Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Warning: Offensive Content

You must be 18 years or older to read this post.

I have a shocking confession to make: I have a vagina and, sometimes, I refer to it using that word, “vagina.” Even if I didn’t call it “vagina,” even if I called it “hoo-hah,” “poonani,” “fanny” (there’s a funny story to that one), “koos” (oddly, a camp favorite), or “minge” (which always made me think of that disease that dogs get), I would still be talking about my vagina. Even if I were never to mention it by name, never refer to it in passing, never imply its existence by wearing pants, I would still have a vagina, nestled between my legs. It would still be there, lying in wait, ready to offend young children, staunch conservatives, and high school principals. For those not in the know, I am referring in this rant to the latest vag-induced kerfuffle at John Jay High School in upstate New York. Three young women (or “wymin” or “womyn” or, more recently, “vagina smugglers”) were suspended for one day, ostensibly for “insubordination” and not for using the word “vagina” when they read a piece from Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues. (I’m already exhausted just from the use of quotation marks denoting that my words are used ironically and do not necessarily represent their originally intended meaning. “Meaning.” I think I have carpel tunnel syndrome now.)

Georgia O'Keefe does not have a vaginal fixation.


What does this issue have to do with Judaism? Well, beyond the fact that 50% of us are smuggling around vaginae on a daily basis, there’s a serious dearth of vag-focused discussion on Jewish blogs. I did a search on such blog aggregators as Jrants, Jewishblogging, Cross-Currents (not quite an aggregator, but so expansive, it may as well be one), Jblogsphere, but found nary a mention of “vagina” (although Jblogosphere did lead me to an adorable post on sex ed by Jack’s Shack; it wasn’t gynocentric in the way I was hoping, but that was totally understandable, given the sexes and ages of the parties involved). This notable absence puts me in mind of that Peter, Paul, & Mary song:

Where have all the vag-es gone, long time passing?/ Where have all the vag-es
gone, long time ago?/ Where have all the vag-es gone?/ Young girls have picked
them everyone./ Oh, when will they ever learn?/ Oh, when will they ever learn?


Luckily, the witty and wonderful Tamar Fox of Jewcy fame has written more than one article elucidating the intersection between vaginas and Jewish texts, for which we all owe her a serious debt of gratitude, in addition to an enlightening diatribe about language and the nature of swearing. You will be unsurprised that I have a liberal opinion on censorship (nearly never appropriate; and I say "nearly" because I dislike making absolute statements, for want of a caveat). However, the principal of John Jay had the right to say: Ensler's content is inappropriate for the young children in our audience, please choose a different piece. Her monologues are controversial and evocative; that's their purpose; and some of the writing may be too risque for some audiences. Sans "vagina," how did he expect the women to introduce the piece?

"We are now going to read a piece from the [Word Redacted]
Monologues"

"The [Special Place] Monologues"

"The [Flower Garden] Monologues"

When he singled out "vagina" as an inappropriate word, he overstepped the bounds of decency. It's the accepted, clinical term for a part of the body. Saying "vagina" is no different from saying "ear" or "nose." The sexualization or degradation implied when you label that word dirty is far more destructive to the young children in the audience than using the word itself. Instead of owning up to the fact that he censored the women and suspended them as a result of their speech, he justified the suspension as a reaction to their "insubordination." To clarify, when you
tell someone not to say something, it's censorship; you get in trouble with censors when you say the word you weren't supposed to say. But don't take my word for it, let's check my favorite
reference:

According to the OED, censorship refers to 1. The office of a Roman censor (or its period); 2. a. gen. The office or function of a censor (see CENSOR n. 2); official supervision. spec. control of dramatic production and films (see CENSOR n. 2b, e). And a censor is one who exercises official or officious supervision over morals and conduct.

Given this definition, I would argue that Principal Richard Leprine acted as a censor and that his suspension of the young women constitutes censorship.

What's next? Are we going to demand that people not say "nunnery" in that famous Shakespearean tragedy?

Principal Leprine, get thee to a [euphemism for a brothel].


26 comments:

Dash Hammerskjold said...

Thanks for picking up the OED-blogging slack!

Liberal Jew said...

I am bit upset that you didn't use va jay jay. it is my fav vagina euphisism.

Sherbs said...

Perhaps next week we can tackle girls calling each other "sluts" and "whores" and no one (with the exception of Tina Fay's charachter in "Mean Girls") caring?

Ah, suburbia...

Anonymous said...

According to George Carlin, "You can prick your finger, but you can't finger your prick."

-TR

Mel said...

There is some great scrubs episodes, where Dr. Elliot Reed, a wasp from connecticut, uses words like Bejingo, and many others for various different words and functions of that nature. I think they are mostly in seasons 3&4.

There is also a banned ALI G episode where he visits the Cannes Porn Festival, and he must go through 15-20 different slang terms, if I recall correctly.

great post!

Annie said...

Mel- my favorite Ali G that referenced vaginas was his fake panel on porn, and sex on television. He started taunting the "waiting until marriage guy" asking if he had confidence problems, or just aimed too high. Amazing.

I don't watch scrubs, but I always feel like I should.

Gabe said...

Within the last month, a theatre in Florida had "The Vagina Monologues" on their marquee. A woman driving by was upset when her young niece saw the word up there, and complained to the theatre. They subsequently changed the marquee to read "The Hoo-Hah Monologues."

Mel said...

annie,

I am unfamiliar with the episode, but it sounds funny.

If you are looking for some good tv shows to get into, I can point you in the right direction. (it depends on what you enjoy.)

Scrubs is brilliant. There are better and funnier shows though.
(i.e. The Office, Coupling, Arrested Development, Wondershowzen, etc...)

Anonymous said...

Scrubs is one of my favorite shows. I have often been compared to Dr. Cox.

-TR

Mel said...

I better relate to "Janitor"...

Annie,

I have decided, you must give scrubs a shot. Any episode.
The best word to describe the show is Goofy... Kinda like, everything that happens is there to make you laugh, or set you up to laugh. I crack up just thinking about the show.

The great part is, there are many layers to the comedy, so no matter who you are, you can probably relate to it on some level.

harley said...

Annie,

As you don't have a television, I will lend you my DVDs of Arrested Development, the single greatest comedy to meet its demise far before its time.

babytyrone said...

I actually think that the squeamishness and censorship surrounding the word "vagina" are just further examples of the ingrained misogyny that Ensler invokes and tries to combat with the Monologues in the first place. Perhaps school principals don't want to hear the word "penis" either, but you can bet that nobody would have gotten in trouble. It's also telling that it's easy to think of non-vulgar euphemisms for the vagina (like Special Place. or Flower Garden, which, bless you, is priceless), its hard to come up with such terms for the male organ. "Male organ" or simply "thing" might be as close as we get.


The greatest thing about Scrubs is that, despite being a ridiculous comedy, according to every doctor I know, it is the closest any TV show has ever come to showing what working in a hospital is really like. Worlds more realistic than House or Grey's Anatomy, but better, apparently, than even the increasingly sanctimonious ER.

Also: "fanny" and "minge" are the pivotal words in perhaps the funniest joke from the original British The Office. And any woman who likes Arrested Development enough to own the DVDs is obviously one of the great ones.

Mel said...

harley,

make sure she watches them in order. I know a lot of people who would of loved the show, but got lost in the story line, and never followed through.
Even though every episode is hysterical in it's own right, AD must be watched in order to get someone hooked.
Besides the first episode was awesome!!

Annie said...

Before you all get your panties in a twist, I've seen every episode of Arrested Development, and in order. My younger brother had them sent to our house (courtesy of NetFlix) over the summer, and I watched every last one.

It was brilliant, I loved it. I still don't own a TV, and am thus limited to the shows that CJ is willing to dvr for me. Read: Grey's Anatomy. Although I could probably convince him to also get The Office.

Jack's Shack said...

So many comments and so little time.

The Pedant said...

For babytyrone, who cannot think of non-obscene euphemisms for the penis:

You have not been reading enough romance novels.

Mel said...

viagra had a radio commercial about 5 years ago which went something like this, "Some people call it johnson, others call it captain. Some people call it lizard, and still others call it willy.... But no one wants to call it broken!"
Ask your physician about Viagra.

Sherbs said...

The Pedant--

Perhaps you've been reading too many...

Anonymous said...

I call my penis El Gallo!!

Tamar said...

Annie, I think YOU are witty and wonderful. As always.

I am all for vag talk. Recently a sexually active friend of mine consulted me on how to masturbate. Girl has sex but didn't know how her vagina worked or what it looked like and was too afraid she'd break something when she masturbated. I am not making that up. And when I started explaining some basics to her, she was all, "Why didn't anyone TELL me? Did your mom show you?" Um, no. EW. But I agree, someone should be divulging this info. And by someone, I mean not me.

Here's what I wonder: What are kallah classes like? I mean, do they give some detailed descriptions of what's down there, what it should look like, how you can find the hidden parts, etc.? Because that would be excellent and useful and the kind of education I think frum girls (and, really, ALL girls) should get.

::Sigh:: I would say ten percent of my day every day is devoted to me trying to think of more ways to work sex into my jewcy posts. Yes, I am sad.

Anyway, rock on.

Mel said...

Tamar,

There is a website with an open anonymous forum for Orthodox women to discuss anything and everything related to sex. i reviewed it several times on my blog.

Some great content. I have not been through all of it, but It should prove both enlightening, and provide content for a juicy post.

check it out...

www.calmkallahs.com

click on forums, and enjoy!

harley said...

Hey Tamar,

Thanks for the compliment on the post. Contrary to popular belief, Annie and I are not the same person. It's confusing, because we both think you rock hard core.

For the record, I'm the one who's obsessed with vag-freedom and Annie's the one who's obsessed with red-heads.

Amishav said...

oh my, I missed this one...Do you remember in The Big Lebowski, Julianne Moore's character liked to say that word to devastating effect on the dude.

Tamar said...

Harley, please forgive me. I am shamed. (Henceforth, instead of saying shamed I am going to say, "my vagina is sad." Creating euphemisms that have to do with vaginas is my new hobby.) Anyway, I promise never to mix the two of you up again, even though the hard core roackage emanating from both of you is enough to befuddle anyone.

Mel,
I have long been a fan of the forums on calm kallahs. When the site was still pretty new there was a long thread about how surprisingly messy sex is--completely awesome. If you're looking for more discuss on Jewish religious sexuality, join the yahoogroup frumsex. It's all frumsex all the time.

Anonymous said...

I came across this post randomly (my husband and I are actually having a "hoo-hoo" vs. "hoo-hah" debate), and I just want to tell you that this is a great post!

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