upon to talk about, and because of that a lot of women just never really discover how to. Can you imagine a vast amount of men never having had a cheeky wank? Nope.
4.) We've also totally got to reclaim the word cunt. It's seen as the worst swear word, the one they'll still bleep out on TV even if everything else is there, and the one that's one step too far. But why? Honestly I'm still baffled because there's no real reason, other than the fact that it's the only proper swearword for a vagina. So let's put it back in the league with other words because god forbid we make reference to a bodily part that isn't on a man.
5.) Birth is a time of strength. I'm not a mother, and I haven't reached the stage where close friends or family members of a similar age to me are becoming mothers, so I'm pretty distanced from the whole thing. But wow, women are powerhouses. Our bodies completely alter themselves to grow a human and push it out of a tiny, powerful hole. The vagina is life-giving and life-affirming and life-creating and it turns out that women are the strong ones after all.
6.) 1 in 3 women will be victims of sexual assault in their lives. This is not a women's problem, this is an everyone problem. This isn't something that's happening to women in third world countries. It's something happening to young girls, toddlers, children, by people they trust (uncles, fathers, step-fathers, teachers, family friends) in their homes, and in their beds. It's an everyone problem because people need to understand that girls are not possessions, and a vagina isn't something you can claim and violate and move on from.
7.) Your hair is not a political landscape. This angers me so much. Call it what you want: your lady garden, your bush, whatever. The point is it's yours. It's scratchy and uncomfortable to shave your vagina, and I'm not even going to contemplate the thought of waxing. Society has deemed that the way forward is to have clean-shaven pre-pubescent pube-free vaginas. It all links back to this idea of innocence and virginity and (disturbingly) that links back to a childlike image. If you want to shave your pubes then go for it, but do it because you really want to, not because you've been told that no one will fuck you or want you or respect you if you're not hair free. And for those people that want hairless women: why? Honestly, what are the actual benefits? Are they cleaner? No. Hair is hair, and it's not something that needs to be policed or given an agenda.
8.) Periods are not dirty and they are not something to be ashamed of. Periods are a chance to reconnect with yourself, and respect the power that your body has. Yes, they suck, but they're also a sign of health and vitality and just a bodily function that occurs. People of all sexes need to change their opinions around periods. They're not dirty, they're not taboo and they're not something that you can bully someone over.
9.) The vagina, historically, is a symbol of power. I had absolutely no idea that this was true before I started reading TVM. It's largely glossed over in Western cultures, but the vagina, and symbols of it, have been worshipped as holding greater power than their male counterparts. There was a whole section on this in the Foreword that I could talk about for hours, but it basically just had me completely wowed.
10.) The vagina is a place of violence, and that's the v-word I hope we can one day talk about less. There's so much that is harsh and unnecessary, but a part of life: tampons have no lubricant and have to be forced in dry, any kind of OB/GYN implement is cold and harsh and honestly sometimes they look terrifying. There's no attempt to make things nicer, or gentler, or more vagina-friendly. And then there's sexual violence: rape is still a common feature of modern wars that gets overlooked. What about the refugees that are being abused? Or women that don't luck out when their homes are being destroyed? What about the women who have to choose between rape or a worse punishment? Why aren't we talking about this? Violence against the vagina is normalised, and everything about our habits and conversations, and actions needs to be changed. And please can a speculum not be made of fucking cold steel?